Thursday, December 14, 2017
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Bar review: The Bungalow in Tampa delivers tropical tastes in a homelike setting

Bungalow-style houses are common in South Tampa, to the point that there are several bars and restaurants built right into classic Old Florida homes. The cozy, laid-back setting that the name "bungalow" suggests just seems to be a perfect fit for a neighborhood eatery and bar.

And wouldn't you know it, there happens to be a place called The Bungalow in South Tampa, and the name is quite fitting, considering it's a bar and restaurant that occupies an old bungalow home originally built in 1919. With a menu consisting of Florida-style fare with a Cuban twist and house cocktails leaning toward the tropical end of the spectrum, it's just the kind of place where one may stop by to capture that classic Old Florida vibe.

Like any home, the Bungalow is divided into two distinct sections — inside and outside. This Bungalow utilizes the outdoor portion of the property in much the same way a resident might (albeit on a larger scale), with a patio deck and small bar, all surrounded by palm trees and other sub-tropical foliage. The patio is the place for weekend brunches, where guests can construct custom Bloody Marys from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., as well as on Friday and Saturday evenings, when there's live music on the deck. If the weather is nice, it's also good for watching the game on one of several flatscreens; if the weather is less-than-nice, there are misting fans above.

Inside, the homey atmosphere is extended with hardwood floors, exposed brick, a tile fireplace, and lots of windows where the sun can shine in. An abundance of natural light is something you don't find often in bars and restaurants, and it creates a breezy, open vibe that I think more establishments could benefit from.

Day and night, there are more flatscreens for the sports crowd, positioned seemingly in every corner throughout the different rooms, which are made up of a main bar area, a larger dining section, and a small lounge. The main bar area is nice enough, but it extends all the way to the kitchen and a soft drink station, which seems a bit odd if mostly unobtrusive.

Behind the bar is where I tend to focus, and I noticed that premium spirits were the standard offering, with a particular emphasis on small-batch whiskeys, such as Blanton's, Knob Creek, Buffalo Trace, Bulleit Rye, and Woodford Reserve. The latter was fantastic in the Lemon-Basil Manhattan, a tart and aromatic version of the classic whiskey vehicle. The house cocktails were heavy on the rum and tropical juices, nodding to the Cuban influence of many of the food menu items.

The Bungalow also has a tidy beer selection, with plenty of the domestic easy-drinkers that are likely on perpetual-pour during big games, as well as a solid line of seasonally rotating craft beers from some of the bigger names, such as Kona, Widmer and Chimay, as well as local brews from Tampa Bay Brewing Company and Cold Storage Brewing. Wine drinkers will find something to like in the concise but high-quality wine list, which offers detailed descriptions of each wine, covering a suitably broad range of styles.

Overall, The Bungalow seems less about making a quick impression and more about creating a comfortable and low-key vibe, similar to what you might find as a guest at a friend's home. For a neighborhood hangout in a part of town with many dining and drinking options, I think The Bungalow makes a good case for a laid-back afternoon — or evening — meal and cocktail.

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