While I do miss the old Channelside Bay Plaza, the new vision for the long-suffering space is really doing the trick. Sparkman Wharf has breathed new life into the old Channelside courtyard, with an outdoor biergarten, shipping-container food outlets, a big lawn and a stage transforming a once-desolate space into a daylong mixer of hip locals sipping on hazy IPAs and eating fancy fast food on porch swings.
One constant remains, and that's Splitsville, the upscale bowling alley that started in Channelside before spawning five other locations, spreading as far as Massachusetts and California. As the lone survivor of Channelside's previous iteration, Splitsville has taken its now-familiar bowling-and-booze foundation and given it a fresh makeover, complete with Southern food and craft cocktails.
Gone are the bright primary colors and clean, modern look of the old Splitsville, replaced by faux-weathered murals, retro furniture, kitschy wood paneling, area rugs and neon diamonds at the end of the bowling lanes swiped straight from the 1950s. The new name in full: Splitsville Southern + Social.
Welcome to Tampa Bay is emblazoned on one wall, painted in a cheery postcard style. On another wall, "TPA" is spelled out in blue Bud Light beer cans amidst a backdrop of antique cans. The cavernous indoor space is split into several distinct spaces.
There's a pair of bowling lanes opposite a sprawling dining area and smaller, cozy lounges. A small bar in the back is flanked by Skee-Ball machines, a pool table and a Belgian feather bowling alley, where you can play a novel game that Splitsville describes as similar to "curling, but without the ice or brooms." There's table tennis and table shuffleboard, too, in case you get bored.
Splitsville has always had a classic feel to it, from ordering a cocktail instead of a plastic pitcher of beer while you bowl to the old-school ball-retrieval system, but the mid-century nostalgia dial has been turned all the way clockwise, giving the new Splitsville Southern + Social a funky retro-modernity that fits right into the Sparkman Wharf scene.
Its heart is a huge, TV-lined bar that sits between the dining area and the bowling lanes. Here, the drink program has been revamped, with a varied wine list supported by a full lineup of spirits. The beer list boasts around 50 options, ranging from fine Belgian ales like Duvel, to a slew of local brews to a surprisingly comprehensive range of big-name lagers, all the way from Corona and Stella Artois down to PBR and Natural Light. It's still a bowling alley, after all. Don't forget the little brown-paper coozies.
Most bowling alleys don't have an elderflower-infused Old Fashioned on the menu, but it's just one of several quality cocktail options at Splitsville. The list is fruit-heavy, whether it's in the form of a Watermelon Smash, a Spicy Mango Margarita or a Cucumber Cooler.
The Skinny Strawberry, which is not a low-cal spritzer, as the name suggests. This one pairs Dobel Diamante tequila with muddled strawberries, fig jam, agave nectar and lime juice.
Some of the cocktails are made in huge batches and served on tap, including the Spiked Sweet Tea and classic Mai Tai, as well as Hablo Margarita, described as a "nod to our old neighbors."
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That's a nice touch. While you won't find any sub-zero Call A Cabs on tap, there are a few frozen drinks, including the ever-popular Frozé, this version consisting of rosé, vodka, strawberry and lemonade.
It's clear that a heck of a lot of work went into the remodel at Splitsville, and it's smartly done. An upscale bowling alley is on-brand for Sparkman Wharf. Its fresh look is on the money — a vintage-inspired entertainment complex that offers quite a bit more than just bowling.
— Contact Justin Grant at email@example.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.
Splitsville Southern + Social
615 Channelside Drive, Suite 120, Tampa. (813) 514-2695; splitsvillelanes.com
The vibe: A retro-kitsch makeover for Channelside's long-running upscale bowling complex.
Food: Sides and appetizers, $5-$13; entrées, $12-$21; desserts, $6-$7.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $5.25-$9; wine, $8-$14 by the glass and $32-$56 by the bottle; liquor, $6-$14.
Specialty: The cocktail list fills some of the space left by former Channelside neighbors Hablo Taco — to which the Hablo Margarita is an homage — and Wet Willie's, with a variety of on-tap cocktails, including a couple of frozen drinks (none as potent as Wet Willie's varieties). There are several worthwhile house creations, like the Skinny Strawberry.
Hours: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, noon to 10 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; noon to 1 a.m. Friday-Saturday; noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.