By Justin Grant
Speakeasies — once underground drinking establishments illegally serving alcohol during the Prohibition era — have made a comeback in recent years as hip, throwback lounges serving premium cocktails and gaining popularity primarily through word of mouth. And so it was that I heard of Ciro's Speakeasy and Supper Club, a place with no website or any advertising to speak of, housed in a nondescript location on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa.
When you walk in — if you make a reservation, you'll be required to give a password to the doorman — you'll be welcomed into the pitch-black lounge area, where a circular jellyfish tank is the primary source of light. Adjacent to the small lounge area is the bar, which Ciro's clearly has spent a fair amount of time and research to stock. The selection of beer and wine will please those with refined palates.
Make no mistake, however: This is first and foremost a cocktail lounge. One look behind the bar will reveal how serious these people are, as the bottles start at the premium level and go up from there.
Opening the cocktail list, I was immediately impressed with both the selection of classic cocktails served as well as the unique, personal takes on each drink. This is the kind of cocktail menu you expect to find in an upscale lounge in New York, not in Tampa. That's not meant as a slight to the Tampa cocktail scene, but it's fairly uncommon to find a bar that even stocks the ingredients to make drinks such as the Aviation cocktail or a Blackberry Bramble, much less one that proudly offers them on their menu.
There's no need to be a cocktail expert, as the bar staff is quite knowledgeable and helpful. Our bartender, Mark, was more than happy to take the time to discuss the finer points of various cocktails and offer his recommendations. If you're indecisive, let your bartender know your preferred liquor or usual cocktail, and they'll make you something you've likely never had before using those ingredients as a starting point.
The cocktails hark back to the Prohibition era, when different aromatics and bitters were added to drinks to disguise the taste of sometimes questionable bootleg liquor and to allow the illicit inventory to last longer. Ciro's uses this to its advantage, creating unique versions of the classics. The Southside includes cucumber to complement the gin in the otherwise sweet and minty cocktail, and the Jabroni is Ciro's take on the Negroni, using artichoke-flavored liqueur in place of Campari. The Grenadine and simple syrup are made in-house, and all fruit and herbs used in the cocktails are fresh.
Whether you're a cocktail nerd like myself or simply ready to take the leap beyond the standards, you'll find that Ciro's has quite a bit to offer. The drinks don't come cheap, but you'll be hard-pressed to find more unique and well-made cocktails anywhere in the Tampa Bay area.
I'm somewhat reluctant to praise Ciro's as highly as it deserves for filling the gap in local, top-quality libations; once the word is out, this place will almost certainly become more popular than the small location can easily accommodate. With this selfish motive in mind, once you visit Ciro's, feel free to keep quiet about it.
Justin Grant can be reached at email@example.com.