While I'm aware of the diehard fanbase associated with the Grateful Dead, I'll admit that I can't name a single song or album by the band. So when I learned that a Grateful Dead-themed pub had opened in downtown St. Pete's Urban Style Flats building, the news didn't hit me with any particular urgency.
But I've made it a habit to step out of my comfort zone somewhat regularly in recent years, stumbling upon several new and unlikely interests that have proved to be highly rewarding (yes, I'm talking about pro wrestling, which it turns out is the most fun thing in the world). Maybe a Dead-themed bar would be a nice change of pace. And besides, it has got a few things going for it right off the bat.
The Grateful Fed Pub is owned by Sean Ford, former executive chef at St. Pete's Tryst and tie-dyed shirt enthusiast, who opened the restaurant and bar after recognizing a gap in the market for quality late-night food — something for service industry folks to eat after they shut down their own restaurants and bars for the night. Grateful Fed serves food all the way until 5 a.m. in a laid-back, clubhouse-style space formerly home to Taps & Tequila II.
The restaurant is directly adjacent to Tropicana Field's parking lot, and it's one of only three full-liquor establishments within an easy walk from the stadium. So you've got three strong target demos right there: baseball fans, service industry folks and hungry Deadheads. It could work.
My initial visit was a bit strange. The drinks were good (and cheap) and the food was even better, but the dining area was in shambles, with wayward furniture scattered across the floor, seemingly at random, and more than half of the seating areas out of commission due to clutter and disorganization.
I was ready to write the place off, but fortunately went back for a second visit. I learned that the disorganization during my first visit was due to some scheduled deep cleaning — the dining area was mostly restored to coherence by the time of the second visit. First impressions count, but they're not always accurate.
The entrance is through the front patio, which is decked out with potted plants, leading into the dining area, which is equally populated by large sofas and white dining booths. The mod-style room dividers installed by Taps & Tequila remain in place, accompanied by some additional '60s-era wall art from the our side of the pond, adding some hippie flair to the decidedly eclectic interior. Out back, there's a large courtyard with some additional bench seating.
I brought along a friend who's a fan of the Grateful Dead, which ended up being quite helpful, as he was able to tell me which 15-minute tracks playing in the restaurant were courtesy of Jerry Garcia and company. The music was about 50 percent Grateful Dead mixed with '90s alt-rock and '70s classic rock — a good fit for the vibe, which is very much of the super-chill, laid-back variety.
Adding to the clubhouse feel of the space is a well-stocked game area. You've got darts, some arcade consoles, Golden Tee, oversized Jenga and Connect Four, pool, table shuffleboard and foosball. The whole thing is like a college friend's cool basement, only with a full liquor bar and a kitchen.
The food at Grateful Fed is a highlight, which is no surprise, given that the owner is also its chef. I had the Freaker by the Speaker, which is a hefty housemade vegan burger constructed from quinoa, black beans and chickpeas, topped with alfalfa sprouts, roasted red pepper, lettuce and tomato. I couldn't resist upgrading my side to crunchy, satisfying tots.
The drink list is decent enough, with a few local beer options, a nice selection of wine and a fully stocked liquor bar. The house cocktail list, of course, includes the Grateful Dead cocktail (a raspberry Long Island Iced Tea, basically), budget-friendly at $5 a pint. The prices are great across the board, from $2 Rolling Rock tallboys to $9 Michter's whiskeys. If only the bar could serve booze until 5 a.m., too.
There are surely a few kinks to be worked out, but the Grateful Fed Pub is still new and it has room to grow. The unfilled niche combo of quality late-night grub and a bar themed after a legendary band with unusually devoted followers could ultimately prove to be a big winner. Although I'm not exactly a Grateful Dead convert after these visits, I will say that I'm not at all opposed to going back to enjoy a late-night veggie burger with some cold brews and music.
— Contact Justin Grant at jg@ saintbeat.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.