TAMPA – Don’t call Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux a sports bar.
Yes, Midtown Tampa’s newest hangout has 48 beers on tap — more than almost any other bar in South Tampa — and 84 TVs throughout the house, including 31 directly above the bar.
But the bar, its owners say, is just part of what will make Tampa’s first walk-on alluring.
“We’re not a sports bar; we’re a sports restaurant,” said Mike Lester, the franchisee behind this Walk-On’s at 1140 Gramercy Lane. “Our demographics are completely different. Our demographics fall right in the middle – 50% males, 50% females, and lots of families and children. You are all welcome.”
Well over a year since Walk-On’s was announced for the $1 billion mixed-use project near Interstate 275 and the N Dale Mabry Highway, the restaurant is finally ready for its grand opening on June 10th Clock with giveaways for the first guests.
The delay was in part due to delays in the permitting and build-out process, particularly as Midtown opened and residents moved into the development. But it was also because Lester, former president of fondue restaurant chain The Melting Pot, wanted the design and feel to be just right. An average walk-on costs about $4.2 million to open, Lester said, and the Tampa location came up with that number.
“We didn’t fully appreciate the complexity of this whole operation,” Lester said. “We have over 100 people sleeping right above us. We have to consider safety. So we slowed down, we said ‘okay, let’s make it perfect’ and we did. That just cost extra time.”
Walk-On’s began in Baton Rouge, Louisiana as the brainchild of former Walk-On basketball player Brandon Landry of Louisiana State University, with later endorsement by former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. In recent years it has been one of the fastest growing restaurant franchises in the country with dozens of stores across the country including new locations in Wesley Chapel and Lakeland.
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The 9,171 square foot restaurant seats 343 indoors and outdoors, with a bar window serving walk-in customers from across Midtown. The neighborhood is a wet zone, Lester said, meaning customers can bring their drinks to Midtown’s courtyard.
“We think there’s going to be a lot of action because if someone just wants to walk around, they don’t have to queue up at the bar inside,” Lester said. “You can come here and have a drink.”
Inside, the walls are plastered with pictures of Tampa Bay stars, from Ray’s shortstop Wander Franco to the Lightning’s 2021 Stanley Cup win — but also athletes from the University of Florida, Florida State, and the University of Miami. The menu features Cajun cuisine and Louisiana-inspired takes on pub fare, from po’ boys to crawfish to alligator tails.
With Raymond James Stadium just up the road, Lester believes Walk-On’s will bring large game-day crowds to Midtown Tampa.
“We want to be known as the restaurant of choice where a fan of any team can come and enjoy,” he said.