Bar review: LGBT-friendly Punky's Bar and Grill in St. Petersburg

Decisions, decisions, from left: Chambord liqueur mixed with blackberry brandy and peach schnapps; a watermelon margarita with a sugar rim; and a classic cosmopolitan.
Decisions, decisions, from left: Chambord liqueur mixed with blackberry brandy and peach schnapps; a watermelon margarita with a sugar rim; and a classic cosmopolitan.
Published June 30, 2016

Gay, straight or otherwise, most St. Petersburgers have at least heard of Georgie's Alibi, the well-loved gay bar with a 15-year history and popularity that spanned a much wider demographic than the term "gay bar" typically implies.

Georgie's closure in September left a big gap in the local LGBT scene, with no nearby options comparable in size and scope. Enigma, a Central Avenue bar and nightclub owned and in large part staffed by former Georgie's employees, became the go-to for many folks.

Now, there's Punky's Bar & Grill, a bar and restaurant at the western edge of the Grand Central District that resides in the space formerly belonging to Jimbo's Joint. The bad news is that I'll forever be deprived of Jimbo's fantastic falafel sandwich; the good news is that Punky's has really made the space its own — a neighborhood bar and grill that all locals will find hard not to like.

With its position at the border of the Grand Central District — a neighborhood known for its wealth of businesses owned and frequented by members of the LGBT community — Punky's is a natural fit. It's a mere three blocks from where Georgie's Alibi once stood, and its large outdoor patio quickly became premium real estate for parade watching during last weekend's Pride festivities.

The awning-shaded, fenced-in outdoor patio is one of Punky's biggest upgrades. It's roomy enough to seat fairly large crowds, as well as host live music, DJs and drag shows on the weekends. If you want some entertainment with your brunch, Punky's is worth a look.

Inside, a long bar has been installed that wraps around into a larger dining area that also doubles as a karaoke venue on Tuesdays and a bingo room on Wednesdays (proceeds from the latter benefitting a variety of local organizations, such as Friends of Strays, the Gasparilla Softball League and Metro Community & Wellness Centers).

The vibe at Punky's is laid-back, friendly and appropriately colorful, with the interior painted in bright swirls, along with a large wall logo depicting the restaurant's cartoon mascot, Punky — a nickname and likeness belonging to the late, fun-loving mother of a good friend of co-owner Brian Longstreth.

Though Punky's places much emphasis on its food, there's plenty to work with at the bar. Several local brews are available on tap alongside imports and domestic craft options, and there's a list of 18 or so wines, from cabs to bubbly. The liquor selection contains few surprises, but unless you're looking for something very specific and relatively uncommon, you'll find it on the shelf at Punky's. And, in true neighborhood-centric fashion, Punky's stocks nearly the entire product line of St. Petersburg Distillery.

I think the best way to approach drink selection at Punky's is to take a look at the daily special. Whether that's the cocktail of the week or frozen margaritas that actually have some detectable booze in them, there's usually something worth trying. And, even if by pure coincidence, old Georgie's regulars will be pleased with this bar's generous pour. Your average cocktail won't rival, say, the deadly-strong Bloody Marys of Georgie's, but rest assured they come plenty stiff.

If the crowds at Punky's during last weekend's festival are any indication, it's quickly becoming a favorite of the LGBT community. Punky's is another quality, LGBT-friendly option in downtown St. Pete, and that's something that a lot of people can and should take pride in.

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