Sunday, September 23, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: Ballpark & Rec ups the Trop’s bar game

When I was a kid, my dad took me to an Oakland A’s game and I managed to catch Jose Canseco coming out of the locker room, toweling off from a shower. In retrospect, I’m not sure how I ended up in a position to catch my favorite player outside of an autograph session, and Canseco promptly reminded me of this by letting me know that I could pay for an autograph later.

Maybe that’s why I never truly got into America’s pastime. There are other reasons, I’m sure, but I’m still mad at Canseco for brushing off a young fan. I didn’t visit another ballpark until this column took me to Tropicana Field to explore the bar options.

Now, downtown St. Petersburg hotspot Park & Rec has expanded its footprint, opening a sister bar at the Trop where the cigar lounge used to be. Ballpark & Rec — classic — is a scaled-down version of Park & Rec, featuring many of the same amenities: arcade games, punnily named cocktails, oversized tabletop games and a perpetual party vibe. That’s a far cry from the usual stadium beer vendor, but the Trop always has had something extra for drinkers.

It’s the second-level Budweiser Porch in centerfield, but it doesn’t look like what you might envision as a ballpark bar. There are smooth wood floors, a reclaimed wood bar front, the signature Park & Rec hexagonal pattern behind the bar, industrial light fixtures and a small video arcade.

A large wraparound patio — another unique feature for a stadium bar — features plenty of seating, its own satellite bar and a barrage of oversized knock-offs of tabletop games like Jenga, Connect Four and even a gigantic deck of cards. The biggest game is beer pong, which is played on a stretch of artificial turf with volleyballs and trash bins. In a way, it’s surprising that such a bar can exist at the home of a major-league team, but there are plenty of TVs inside allowing you to still watch the game. If this is irony, it works!

The bar stocks a handful of spirits, but most people order from the menu, which features three big name macro brews and three locals: Cigar City Jai Alai IPA, 3 Daughters Beach Blonde and Tampa Bay Brewing Company Reef Donkey pale ale. There are three house cocktails, all a pleasant surprise considering how easy it would be to serve weak, overpriced cocktails to a captive audience.

The Every-berry Loves Raymond, for example, is as close to a craft cocktail that you’re liable to find at a ballgame. It’s a mostly stock whiskey sour, with the addition of blackberry syrup made with actual muddled berries. The addition of a blackberry and a lemon-wheel garnish are basic finishing touches, but they go a long way in making the $11 price tag seem fair.

The other two are all fun. The Fro-Rays mixes vodka and rosé into a sky-blue Slushee-style mix, while the Sunburst Lemonade Pouch is an adult Capri Sun, featuring vodka, lemonade, blue curaçao, simple and soda in a squeezable pouch.

Maybe I’m cynical, but I wasn’t expecting Ballpark & Rec’s drinks to be value options. From the solid cocktails to the little details, such as serving cans of beer in coozies, Ballpark & Rec goes the extra mile in an environment that doesn’t always demand it.

Instead of telling me to pay for an autograph session, they signed a quick one and made a fan. With amenities like Ballpark & Rec in the mix at the Trop, I might try and make it out to games more often.

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

     
   
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