Some may argue USF is missing one key ingredient in the recipe for success in the Big East: a definitive locale at which to exercise spirit and support for USF athletics. There is demand for a place where the student body can gather together as one to celebrate victories and mourn losses. The desire for a student-friendly venue steeped in USF athleticism has been met.
On Dec. 19, the efforts of three seasoned restaurateurs crystallized into the first USF-themed bar and restaurant, the Bull Ring. Jim Zmerich, Bill Hanes and Shawn Pulford have defined their vision with one motto: “As it should be.”
“We looked at the University of South Florida and we looked at the community surrounding it, and we were astonished that there was not a single facility that associated itself with the activities of the students, the alumni, staff and the community,” Pulford said.
Upon walking into the Bull Ring, one can immediately understand how Pulford and his partners plan to effect a change in the way USF is viewed. The Bull Ring has a very upscale feel but at the same time is warm and comfortable. The bar and the tables are made of dark, glossy wood. The walls are adorned with USF football jerseys and banners promoting the school. Flat-panel televisions peek out from every corner displaying the latest sporting events.
“I thought it was really classy, and I like how they opened it up,” said Ahmad Ragab, a graduate student in religious studies. “There were also interesting food options that you don’t see at other sports bars.”
The menu has a lot more to offer than expected. Alongside the typical bar fare of hamburgers and wings, one can find pseudo-gourmet offerings such as Thai beef salad and $20 steaks. There is a broad price range so one can eat there without breaking the bank.
“The food at the Bull Ring is really good,” said Michelle MacLean, a junior majoring in fashion merchandising. “The burger I had was big and delicious.”
The owners paid careful attention to every detail. The uniform is a green USF polo shirt and the inner portion of the bar top is framed in green and gold. Even the bathroom is tiled in USF colors.
Pulford stresses the importance of making the Bull Ring a place where both the student body and the community can gather.
“We are trying to let the student population know that this place is for them,” Pulford said. “We put out a few low-cost meals so that the kids who are in the apartments can come up here and get a good meal and not get burned in the pocketbook.”
Chelsea Evens, a sophomore and a waitress at the Bull Ring, thinks that the restaurant will be able to establish itself as a linchpin in the community.
“A lot of my friends come in here and they love it,” Evens said. “As far as night life, I would compare it to Tia’s Tex-Mex or The Tampa Brickyard. The Bull Ring is like an upscale sports bar.”MacLean likes the atmosphere at the Bull Ring more than other places.
“I would go to the Bull Ring over Tia’s. It is nicer and bigger; it’s more laid back than Tia’s and the Brickyard,” she said.
While the Bull Ring has a number of positive things going for it, there are still a few changes some student patrons would like to see.
“One thing that I didn’t like was how dark it was when I was eating,” MacLean said.
Another student feels the restaurant seemed a little too fomal for a college sports bar.
“The biggest con right now is that you can’t take drinks outside,” Ragab said. “It might be too nice to have a real college feel, but that could change depending upon the schedule of events. You feel like you have to be a little too formal. Hopefully they get more student-geared events. I think a more solid schedule will make it catch on.”
Other students feel that the Bull Ring will catch on pretty soon.
“I think the Bull Ring will be the next big thing, especially during football season,” MacLean said. “I would compare the Bull Ring to Gator’s (Dockside), but the Bull Ring is definitely classier.”Bottom line, the Bull Ring is a flexible venue with a variety of options and has potential to thrive in a community charged with USF spirit.