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Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014

Options are few for hungry St. Pete night owls

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ST PETERSBURG -

For night owls, the dinner bell seldom rings at 7 p.m. In St. Petersburg, though, a search for eateries that keep late-night hours can be challenging — especially outside of downtown.

Whether it’s a late meeting, a movie that ends after 9 p.m. or a night on the town concluding with hunger pangs after midnight, the city has limited options for those trying to dine out after 10 p.m. With the exception of Taco Bus on weekends and a few fast-food chains, 24-hour options are scarce. Local restaurants that do serve food at unconventional hours mostly are clustered downtown.

Even as St. Petersburg strives to shake its reputation as a sleepy, green-bench lined retirement hub, a clamor for more restaurants catering to the late-night crowd — especially 24-hour ones has yet to begin.

“It just seems like it’s not quite happening yet,” said Olga Bof, a founding member of Keep St. Petersburg Local, an alliance of independent businesses.

Bof noted that places such as Burrito Boarder, Ceviche, Café Alma, Tryst, RollBotto and a handful of others in downtown St. Petersburg have late-night offerings, as do Grand Central District mainstays The Queen’s Head and Taco Bus. But beyond those spots, the city’s late-night dining options are slim.

As downtown’s status as a late-night destination grows — spurred partly by the city’s extension of drinking hours to 3 a.m. — few restaurateurs make it to midnight. And if they do, it’s only on weekends.

“What’s kind of weird is, we’ve broken into this burgeoning food scene, but late-night is still catching up,” said Peter Schorsch, founder of the local political website SaintPetersBlog.

Schorsch said perhaps that’s partly because the city’s extended drinking hours are relatively new. “The whole city is still catching up,” he said.

Some restaurants have stepped into the void, including a few far from the downtown nightlife scene. Schorsch mentions Hiro’s, an often crowded Japanese restaurant and bar at 5250 Fourth St. N. that serves sushi past midnight.

Schorsch said he would like to see more places serve comfort food around the clock. “The thing we need more of (is) old-fashioned diners,” he said.

St. Pete Diner, a 24-hour comfort food spot on U.S. 19, closed last year to the chagrin of late-night diners.

But some think the dining scene is starting to warm up outside the downtown nightlife area, in areas such as Kenwood and the Grand Central District.

“We’ve got quite an eclectic crowd,” said Paul Smith, co-owner of the Queen’s Head in the Grand Central District. “Most of them are either artists, musicians or are involved with theatre.”

Smith said the Queen’s Head stays open until 2 a.m. most nights — not quite 24 hours, but late enough to catch locals looking for a bite and a nightcap after a night on the town.

Farther west on Central Avenue, and on into the beach cities, most places close relatively early. Exceptions are Vito and Michael’s on St. Pete Beach, which stays open until 4 a.m., and a few bars with late-night menus.

“I think there’s a bigger (late-night) market out there than restaurants know,” Schorsch said.


kbradshaw@tampatrib.com

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