In 2009, tbt* put together its most ambitious list ever: The top 100 bars in Tampa Bay, ranked in order from 1 to 100. One loyal reader took it as a challenge. In 2010, Dustin Hughes of Land O'Lakes resolved to visit all 100 bars on our list (the ones that are still open, anyway). On Dec. 12, his 30th birthday, Hughes, his wife Katie and their friends crossed off their final bar: The Lodge in South Tampa. In celebration of his achievement, we asked Hughes to rank his 10 favorite bars from our list. Here are his picks.
1. Fuma Bella (Ybor City). If you want the best drink in Tampa Bay, be sure to make your way out to the edges of Ybor City and this small gem on E Eighth Avenue. Katie says they have the best Manhattan in Tampa Bay, and I pretty much just let the bartender make whatever he wants and it always turns out amazing. The place is small, chill and always great for drinks and conversation. After going to 100 bars in seven months, it's our new refuge away from all the craziness that is Tampa Bay.
2. New World Brewery (Ybor City). Conveniently enough, our second favorite bar is directly across the street from Fuma Bella, making this block a must-visit for anyone looking for a good night out. While they don't have as great of a beer selection as some other Tampa beer spots, they do manage to carry a wide enough variety to keep us interested. That, coupled with the fact that you can see some of the best national and local bands here, makes this one of our favorites.
3. Dunedin Brewery (Dunedin). If you can't tell, we like places with great beer and great music. It might sound a little bit hippie (although that seems to be a label this place embraces), but there is just a good vibe here.
4. Peg's Cantina (Gulfport). This bar is a prime example of the importance of having a great staff. While the bar is a small restaurant with a minimal Mexican menu and an even more minimal selection of craft beers, our bartender Mark was perhaps the single most entertaining person that we met during this whole experience. Over the past few months, we've wanted to leave most bars within two minutes of entering them; this is one place that we actually enjoyed spending our time in.
5. Four Green Fields (Tampa). Katie's family is one of the many proud Irish families in this country, and as such, she has very high standards when it comes to Irish bars. Of all the bars on the list, Four Green Fields is the only one that actually felt like a real Irish bar. I don't want dance music or Top 40 bands at my Irish bars, I want Guinness and Irish musicians. Four Green Fields delivers on both. Also, make sure to try the Potato Leek Soup. It was probably the best thing we ate at any of the top 100 bars.
6. The Undertow (St. Pete Beach). One of the great things about living in Tampa Bay is great weather year-round. And what better way to take advantage of it than to spend your day at a bar on the beach? Unlike many beach bars on the list, the Undertow is one where you can actually go from bar to sand without crossing a street. That, coupled with a fun, laid-back environment, made this our favorite summer stop.
7. The Brass Tap (Wesley Chapel). It's hard not to be a bit biased when compiling a list of the top 10 bars, and a big reason the Brass Tap makes my list is that it's one of the closest bars to where I live. I like the massive beer selection, and it has less of a "chain" feel than World of Beer, so it's a great bar to visit when I don't want to travel too far from home.
8. Push Ultra Lounge (St. Petersburg). I'm basically too old for nightclubs at this point, so I'm thankful for Push for being the type of place that seems to cater to the 25-35 crowd, rather than the newly 21. If you go out at all, you are going to eventually face the choice of picking a nightclub to go to. Make sure it's Push.
9. Mr. Dunderbak's (Tampa). In all honesty, it's probably the food that makes this one of our Top 10 bars. They have a wide selection of German beers, and we like bars with a multitude of beer choices, but it's the potato pancakes and pierogi that keep us coming back.
10. Shephard's (Clearwater Beach). While a beach dance party is not the normal way that we'd be spending a weekend, we probably had more fun visiting this bar than any other on the list. We tried to visit each bar during the times that make them special, so we headed to Shephard's Sunday Beach Party and proceeded to have a great time hanging out by the beach and dancing in the rain.