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Downtown Tampa: A taste of the tournament

If you're hanging around downtown Tampa for the NCAA men's basketball tournament games or other events, here are restaurants and bars that are nearby.

Easily walkable


This sports bar has a hockey theme, but with a nice menu, tasteful brick decor and a shuffleboard table (!), it's a good spot to celebrate any win (or mourn a loss). Just come hungry. The portions are substantial. 107 S Franklin St.; (813) 225-4288.


Channelside's Splitsville is a 27,000-square-foot club that happens to have a few bowling lanes, 12 to be precise. Splitsville is all upscale razzle-dazzle, with great food and drinks to go with your strikes and spares. It has two bars, pool tables and a dining lounge. Arrive at 7:30 on a Saturday night and it can be a two-hour wait for a lane. The liquor includes some high-end martinis and 64-ounce rum bowls. As for the grub, the barbecue chicken pizza is a piping hot, messy masterpiece. 615 Channelside Drive, Suite 120; (813) 514-2695.

Bennigan's Grill & Tavern

With one of the best views at Channelside, this (now defunct) chain standby doesn't disappoint with food or brews. This surviving outpost of the Irish-American grill is set upon creating a fun atmosphere with great food specialties such as the Black Angus burger and an All-Guinness Grill, which uses a special Guinness glaze. 615 Channelside Drive, Suite 205; (813) 223-5108.


With a prime corner spot at Channelside, this Hooters gets its share of cruise boat passengers, Times Forum partiers and anyone else who comes into its orbit. 615 Channelside Drive, Suite 113; (813) 221-2600.

Taverna Opa

Taverna Opa serves good Greek food right on the water in Channelside. It's got views, it's got belly dancing, plus napkin tossing and people yelling "Opa!" and, yes, it has got great Greek salads, eggplant dip and chicken souvlaki. A number of family-style menus ($25 per person and up to $40 per person) allow you to try a range of hot and cold meze offerings along with meat and seafood platters and planks of delicious lemon-roasted potatoes and spinach leek rice. 615 Channelside Drive, Suite 123; (813) 443-4821.

Columbia Cafe

The Columbia Cafe concerns itself with authenticity. Its gorgeous wooden bar is a reproduction of the original Columbia's bar, with black-and-white prints of old Ybor on the walls. Its menu is dotted with Ybor staples (devil crab croquettes, Cuban bread, Spanish bean soup). Enjoy the outdoor deck that overlooks the channel separating Tampa from Harbour Island. 801 Old Water St.; (813) 229-5511.

Gilligan's Hideaway

Located a few blocks from the St. Pete Times Forum, it's a fun and friendly hangout. Downtown workers lunch there by day, and a mix of sports enthusiasts and nontrendy people of all ages hang out evenings and weekends. Despite Gilligan's being a drinking establishment, order and civility are maintained, so it's a safe place to take children. 202 N Morgan St.; (813) 301-9050.

Sail Pavilion on the Riverwalk

The Tampa Convention Center's circular outdoor bar opened on the Riverwalk in 2009. It opens at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. There's a full bar, several beers on tap and a variety of wine. During the week, you can munch on hot dogs and snacks. The menu expands to burgers, pizza, chicken fingers and salads on weekends. It's a great place to watch the sunset, and it's dog-friendly to boot. 333 S Franklin St.; (813) 274-7317.

A bit of a hike

Pizzaiolo Bavaro

Pizza dough is tossed rakishly for ideal thinness, then given a topping of hand-crushed and deseeded San Marzano tomatoes and other ingredients (less is more) before sliding into the maw of the rounded brick oven from Italy. You can build your own, but you're better off letting the experts concoct one of caramelized onion and provolone or soppressata and buffalo mozzarella. Follow immediately with the Nutella dessert pizza. 514 N Franklin St.; (813) 868-4440.

Pizza Fusion

This new chain of pizza places touts itself as "green." Crusts come multigrain, gluten-free or organic white. About 25 vegan and vegetarian toppings run from artichokes to zucchini. The beer and wine list favors microbrews and organics by the glass or bottle. Interesting salads and sandwiches on focaccia round out the offerings. 777 N Ashley Drive, Suite C; (813) 463-1600.

Taps Wine & Beer Merchants

It's posh. It's urban. It's got pleasant food (think small plates like Italian sausage sliders or Chipotle apricot barbecue chicken wings). And it's got a massive wall of beers, at least a hundred bottles and dozens of drafts arranged by categories like lambics, India pale ales and pilsners. The wine selection's not quite as drop-dead amazing as you might hope, but Taps makes up for it with an electronic pay-by-the-glass Enomatic wine system (the first of its kind in Tampa), which dispenses some 30 wines by the ounce. The liquor bar includes specialty martinis and mixed drinks. 777 N Ashley Drive; (813) 463-1968.

Eddie & Sam's NY Pizza

When one of the ginormous cheese pies emerges from the pizza oven, it's easy to lose your cool. You want to stand there, fold a slice in half and inhale. It's pure NYC and, get this, made with real New York City water. 203 E Twiggs St.; (813) 229-8500.

Pour House at Grand Central

With concrete floors, exposed ductwork and high ceilings, this Channelside District beer and wine emporium seems tailor-made for urban hipsters. It sports 40 taps and 60 craft bottle selections, along with a varied wine by the glass selection. Don't expect any food to go with these pours, but they do offer menus for ordering some from nearby restaurants. The bar also offers retail selections to go. 1208 E Kennedy Blvd., Suite 112; (813) 402-2923.

Spain Restaurant & Tapas Bar

This is a hot spot for swank mingling, great sangria and tasty tapas. Renovated in 2003 by Abell Garcia, the space features a dominant use of white, plus some arches and columns. The Spanish flag hangs above the bar in sharp contrast to the long ice-like bar. The bite-size treats and wine drinks are recipes of owner/chef Maria Castro, a native of Galicia, Spain. 513 N Tampa St.; (813) 223-2831.

Bamboozle Cafe

It's Vietnamese quick-service downtown in all its vibrant, punchy glory, but served up in a way that's accessible and not intimidating. Step in line and order from the board. Fresh rolls are customized to suit, a water-moistened rice paper round cradling vermicelli, green leaf lettuce, chives and mint, and then whatever you point to. The "sauce bar" offers up dunkables like spicy sriracha, sweet/salty nuoc mam, or a sophisticated ponzu dipping sauce. Also vermicelli bowls and pho. 516 N Tampa St.; (813) 223-7320.

The Point

The restaurant is stylish and trendy, a long bar running along the back and clubby outdoor seating right on Ashley Drive. Sushi is exceptional, partly due to the freshness of the fish, partly the deftness of the flavor and texture juxtapositions and partly because of the unusual sauces and garnishes. 777 N Ashley Drive; (813) 422-5220.

Downtown Tampa: A taste of the tournament 03/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 10:37am]
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