Thursday, April 26, 2018
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Bar review: Taps & Tequilas brings plenty of both to St. Petersburg

Tequila has come a long way in recent years. Just as the average beer drinker's palate is rapidly expanding and evolving, so is the tequila drinker's, moving away from the old salt-lime-and-a-shot formula toward one involving a range of bright blancos, versatile reposados and mellow añejos.

That simple distinction between different types of tequila — blanco is unaged, great for shots or cocktails; reposado is aged less than a year in oak and can be both mixed or sipped; añejo is aged a year or more in oak and is best served neat — is one that has almost completely eluded Americans, whose past experiences with the blue agave-based spirit seemed limited to frozen margaritas, sinister-tasting shots, and a conspicuous gap in memory from the night before.

As awareness increases, more bars begin to not only serve premium tequilas — they build their entire model around it. Take a new St. Pete addition, Taps & Tequila, for example. The name says it all. You'll still find spirits, cordials and wines, but the focus is very much on fine tequilas and craft beers. Tequila ranges from basic, Margarita-mix material like Cuervo and Margaritaville to super-premiums like Don Julio Real and Kah Extra Añejo (with a range of prices to match).

There's plenty of good beer, with around 30 on draft and another 50 in the bottle. In addition to the usual major labels, you'll find selections not often found at other local bars, like Innis & Gunn's Rum Cask Ale, Hoppy Liquid Sunshine Blonde Ale, and a pale and wit from Crazy Mountain, a small Colorado brewery that I'd never heard of before seeing them on the menu at Taps & Tequila.

While it might seem that a emphasis on craft beer and tequila is somewhat of an odd choice, I think the two go quite well together. Tequila and beer enthusiasts both prize the crisp, peppery flavors found in IPAs and blancos, or the rich, subtle undertones found in Imperial Stouts, Barleywines, and añejos. For their part, Taps & Tequila manages this duality seamlessly, with an outdoor beer garden and comfy indoor lounge that are equally enjoyable.

The beer garden is usually the most heavily populated, with its walk-up access from Central Avenue and proximity to Tropicana Field. This area is large, with café and banquette tables spread out, joined by a jukebox and pool table near the entrance. The Fire Monkey food truck stays parked outside most days, bolstering the house menu.

Inside, you'll find a highly stylized lounge with brick archways, scattered lounge chairs, ultra-premium tequila bottles in display cases, and a long, winding bar. The combination of wood and wicker with the mirror-backed bar and small chandeliers creates an upscale-rustic vibe that seems both surprisingly authentic and nearly optimal for tequila-sipping. From anywhere in the lounge, one's eyes will inevitably be drawn to the large glass vessels on display behind he bar; these contain tequilas infused in-house with a variety of fresh ingredients.

Those infused tequilas are one of the coolest features at Taps & Tequila, with flavors ranging from Champagne blueberry and lime sweet mint to Red Hots. Yes, the candy. These infusions can be ordered solo or in a variety of flights, and they are featured prominently in the house cocktail menu, which features unusual concoctions such as the Cucumber Sweet Pepper Margarita (cucumber-cilantro and sweet pepper-infused tequilas with fresh lime juice and Cointreau) and the Night Night Termite (Don Julio Blanco, Nolet's Dry Gin, and coconut juice!).

Both the beer garden and indoor lounge at Taps & Tequila would be unique bars on their own, but they work well together, creating an environment that is both highly intriguing and quite unlike anything else found in downtown St Pete. — [email protected]

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