Over the past few years, I’ve heard plenty of complaints that downtown St. Petersburg is dead, or that it’s somehow lost whatever qualities made it special in the first place.
These gripes are invariably amplified whenever a beloved local spot succumbs to soaring rents and wide-eyed landlords, as happened at the end of 2018 with the closing of Fubar, one of the area’s few music venues for independent, D.I.Y. musicians; not to mention a beer and spirits program several magnitudes better than an ostensible dive has any right to offer.
While I don’t buy into the long-heralded end of downtown St. Petersburg, I know the pain of seeing the landscape change in ways that aren’t always made in my best interest. Take, for example, the closing of the Tamiami Bar several years ago.
The bar was a major part of the downtown scene for years: a daytime dive, evening cocktail spot, club and concert venue for a wide range of artists, drinkers and all-around partiers. It was perfectly utilitarian — no fluff, plenty of fun to be had, and no shortage of liquid or musical assistance.
Josh Connell, proprietor of Central Avenue’s Five Bucks Drinkery and the purgatorial Shep’s Beer Emporium, also remembers the Tamiami fondly. So fondly that he opened a bar last year named and loosely modeled after it: The Tamiami.
To us folks in the same generation, the original Tamiami represents our version of Old St. Pete — we liked it before it was cool. Of course, this idealism is just an earlier version of the current spate of mourning, which will eventually be replaced by the next version once downtown St. Pete becomes home to a new wave of whatever seemingly insufferable thing youngsters and wealthy people are into five years from now.
Connell’s Tamiami is a distant callback to its namesake, having more in common with today’s downtown bars than the ones they’ve replaced over the years. It’s open and well-lit, with windows facing out to café sidewalk seating on arguably the busiest stretch of Central Avenue. Above the windows, the bar’s slogan is painted: “A sunny place for shady people.”
It’s a bit loud inside, which is jarring during slow hours but just about right as the bar fills up in the evening. It’s a classic brick wall and wood-floor affair, with the requisite exposed ducts and pop-culture mural in the back (Christopher Walken, in this case), as well as a dinghy hanging from the ceiling and loads of vintage beer ads on the walls. String lights overhead and a fantastic neon logo sign above the tap wall complete the vintage-modern juxtaposition.
I used to shoot pool at the old Tamiami, but the new one is a darts and pinball kind of place, which is a better fit for the long, shotgun-style space. There are a few large TVs behind the bar and in the back, making it a reasonable spot for watching sports, too.
Like its inspiration, The Tamiami is less a cohesive statement than a collection of useful amenities: a bar that wisely promises no more than seats, drinks and light entertainment, handily delivered.
It helps that the drinks are plentiful and cheap: $5 cocktails are a mainstay, and the 24 taps of beer are far below market averages during happy hour, when they’re $2 off. $15 bottomless mimosas, Bloody Marys and select domestics are a Sunday draw, and there’s Zima in the cooler, in case you want to also relive the ‘90s.
Another perk is the “Rare Hour,” actually an all-day special on Mondays, when the bar serves 2-ounce rocks pours of otherwise prohibitively expensive spirits for quarters on the dollar, like Johnnie Walker Blue Label at $24, or Don Julio 1942 and Jameson 18-year for $18 apiece. Not in the same territory as $2 drafts, but it’s a heck of a deal nonetheless.
The Tamiami’s rise on a block dominated by businesses that have replaced long-running institutions — like MacDinton’s, which sits in the original Tamiami’s space — is a sign of life in downtown St. Petersburg, not a sign of death. Places come and go, neither event consistently good or bad.
Dwelling solely on the past is no way to live, but some light homage to whatever your version of Old St. Pete may be isn’t so bad. At least, it’s a plus at The Tamiami, a bar that may someday be another person’s memory of what downtown St. Pete used to be like in the good old days.
— Contact Justin Grant at email@example.com, or follow Justin at @WordsWithJG.
269 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg; facebook.com/thetamiamidtsp
The vibe: A casual, vaguely clubby bar inspired by a former St. Pete classic.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $5-$10; wine, $4-$5 by the glass; liquor, $4-$24.
Specialty: The bar pours a lot of shots — Fireball and green tea, mostly — as well as frozen wine drinks, like the ever-popular frosé. However, don’t miss the frequent happy-hour specials, which often extend well into the evening: $2 off all 24 taps of beer, as well as $5 cocktails, like a Tito’s Moscow Mule, served in a copper mug.
Hours: 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. Monday-Thursday; 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday-Sunday.