By Chris Anderson, Herald Tribune, 7-1-2019
It used to be an old biker haunt called Tarzan’s Jungle Bar, and you couldn’t miss it. Just look for the strange giant elephant on the side of the road, turn, and there it was. Of course that was before the Atlanta Braves came to town and changed everything.
Tarzan’s is now called Jo Jo’s Stadium Café & Pub. It’s still nestled in the pines on the Myakka River, between North Port and Venice on U.S. 41, like it has been since 1976, but the theme now is baseball. Since the Braves will be conducting spring training less than two miles away starting next spring, property owner Mary Jo Pribe has changed the theme and painted the place in the team’s colors.
The big white baseball painted on the ground in front is the most obvious indication things have changed. The Atlanta Braves foam fingers placed inside the front windows offer another hint.
Walk through the door and you would never expect to see baseball memorabilia and trinkets inside a place like Jo Jo’s, but it is everywhere.
From the catcher’s equipment hanging on the wall, to the bats leaning by the door, to the old-fashioned toy baseball games on a table, it is clear this is no longer a biker bar.
There are autographed photos and magazine covers tacked to beams. Legends like former Venice resident Pee Wee Reese, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, even Babe Ruth. Old gloves hang everywhere. Signed baseballs are placed behind the bar.
On a coffee table in a separate room where a live band plays are books on baseball stadiums and the World Series. By the pool table is a framed exhibit dedicated to Wade Boggs’ 3,000th hit, including a Herald-Tribune story from the night it happened at Tropicana Field in 1999.
The best part? None of the stuff is Pribe’s. People just bring it in, and she hangs it up.
The place is so baseball happy that you can even come in for breakfast and have a guy named Pork Chop cook you the special for $7. It’s called the “Home Run.”
And a home run is exactly what Pribe is hoping for now that the Braves are nearby and the West Villages / North Port area is taking off because of it.
The Braves, according to estimates, are expected to have a $1.7 million impact on the local economy during the duration of their 30-year lease, and Pribe said hotels such as a new Marriott are expected to be constructed near the stadium as well as a widening of major roads in the area.
Mattamy Homes, one of the largest builders in North America, is a partner in the West Villages development, with its owner, Peter Gilgan, worth $3.4 billion according to Forbes magazine.
Gilgan told Bloomberg News recently he envisions a city to be centered around Atlanta’s spring stadium.
“We’re going to build a city there, we’re going to build a downtown, we’re going to build all the infrastructure,” Gilgan said. “We’re going to have the general groceries, drug stores, and all that jazz all in place before we actually launch our city.”
And that is exactly why former biker bars are now baseball bars.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Pribe said.