It started as a normal workday.
Like the day before, waitress Jessica Armor arrived at Midtown Sundries for her shift.
But when she arrived, a closed for business sign hanging on the door told her and the restaurant’s other employees that they were out of a job.
Not long after, Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards bought the building and transformed it into the Rowdies Den sports bar.
The Den, at 200 First Ave. S in downtown St. Petersburg, recently held its grand opening party on April 4 in hopes of attracting locals before, during and after Rowdies home games.
Armor, 19, said Edwards offered to let all the servers keep their jobs, but only her and one other waitress accepted the proposal. She also said there is a noticeable difference between her previous and current employers.
“The business here is just better,” Armor said. “It’s just more upbeat.”
Like the million dollar renovations to his soccer club’s Al Lang Stadium, Edwards spared no expense with the Den.
Throughout the bar, there are 32 flat-screen televisions, including a 65-inch TV where customers take control of their favorite soccer players with Fifa on Xbox One. There are beer pong tables and an electronic version of the drinking-game favorite, electronic dart boards, and pool and foosball tables. But the biggest addition is the 120-inch projector, where fans can watch Rowdies soccer games during the season from almost any seat in the house.
Manager Mike Mauro said business has been “slamming” since its opening. Located a couple of blocks from Al Lang Stadium, fans flooded the Den after the sold out home opener on April 11.
Mauro said Ralph’s Mob, the team’s official independent supporters group, is expected to show up often throughout the season with at least 100 people at a time.
To keep fans coming back, the Den features live music every Friday and Saturday night. And after every home game, a rotating group of four Rowdies players is expected to show up to interact with fans.
Mauro also said the kitchen and menu are completely new and that Edwards invested more than $100,000 in the kitchen alone.
The menu offers alcoholic beverages like “Ralph’s Mob juice” and the “World Cup margarita”. On Mondays, the restaurant offers students with a school I.D. select buckets of beer and “kick in the glass” pitchers for $10. Customers can also take advantage of specials throughout the rest of the week on days like “Taco Tuesday” and “Wine-Down Wednesday”.
The Rowdies Den menu contains “game-day food” like burgers, fries, pizza and chicken wings. Several staff members said that the “fifty-fifty balls” were one of the top sellers and worth the $8. The order comes with six bacon-wrapped tater-tots stuffed with blue cheese and served with a side of fra diavolo ketchup.
And if customers are feeling extra “rowdie,” they can throw down $10 on the “Rowdie Reaper” wing challenge for a chance to win an authentic Nike team jersey and get their picture on the “Wall of Fame.”
Customers have 10 minutes to chow down on six boneless or regular wings drenched in the Rowdie Reaper sauce, which Mauro said contains ghost peppers.
To increase the heat, there is a five-minute cool-off period where the customer must sit and endure the burn without anything to drink. Only two people have completed the challenge, according to Mauro.
“We had one guy do it; his whole neck turned red,” Mauro said. “Don’t do it.”
Every night before 7 p.m., the Den offers a $5 burger on its menu. USF St. Petersburg graduate Adrian Arabitg believes students should take advantage of the deal.
“If I was a college student, I’d come here for sure,” Arabitg said. “Good deals, fun environment, good place to bring some friends.”
The Den is open 11 a.m.-3 a.m Monday through Friday, and opens an hour earlier on the weekend. If customers are unable to find parking in front of the building, they can park in the Rowdies Den garage for $5.