1. Bars & Breweries

PJ's Sports Bar a work in progress in Carrollwood

Published May 14, 2014

It's always safe to write about hip, new bars, taprooms, or fancy cocktail spots. But I like to get out there sometimes and explore places that strike me with terror at the prospect of having to write 700 words about them.

PJ's Sports Bar & Grille ended up on my list after I passed it during a trip to another bar in Carrollwood. Attached to a roadside liquor store, PJ's looked like just another anonymous liquor lounge. But the marquee listed a few items that piqued my interest: $2.50 wells all day, an all-you-can-drink special, pool tables, and — improbably — no smoking.

Could it be that PJ's was that elusive diamond in the rough? A crusty old dive bar with a few extra tricks to set it apart from endless number of faceless, dim holes-in-the-wall that do good business in the breakfast beer category?

The answer: Well, kind of. Maybe.

From the outside, there's not much to see. I did notice, interestingly, that all of the bar's windows were open, which is certainly refreshing. There's an outdoor patio, of course (remember, no smoking inside), and that's about it for the exterior.

Inside, the place is a confusing mix of worn-out dive bar, construction site, and nightclub. As a counterpoint to the torn upholstery, dirty buckets lying around and half a dozen old and now unused — but apparently heavily used at one point, based on appearance — smoke filters embedded in the ceiling, modern brushed steel lamps hang above the bar and 10 great-looking HD screens hang on the walls. The bathrooms, whose doors have a fresh coat of neon green paint, are elaborately tiled in red and orange glass — a nightclub bathroom if I've ever seen one, and I have.

Near the entrance are the game rooms, featuring four pool tables, two electronic dart games and a new, flashy TouchTunes jukebox. There's a cool, breezy element to this area, as a result of the open windows. In this regard, PJ's has a decidedly less dungeon-like vibe than most bars of a similar ilk.

Around the bar are a few other games, like Megatouch, Silver Strike Bowling and a claw game that's filled with an inexplicable mixture of cute, cuddly stuffed animals and hardcore porn DVDs. No, I'm not kidding, and no, I was unable to win either.

PJ's is clearly a bar in transition, but was it transition to or from decrepitude? My bartender said the owner is involved in several bar and restaurant projects in the area, and, as such, this one is just taking a little while to come up. It's on the upswing, albeit slowly.

I also asked about the "grille" part of the name. Aside from what looked like possibly an old churro heater tucked into a corner of the bar, that designation hasn't been true for a very long time.

Now, it probably seems like I'm being hard on the place, so let me shift my focus to the staff, who were very friendly and helpful. The bar manager especially seemed keen on letting me know about the daily specials and the additional beer selection, while my bartender told me all about new stuff in the works for PJ's, notably an attached food truck and a new stage area for live bands. There are regularly changing shot specials too, like Mexican-themed ones for Cinco de Mayo, so it's clear that the staff isn't just phoning it in here.

With a little bit of work, I could see PJ's being a legitimately nice, low-key place to grab a drink. Trash the old smoke filters, replace the burnt out light bulbs, finish painting, get some new furniture and it'll be looking pretty nice. Right now it seems good but unfinished; but with a staff that cares, perks like a food truck and live entertainment and a little work on the aesthetics of the place, I think that thought could be easily realized.