Anyone in the Tampa Bay area who's a fan of craft beer has likely been to the Independent bar in downtown St. Pete. When it opened five years ago, the Independent was the best resource in town for beer drinkers looking to venture beyond the homogenous selections of other local drinking establishments. While the rest of the city was glad to see an occasional microbrew or quality import, the Independent was serving up Belgian abbey ales, Baltic porters and German Kölsch.
In the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa, residents have had to travel for a quality beer. But much has changed with the arrival of a new Independent on Florida Avenue — a sibling to the St. Pete location, operated by the same owners and run by local staff.
The new Independent is truly a neighborhood bar, with a large outdoor courtyard that's perfect for locals arriving on bicycle or foot, sometimes with a dog in tow. Inside is a small room with a bar and a kitchen to one side, and an adjacent room features colorful and bizarre original art by St. Pete artist J.R. Duffy. Two dartboards hang on the wall, and there are tournaments.
People know the Independent for beer, and in this it does not disappoint. There are more than a dozen on draft, ranging from hefeweizen to Belgian-style golden ale and perry cider (from pears). The bottle selection also is impressive, with beers from every continent save Antarctica, which is simply not known for its beer. There are nearly 100 beers to choose from, and a small wine selection is available if you're not in a beer mood.
I grabbed an 8-Ball Stout, a favorite from Lost Coast Brewery served with nitrogen gas through a special tap, giving it a thick, foamy head, and I took a seat in the courtyard. The rich, chocolate flavor of the stout was a perfect way to get warmed up. In the courtyard, the tables and chairs were adorned with the logo of the great Polish brewery Okocim, and though there was plenty of seating, the place was packed.
My companions and I found an empty table still damp from the rain and took a seat. We tried a Boont Amber Ale, a nice example of the style, brewed by Anderson Valley Brewing Co., and decided to order a Bavarian-style pretzel from the cafe menu. If it weren't for the Florida Avenue traffic and typical summer rain, I could've mistaken the place for an actual European beer hall.
After enjoying the faint breeze for a while, we moved inside to get a better feel of the place and ordered a Castelain Biere de Garde, a French farmhouse-style ale that was the perfect beer to finish the night on, with enough in the 750mL bottle to share. The vibe inside was nice and quiet, with most of the patrons congregating outside in the courtyard.
Seminole Heights hasn't exactly been known as a destination for serious beer drinkers, and I don't expect that to change much. But for the residents of this neighborhood who have long waited for a bar of this caliber, the Independent must be a welcome arrival. And for you locals who haven't yet expanded your taste for beer past the standard American lagers and pale ales, here's your chance.