It might seem that the owner of Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill, Mark Ferguson, has it made in the shade—the shade of Tropicana Field, that is. The home of the Tampa Bay Rays towers across the street, forever funneling swarms of fans through the bar’s doors and hiding it from hungry giants. But his winding up in a sports bar’s ideal location was no accident, and it certainly didn't come easy. Lane DeGregory chronicled the bar's history in a 2008 feature in the Tampa Bay Times, noting that it took the former middle-school gym coach "17 years, countless kegs, three pro sports teams and a decade of sorry baseball to build his empire." While the stadium sat empty, Ferguson sponsored local softball, flag-football, and basketball leagues in the rundown downtown area once known as the “Gas Plant District." Luckily for Ferguson, it wasn't long until Tropicana Field filled with cheers for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Storm, and, eventually, Rays.
What started in 1992 as a concrete-block space with 75 seats has since grown into a two-story establishment whose sprawling indoor and outdoor seating areas encompass almost two city blocks. Like the growth of the business, the bar and grill's building materials reflect input from the surrounding community: the wood flooring was compiled from area gymnasiums, and the walls are paneled with hardwood from the old All Children's Hospital.
Ferguson continues to fuel his success with more than 70 TVs, classic bar eats, and a calendar filled with live-music and trivia nights. In addition to fans, the restaurant has been known to serve renowned politicians and—according to the Tampa Bay Times—Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. Perhaps the duo chose the eatery for its paparazzi-curbing underground tunnel, which leads beneath 1st Avenue South to the stadium.
The kitchen crew at Floribbean Restaurant & Lounge blends the tropical flavors of Caribbean islands with influences from Latin American countries including Columbia, Argentina, and Brazil. The amalgamation, coined Latin- or Hispano-Floribbean, results in a menu rife with citrus-marinated chicken, deep-fried whole fish, and hearty sides of cassava, tostones, and maduros. As patrons sip refreshing libations from the bar, live jazz music keeps feet tapping and egomaniacs scat-dueling into the night.
Owned in part by former Heat star Matt Geiger, Courtside Grille reflects its dedication to sports with its distinctive logo: four sleek, intersecting streaks forming a stylized basketball. The crest can be found in every area of the restaurant, whether glowing white against the brick walls, or hanging over the bar as a light fixture. In the dining room, guests share piping-hot flatbreads and bites of burgers, pork chops, or Caribbean-style glazed salmon while betting their antique spoon collections on sports games broadcast on the 24 TVs.
During World War I, Greek immigrant Louis Pappas served in the Army as a personal chef to General John Pershing. To give the hungry general some extra nutrition, Louis began adding scoops of potato salad to his traditional greek salads. When Louis returned to the United States, he opened up his own restaurant, Louis Pappas Riverside Café, where he would re-create this signature dish using fresh produce from his own ranch in Tarpon Springs.
Today, Louis Pappas's grandson continues his grandfather's old Florida family tradition at Pappas Ranch. There, he and his kitchen serve up a new menu of fresh seafood, poultry, sandwiches, street tacos, hand-cut steaks, and barbecue dishes whose "family flair" has been lauded by Metromix Tampa Bay. They continue to scoop savory housemade potato salad into their internationally renowned Louis Pappas Famous greek salad, tossing it in massive bowls that serve as many as four diners. Bartenders dole out glasses of locally brewed craft beers and wine or mix cocktails and martinis at the full center bar with flat-screen TVs.
The restaurant's decor channels that of the original Pappas family ranch. In the dining room, spacious booths are surrounded by rustic wooden walls, and outside is a covered outdoor patio.
Conceived by Las Vegas restaurateur Mark DiMartino, Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery evokes Ireland by way of Vegas, with waitresses dressed in plaid mini kilts shouldering trays of chilled beer and pub fare. Like an enchilada stuffed with four-leaf clovers, the eatery’s Irish nachos interpret a south-of-the-border classic in a Celtic way, slathering potato chips in cheese sauce and seasoned ground beef; alternatively, pot roast and vegetables simmer traditionally in the Olde Dublin Irish stew’s Guinness-infused beef stock. Barkeeps pour a full bar’s worth of wine, cocktails, and beer, which surfaces in bottles, bombers, and multi-brew mixes such as the Blue Moon and Guinness combination. High-definition TVs glow with a ceaseless parade of professional and college baseball, basketball, and hockey, and live bands add to the entertainment smorgasbord on Monday nights.
Music fills the air at The Green Parrot Bar & Grill, where hits wail from a jukebox whenever live bands aren't bringing down the house. Behind the bar, taps release endless pints of domestic beers and ice cubes clink within specialty cocktails, which complement wings with housemade sauces and Angus burgers topped with bacon and cheddar cheese. The Green Parrot also hosts special events, such as karaoke nights and dart tournaments, and keeps diners entertained with pool tables and a play area geared toward children and poker-playing children.
Named one of Tampa Tribune's Top Five Sports Bars of 2010, Eddie's Bar & Grill boasts an eclectic menu buoyed by the casual family eatery's 55 TVs and 52 draft beers. The big buffalo chicken salad ($9.99) flames fresh greens with mild, medium, or hot sauce, and, like a game of Mouse Trap, becomes more nuanced with a dusting of blue cheese crumbles. Parties of two to four can build a crispy specialty pizza ($12.99) with up to three fresh toppings, while gatherings of six scarf a plate of 50 chicken wings ($35.99), sating cravings with a choice of eight sweet or savory sauces. Diners can also sun themselves on the patio, scrutinize Pay-Per-View events under a large TV, or simply stay up late debating the merits of celery as a post-wing palate cleanser, as the entire menu is available until 1 a.m.