Thursday, August 16, 2018
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Bon Appetit's In The Loop bar: A calm outpost on Dunedin's waterfront

After a weekend at the beach during perhaps the worst possible weekend to do so, I was ready to spend the next few weeks indoors. Yes, instead of squandering my weekend in a hotel room during Tropical Storm Debby, I decided to make the best of it and enjoy the tropical Florida weather for what it was — a soaking wet mess of wind, sand and rain for three days.

But the sun came out a few days later, and I instead went to Dunedin's Bon Appetit, a restaurant that has become a local landmark over nearly 40 years in business on the waterfront. Views of the surrounding marina and the sun setting are standard at Bon Appetit, but the restaurant recently debuted an upgrade to the experience, adding an outdoor bar in February.

Despite being an extension of Bon Appetit, the outdoor bar has the distinction of being known by a separate name — In The Loop — which I'm guessing is due to it being built in the middle of the traffic loop directly in front of the restaurant's entrance.

I'm told the spot used to be home to a large palm tree. I hate to think that the tree lost its home to make way for a bar, but I have to applaud Bon Appetit for originality in this regard.

For what it's worth, the outside bar seems so natural where it stands that you'd think it always had been there. It's also clearly a hit with the regulars, many of whom opt for the outdoor seating instead of dining indoors, especially around sunset.

The bar is basically a large rectangle, with seating for 24 guests and four flat-screen TVs above — one on each side.

The bar is right on the waterfront of the Dunedin Marina, a spot where crowds already gather to watch sunsets when the weather is nice. I doubt the Marina had many spectators during Debby (In The Loop was closed due to the inclement weather), but as the sky clears up and things turn more toward what non-Floridians think Florida weather is like, many of these folks will likely take a seat at the bar, so they can enjoy a cocktail, beer or glass of wine at sundown.

Beer drinkers will find a fairly limited menu, but there are a few above-average options, such as Tucher Kristall Weizen and Dunkles Hefeweizen, as well as Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale on draft. The wine list is solid, with a variety of wines from California, Italy, Germany and Australia as well as Champagne, all available by glass or full carafe.

With an emphasis on an appreciation of the Florida outdoors, it's not much of a surprise that the cocktail list leans heavily toward the tropical, with Caribbean cocktails comprising the bulk of the menu.

Of course, In The Loop delivers its own take on these styles, like the fresh and crisp Very Berry Mojito (I usually wouldn't condone the use of vodka in a mojito, but this one is very good), or a surprisingly potent Tropical Hurricane, made with Malibu, light rum, passion-fruit juice and a Myers Dark Rum Floater, served with a thick pineapple wedge garnish.

I enjoyed the fruity stuff, but In The Loop has a wide selection of other spirits as well. I ordered an Aperol Spritzer, sans Chardonnay — perhaps the perfect summer drink. Whiskey fans will find a nice selection of small-batch bourbons, and the bar inside stocks seriously high-end stuff as well, like Remy Martin's XO Cognac, which would be a nice finish to a big dinner.

On Thursday through Sunday, guests also get music to accompany their drink, in the form of a steel drum player on Thursday and Sunday and a two-piece band on Friday and Saturday. I stopped by on a Thursday, and although steel drums may be the official soundtrack to tourists traps across the Caribbean, it was nice background music and seemed a good fit for the setting.

Weather permitting, In The Loop is a great way to get some fresh air with your day out at the bar. If that sounds like your kind of thing, then you'll enjoy the sight of sailboats and wind blowing through the palm trees as the sun sets in the background. It's all very Florida, tropical storms notwithstanding.

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