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Abe's Mugs trades suggestiveness for simple fun, great drinks

Bartender Jessica Rathbun chats with customers at Abe’s Mugs Grill and Bar in Clearwater. You’ll be surprised by the drink selection.

Luis Santana/tbt*

Bartender Jessica Rathbun chats with customers at Abe’s Mugs Grill and Bar in Clearwater. You’ll be surprised by the drink selection.

When a reader mentioned Abe's Mugs Grill and Bar a few weeks ago, the name really stood. Who is Abe, and what's the deal with his mugs? Grill and bar rather than bar and grill? The whole thing seemed oddly specific.

It turns out Abe is Abe Moussa, previous owner of the original Mugs 'n Jugs location on 66th Street in Clearwater. After buying the restaurant more than a decade ago, he began to distance his business from its titular suggestiveness, focusing more on food and family friendliness than a scantily-clad wait staff. Ultimately, he sold the original location and remodeled his Missouri Avenue restaurant to appeal to a wider demographic, giving it a name change to go with the new look.

In person, Abe's seems like any other busy sports bar and grill, with an outdoor patio, medium-sized bar near the entrance, a restaurant seating area and TVs scattered throughout, invariably broadcasting whatever game is in progress. A large wooden airplane hangs from the ceiling between the bar and a small game area, where kids (or fun-loving adults) can enjoy a few arcade-style numbers, from the ubiquitous Golden Tee to an old-fashioned claw game and Simpsons pinball.

Although Abe's Mugs promises to be a "grill and bar," presumably in that order, it's just as much bar as it is grill. I was surprised by the drink menu, which boasted a wide range of beers, cocktails, spirits and cordials, organized by category and with ingredients and prices included.

This Liquid Library, as it's known, is a simple gesture, but it's less common than you'd think. With prices available for all drinks, from full cocktails down to their base ingredients, you'll always know how the tab will end up. And have you ever wondered what goes into a chocolate cake shot? It's all spelled out in the Liquid Library.

The organization was nice, but I wanted to let the drinks speak for themselves. Ironically, I started with an item not listed on the drink menu, the spiked tea. These were a steal at two for $4, and though they were a little sweet for my tastes, it's hard to argue with the price. My girlfriend tried the Mai Tai, which was remarkably strong and quite well-made. A subsequent Tanqueray martini (with an extra olive, as usual) was perfect, with just the right touch of extra-dry Cinzano to complement the gin.

The menu includes a variety of specialty martinis, shooters and frozen drinks. Among the more traditional options are the mojito and a standard gin gimlet, the latter being a tremendous deal at $4, with a second only a dollar more. This ploy is ostensibly a way to squeeze a little extra value out of an ordinary 2-for-1 special, but if you plan on having more than one drink, it will often work in your favor, as this applies to many of the drinks on the menu. Even the most expensive item, Johnnie Walker Black Label, is $8 for the first and $1 for the second, making each glass $4.50 each, a fair deal.

The wine selection is limited to a few basic house wines, but the beer selection is varied enough to work with. The drafts are inexpensive, and like many of the cocktails, a refill is only $1. Some of the bigger craft breweries are present, such as Victory, Magic Hat, Gordon Biersch and Alexander Keith; Florida Avenue even has two beers on tap.

Abe's generally gets busy during game time, but sports are only part of the draw, with plenty of patrons coming just for the food, others for the karaoke (five nights a week), and many just to enjoy bargain drinks in a laid-back setting.

I think Abe made a sound decision by trying to make his restaurant stand out from Florida's girls-and-wings scene. As a result, he ended up with a friendly establishment that has a drink selection far more interesting than you would expect from a sports bar and grill — or even a grill and bar.

Abe's Mugs Grill and Bar

1250 S Missouri Ave., Clearwater; (727) 446-0797, abesmugs.com.

The vibe: A family-friendly sports bar and grill with a surprisingly solid drink menu.

Booze: Beer, $1.95-$3.95; wine, $3.99; liquor, $4-$8. Many of the options are only $1 for a refill, making about half of the drink menu effectively 2-for-1.

Food: Appetizers, soups and salads, $2.50-$9.99; sandwiches, wraps and entrées, $5.99-$12.99; desserts, $1.99-$3.99.

Specialty: The cocktail list is far more extensive than one might expect from this type of establishment, so I would recommend that as a starting point. Craft beer on tap is a good value, as are the mugs of spiked tea or hard lemonade, both of which are 2-for-$4.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday,
11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

Abe's Mugs trades suggestiveness for simple fun, great drinks 11/10/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 3:29pm]

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