The Tampa Bay Rowdies kicked off their home opener last night at a beefed-up Al Lang Stadium with a sister-kissin’ nil-nil tie. But their new hangout, the Rowdies Den, cleaned up before, during and after the action.
The Rowdies Den is where Midtown Sundries used to be.
Pre-game, the place was slammed. It was basically standing-room only. Fans hooting like hooligans had fun in their Rowdies’ green and yellow. Everyone was getting a little liquored up — and why not? This guy Greg, who has been a life-time Rowdies fan, said they were asking too much for tickets up at the box office, so he hit up the Den for the match.
“Sixty dollars? Commeee oonnnn,” he said, detailing why he wasn’t at the game.
“I’m old-school. I used to play for the Fanies,” said Greg, sitting at the tip of the big horseshoe-shaped bar, wearing a bright- colored Rowdies jersey. “We were a team of Rowdies fans. We used to play the Strikers’ fan team.”
“When was this?”
“Oh, sh*t, this was back in ’82’.”
“You think they’ll still play at Al Lang Stadium if the Rowdies make the jump to the MLS in a few years?”
“I don’t know. They’ll have to have a stadium that holds 20,000. That won’t hold 20,000. Maybe they’ll renovate it.”
Greg’s from Tampa, but makes the drive over to downtown St. Pete for most home games. He said he’s going to start hitting the Den more now, however.
Things died down just enough to grab a seat up at the bar once the match started and everyone began their collective shuffle over to the stadium. Even during the game, though, there weren’t many empty seats. And a consistent flow of action was maintained over at the pool table and at this pinball-esque, sanitary-looking, beer pong machine they had in the far corner.
There were high-definition TVs as far as the eye could see and an entire-wall-consuming projector screen, all of course playing the game. And there wasn’t a seat in the house where you couldn’t clearly see one of the TVs.
The service was great, too, considering how many people were coming and going, some ordering food, some ordering detailed shots, cocktails, beer, napkins, silverware and everything else a big bar with a large patronage gets asked for.
One of their busiest bartenders was a young woman named Felicia. She was definitely efficient and she was also very courteous and pleasant — overall, a damned good bartender.
After she disliked the first couple of pictures I took of her, she asked if she could just take a selfie.
“I didn’t even know the Rowdies were a team before I started working here,” she said, and gave my phone back.
It should be noted, because it’s obvious after you’ve been there for more than 60 seconds, that a bunch of young, cute women work at the place. Which is just fine.
After the match ended in the nil-nil tie, all the citizen Rowdies began funneling back into their new pre-and-post-game headquarters. One couple, Audra and Melissa, made their way back before the match even ended.
“They sold out of Stella, Bud Light and pretzels,” said Audra. “Some guy tried to get a pretzel for his kid and they were, like, ‘Sorry, we’re out of pretzels,’ like, what is that?” she said and laughed.
The beer at the Rowdies Den was cold. They’ve got 312 on tap, so hell yeah. And as soon as you finish, they’re right there to fill you up again — definitely a major perk that can be directly credited to the large bar and wait staff.
Their food’s not bad either. But you’re not going there just for that. Their vibrant pre-and-post-game atmosphere and TVs are why you’re going, and it’s a great reason. A good enough reason to keep the place mobbed for the Rowdies’ home opener. And I don’t see it being any different for the rest of the home games either.