If you read my column, you may have noticed that I'm fond of bars that don't have a particular catch or gimmick. I generally prefer the atmosphere of a bar to be a function of its drink selection, bar staff, and patrons, with the decor simply tying everything together into one cohesive environment. Being a fan of spectacle, however, I find that I frequently enjoy bars that go in the complete opposite direction, heavy on themes and motifs.
This is what brought me to Beak's Old Florida.
Beak's, as the name suggests, aims to recreate a bit of Florida retro-kitsch, despite the fact that the bar and restaurant is only about 3 1/2 years old. The irony doesn't seem to be lost on the owners of Beak's, where the motto has been "same as it ever was" since the bar opened. To simulate the history of a bar that stretches deep into Florida's past, Beak's has opted for an eye-popping array of strange and unique retro decorations in every corner of the establishment, from the walls to the table tops.
The decorations not only help set the mood of the place, they define it. In a bar with less substance, it would seem artificial and distracting; in the case of Beak's, the decoration is deliberately tongue-in-cheek. Fortunately, Beak's has the chops to back up the excess of the decor. The bar is exceptionally well-stocked, attempting to please beer, liquor, and wine drinkers alike. You'll find everything from premium craft beers to fine French wine and classic single malt Scotch. Beak's is equal parts restaurant and bar; however, the latter is emphasized by a small sign by the front door — you must be 21 to enter.
I arrived with a small party, which was fortunate because it gave me the ability to sample a variety of drinks on the menu without completely forgetting why I was there. First up was the house's take on the classic mojito, upgrading it with orange juice and muddled fruit. We then sampled the St. Pete Sunrise Martini, which is, of course, not a martini at all but rather a sort of layered tequila cocktail in a stemless cocktail glass. Very tropical and tasty. I couldn't resist trying the Perky Monkey, which is a blend of energy-infused peach and banana vodkas with pineapple juice and club soda. You can't take yourself seriously while drinking something this fruity, but it packed a surprising punch.
Beer enthusiasts will find much to like, with a variety of styles offered, mainly in the domestic microbrew categories. Blends of two drafts are also available, such as the "Arf & Arf," which combines Stone's Arrogant Bastard ale with Oskar Blues' Mama's Little Yella Pils. Fans of hoppy beers have already stopped reading after seeing that Arrogant Bastard is available on draft and are now en route to Beak's.
This place practically demands that you have fun. Everything, from old toys and knick-knacks displayed underneath the glass surface of the patio tables to a very well-stocked board game selection indoors, hints at a good time in a lighthearted, old Florida that is usually only found in tourist traps and the trinkets sold at them. In fact, Beak's feels like a place designed by someone who has never been to Florida, imagining what Florida is like — a sort of wild caricature of the real thing.