What appeared to be a happy, working-class crowd filled Rick's on the River when I visited on a recent Friday about 6:30 p.m. Overlooking the Hillsborough River in west Tampa, the "Marina-Bar-Grille" draws patrons ranging from parents and their small children to young guys in sports jerseys to senior citizens. Many of these were regulars on a friendly, first-name basis with the young women servers — including the man seated next to me at the outside bar.
He chomped on a massive cheeseburger, washing each bite down with a pull from his ice-cold bottle of Bud Light. I scanned the laminated menu and had a sudden craving for oysters. But then that old saying about only ordering the delightfully slimy mollusks in months spelled with the letter "r" rattled my confidence. I needed a second opinion, and the man with the Bud Light and burger, who I heard the bartender call "Mark," seemed like the right person to ask.
"This place has been serving oysters for a long time," he said with an affable grin. "Trust me, they know what they're doing."
I ordered a dozen ($8.99). Switched from Jameson and soda to a margarita on the rocks, no salt. A man with an acoustic guitar and pre-programmed backing tracks performed on the stage that is on the north end of the sprawling wooden deck. The downtown Tampa skyline gleamed in the distance behind him. Just as my tequila-based cocktail arrived, the singer sang its Jimmy Buffett-penned anthem, Margaritaville.
Rick's doesn't offer much by way of happy hour specials — at least not on Fridays. The mixed drinks are served in plastic cups. There's nothing special about these libations. But they're pretty strong — a major plus. I've learned potent libations are a rarity among waterfront bars, which typically rely on the view as the chief selling point.
And Mark was right about my oysters. I slurped down all 12. They were fresh, fat and filling.
"This place started as just a little shack," Mark informed me as I wiped my mouth.
Now, Rick's is something of a waterfront wonderland — and a boater's dream destination. Have too many margaritas? No problem. Rick's offers overnight docking.
In addition to the outside bar, which is covered and lined with ample ceiling fans, there's the large inside bar, dining area and adjacent oyster bar room that has a pool table. There's also the party pavilion that holds 200 people and was hopping during my recent visit.
Not enough? How about an "egg shampoo." Seriously, Rick's on the River features a full-service salon.
My buddy Buck met me at the outside bar about an hour into my visit. We had a couple of bottles of Miller Lite. He lives in nearby Seminole Heights. "This place really is a great neighborhood bar," Buck said after taking it in for the first time since our last visit about a year or so ago.
I nodded in agreement.
What's your favorite drinking destination? Contact Barfly columnist Wade Tatangelo at wtatangelo@ hotmail.com.