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Bar review: Remodel ups game of old St. Pete dive

The makeover from the previous establishment to what is now Jimmy’s Sports Bar in St. Petersburg looks expensive. Photo courtesy of Geneva Johnson
The makeover from the previous establishment to what is now Jimmy’s Sports Bar in St. Petersburg looks expensive. Photo courtesy of Geneva Johnson
Published Mar. 27, 2019

With new bars, I often focus on what's changed rather than what's new. In the hospitality business, places come and go, often enjoying long runs in the process. A new bar's predecessor often spent years building a clientele and becoming part of the neighborhood.

While new businesses would surely prefer to start with a clean slate, the truth is that you can't ignore history. Take Jimmy's Sports Bar, an establishment that's opened in the space formerly occupied by the New Banana Boat and Car Bar, a duo of well-trafficked 34th Street dives only loosely separated by theme and a partial wall.

The dual-identity sports bar built a strong following with locals, even if it was a bit rough around the edges. During the lengthy renovation of the property after the Boat went under, I wondered what would take its place. A sports bar — as the coming-soon sign indicated — seemed like a pretty safe choice.

Last month, it held its grand opening.

I didn't expect any major changes — this is U.S. 19 in St. Petersburg, after all — but I knew from frequent drive-bys that there was more work going into the place beyond a new coat of paint and (hopefully) more ventilation. That proved to be the case, as Jimmy's is downright unrecognizable as the site of its predecessor.

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I'm not sure what exactly went into the makeover, but it looks expensive. The floor plan has opened up dramatically, making the space much more inviting. A large island bar in the main room is flanked on three corners by a pool room, a small performance area for live music on the weekends and a large, semi-secluded dining room near the front.

Fresh laminate floors and a smooth granite bar top shine under the updated interior lighting, and rows of TVs line the walls and center area of the bar, playing everything from college basketball to auto racing.

I chatted with a gentleman named Zach who lives in the neighborhood and had been coming to the old spot for years. According to him, Jimmy's managed to retain a lot of the regulars, which is nice to hear. I suppose the fact that the prices haven't been raised proportionate to the updated digs helps, but it's a heck of a nice renovation, and that can't hurt.

The drink selection has also received a welcome update. Along with all of the usual sports-bar suspects, there are some limited local craft options, like Coppertail Free Dive IPA and Big Storm Wavemaker Amber Ale, both $5 for a 23-ounce serving.

A concise wine list has been introduced, adding Cupcake wines to the house inventory, along with 10 other options by the bottle, ranging from a budget-friendly sangiovese from Banfi in Tuscany to bubbly rosé from Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley.

Better yet, a lineup of nice whiskies and other premium spirits have been added, making this bar a perfectly reasonable place to enjoy a single-malt scotch from Macallan or a nice Old Fashioned made with 1792 small-batch bourbon.

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There's even a house cocktail list, where you'll find that Old Fashioned amongst five other concoctions, ranging from a classic mojito and margarita to a Partida añejo tequila spin-off of an Old Fashioned. There's a Moscow mule made with Deep Eddy vodka and Regatta ginger beer, available a dozen different ways: five flavored vodkas and one plain, and your choice of regular or calorie-free Regatta. Not a bad little list.

In the mood for something different? Jimmy's has an espresso machine and locally roasted Kahwa coffee, opening up all sorts of possibilities for coffee martinis and other concoctions, including, well, good coffee with no booze at all. Local espresso on demand at a neighborhood sports bar? On this stretch of U.S. 19? What a world.

Most of the folks who visit Jimmy's — at least in these early days — are patrons of its predecessors. But this bar is as close to completely new as you're going to get. If you can keep the old guests and give new ones something to come back for, you've got a winner, and I think Jimmy's may have pulled it off.

— Contact Justin Grant at jg@saintbeat.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.

Jimmy's Sports Bar

3510 34th Street N, St. Petersburg. (727) 350-3781.

The vibe: An impressive remodel of a former dive, featuring sports aplenty and weekly live music.

Food: Appetizers and sandwiches, $5.95-$12.95.

Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $2.75-$5; wine, $5-$7 by the glass and $20-$60 by the bottle; liquor, $4-$7.

Specialty: Try the house cocktails, like an Old Fashioned made with 1792 bourbon, or a tequila-based riff made with agave-sweetened Partida Añejo. The Texass (not a typo) is also notable a shot — it's a build-your-own Moscow mule with a choice of six Deep Eddy vodkas and Regatta ginger beer, with an option for calorie-free Regatta.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily.

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