If you asked most people where to look for quality cocktails in downtown St. Petersburg, you'd likely be told to check out one of the new and highly popular cocktail lounges that have opened in the past year along the lower end of Central Avenue. But chances are, many of these same people would draw a blank if you asked them about Bar Milo.
It was about a year ago that the Rare Olive, on the corner of Third Street and Central Avenue, changed ownership and quietly began changing the look and feel of the bar. Previously home to a mostly middle-aged nightlife set, complete with cover bands performing crowd-pleasers on the weekends, the new Rare Olive opted instead for DJs and drink specials, catering more to the young and the hip.
In a transition spanning several months, the Rare Olive eventually became known by its new name — Bar Milo — and further renovations were made to change the bar's image, ranging from the installation of chalkboard walls sporting esoteric mathematical equations and formulae, to an unusual modern/industrial motif, with antique-looking light bulbs contrasting with the cool blues and greens illuminating the bottles on display behind the bar.
The juxtaposition of these different styles isn't as jarring as it sounds, instead giving the bar a slick, modern vibe that's a change of pace from the vintage themes that come standard at many of today's cocktail bars. And although Bar Milo has the supplies and know-how needed to craft nearly any old-fashioned cocktail, more modern fare is also in abundance, with new takes on old favorites and modern mixology creations making up the bulk of the house specialties.
For example, one might order an Aviation, a Prohibition-era cocktail involving gin, Luxardo and lemon juice; but Luxardo also makes for a great twist on the classic Manhattan, with a splash of the sweet maraschino liqueur balancing out the aromatic bitters. You could go way back with a blueberry shrub, an old cocktail that utilizes a sweetened vinegar syrup as a tart and flavorful addition, or you could try a modern take on the mojito, featuring muddled fresh strawberry and basil.
Bar Milo owner Bill Dye's emphasis on creative mixology is surprising, considering that he hasn't actually worked as a bartender. Originally from a farming background in South Carolina, Dye came across an opportunity to become involved in the New York restaurant scene and over time learned the skills of the mixologists he worked with while managing restaurants and bars.
Dye's cocktails are above average, and his bar's selection follows suit. From the estate-grown Ocho tequila to boutique-label Compass Box Scotch, spirit enthusiasts will find plenty of options to keep them busy. And it'll be hard to stump the staff with uncommon cocktail requests, as nearly every ingredient one could hope to throw into a cocktail shaker is in stock, from classic aperitif and bitters to flavored vodkas and fresh fruit.
Slightly removed from the high-traffic thoroughfare of the 200 block of Central Avenue, Bar Milo can be hard to spot if you're not looking for it. With no outdoor signage and only a dark interior visible through the bar's large, picture windows, the only thing alerting a passer-by to the presence of a bar is a few café tables out front. But have a look inside — this hidden gem is worth discovering.