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BARFLY ON THE WALL

Cafe Fuego: No mystery here, just a good time

The secret's out — I like beer bars. Specifically, I like beer bars with an endlessly rotating selection of dozens of the finest craft beers, always ready to satisfy my thirst for something new and interesting. I'm in good company, too, as the demand for this type of bar, previously a rarity, is higher than ever. You won't have to look far to find a local place with 40-plus beers on taps and another hundred or so in the cooler, and I'll readily admit that this abundance of establishments catering to the craft beer die-hard has made me quite spoiled.

As a result, I wasn't sure exactly what to make of Cafe Fuego. This small bar occupies an unassuming shopping center space next to the Sports Bar on 94th Avenue N in St. Pete, and boasts a modest selection of craft beers on draft and another 50 or so in bottles, but the draft list posted on the website didn't appear to wade very deep into the sea of top-end craft beer. And I hadn't heard a word about this place from any fellow beer nerds, so I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into.

I got out of my car and headed toward Cafe Fuego, where I quickly realized a band was playing. This always seems to be the case when I'm in the mood for a quiet night out with my lady friend, but no matter — there was still beer to be had, and there always exists a non-zero chance that the band could end up being entertaining.

Stepping inside, I did a quick survey: drum riser and band playing to the right, half-booth seating to the left, a couple high-tops in the back, and a bar along the back wall with 14 taps nested between two coolers filled with bottles. Darts, foosball and a Golden Tee console near the entrance, and a disco ball and bright, flashing lights above the walkway-slash-dance floor in the center of the room.

The most visually interesting element was the brick bar, lit in front by slowly changing colored lights, fading from a warm red into a cool violet and back. On the end of the bar sat an Austrian video poker game, politely asking me to bitte geld einwerfen.

I took a look at the draft list, which sported major domestic brews such as Miller Lite and Yuengling sitting right next to big-name craft brewers, like Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, Red Hook, and Oskar Blues, and on a wall adjacent to the bar was a large chalkboard displaying all of the bottles in the cooler. There were many more craft beer options to choose from here, as well as a few more uncommon entries, such as five beers from the Baltika line, a Croatian beer that I had never tried before, and surprisingly, cans of Four Loko! I must say, that's quite a range.

Although my plans for a quiet night out with the girlfriend had been foiled, we found ourselves having a pretty good time. The band, Mikearoni and the Bonérs (which is of course pronounced "Bon-airs") turned out to be surprisingly fun; I learned that they're the house band on Thursday nights. Like the beer selection, their set list of cover songs from the '70s and '80s didn't dig too deep, but it contained something for everyone. In addition to live music, the bar also occasionally hosts DJ nights.

Looking back, I think it's much simpler to crack the case of Cafe Fuego than I had originally expected. The crowd, staff and band were all friendly and clearly having a good time — two very important elements, in my estimation. The beer selection probably won't wow highly-seasoned beer drinkers (who will still find a handful of solid option to choose from), but it will provide a wealth of extra choices for the casual beer fan. A nice, simple beer bar with good beers and a decent crowd — that works for me.

— jg@saintbeat.com

Cafe Fuego

1154 94th Ave. N, St. Petersburg. cafefuegostpete.com; (727) 289-7085.

The vibe: A friendly beer, wine and coffee bar with live music and over 50 different brews.

Booze: Beer, $3-$7; wine, $6.

Specialty: There are several uncommon European beers available, such as Croatia's Karlovacko and the eloquently-named Zhiguljovskoje from Baltika. I was given a recommendation to try Baltika 9, a high-gravity lager that is really much better than I was expecting, but be careful — it's strong, and it comes in a large bottle!

Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. Monday through Friday, 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Cafe Fuego: No mystery here, just a good time 09/08/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:16pm]

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