ST. PETERSBURG — It may be packed with a broad range of eateries, but Beach Drive’s transition into a destination at the center of the city’s expanding dining scene is far from finished.
Bella Brava proprietors announced this week that they have bought the property at 224 Beach Drive that has for years housed Bruce Watters Jewelers, and will build an outdoor, seating-intensive gastropub expected to open early next year.
“We’re at capacity here and we believe St. Petersburg in general, and Beach Drive specifically, is going to continue to grow,” said Robert Sanderson, majority owner of Bella Brava. “We really believe it’s the place to be.”
A hip and usually crowded Italian eatery, Bella Brava opened at 204 Beach Drive in 2010, a few storefronts away from Bruce Watters. The restaurant already added 50 seats last year when it expanded into a former salon storefront next door.
Details about the new restaurant are scant.
The building that Bruce Watters has occupied since well before Beach Drive became a destination will be demolished this spring. The jeweler will move to another storefront, according to a press release, but representatives from the century-old company did not return calls for comment.
The new restaurant, meanwhile, lacks a name or theme at the moment. Sanderson said it will have 100 indoor seats and 150 outside. Beyond “good American classics as well as some truly inspired originals,” menu details have yet to emerge, but draught beer, wine and cocktails will be a focal point.
The five-block span of Beach Drive offers dining options ranging from tapas at Ceviche to British colonial fare at Moon Under Water and seafood at 400 Beach.
There’s already a gastropub, Tryst, which opened in 2011, on Beach Drive.
“I think it’s become our version of Miami’s Ocean Drive, which was always more about the eating and the drinking,” said Olga Bof of Keep St. Petersburg Local, an organization that promotes local businesses. “It’s all waterfront, it has a scenic view to look out on.”
And it extends well beyond Beach Drive.
“We are growing on the whole foodie culture front,” Bof said. “Our city is full of wonderful businesses, but they don’t all exist on Beach Drive,”
Sanderson said he doesn’t think the market is saturated along Beach Drive, though, given the numerous apartment and condominium projects under construction.
“You’re talking about several thousand people moving into the downtown St. Pete area and they all have to eat somewhere,” he said.