This summer, tbt* ventured out in search of the best, biggest, boldest and most off-the-wall drinks being served at local bars and restaurants. Beer, cocktails, wine, even spiked milkshakes — everything was on the table. Our only rule of thumb was that it had to be something truly special, something you'd go out of your way to taste. Here are more than 60 specialty drinks that we think fit the bill. — Jay Cridlin, Justin Grant, Stephanie Hayes, Susan Thurston, tbt* archives
ZOYA SHISHA LOUNGE | TURKISH TEA
The name sounds exotic and so is the taste. This newly opened hookah lounge uses not-so-obvious ingredients to create unique, flavorful drinks. Basil? Cherry tomatoes? Cardamom-infused simple syrup? Cocktail concoctress Jayme Ellis experiments with them all. Among the tastiest is the Turkish Tea, a blend of Russian Standard Vodka, elderberry liqueur, lemon grass-infused simple syrup, chai tea and a twist of lemon. If you like chai tea, you're going to want this through an IV. If you don't, try it anyway. It's that interesting. Zoya opened in June in the former Buddha Lounge after an extensive makeover. Owned by the Czar folks, it has a Middle Eastern theme with Persian rugs and Moroccan-style furnishings. Get there early enough, and the staff will walk you over to Czar through the back. 1430 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City.
DOG'S BOLLOCKS | FIREBALL CINNAMON WHISKY
The slogan for Fireball Cinnamon Whisky is "Tastes like heaven, burns like hell." The company then goes on to explain it like this: "Just imagine what it would be like to get a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick to the face if his legs were on fire and tasted like cinnamon." Legend has it that Fireball was invented during Canada's coldest winter ever. It spread through the United States when a few bottles were smuggled over the border. You can order up a taste of this sought-after spirit at the Dog's Bollocks in Ybor City, a British bar rife with soccer flags, dart boards and foosball tables. A shot costs $4. Dog's Bollocks doesn't do happy hours, but rather claims to have the lowest prices in Ybor City any time of day. 1704 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City; (813) 247-4488; dogsbollocksybor.com.
LUCKY STAR LOUNGE | ELVIS SHOT
Elvis Presley was a man with an appetite for some unusual foods, including sandwiches made with peanut butter, bananas and bacon. If it's good enough for the King to eat, then it's good enough for you to drink! If that logic seems sound, then head to the Lucky Star Lounge and order an Elvis shot. It's made with Nutliquor peanut butter vodka, Bakon vodka, and banana liqueur. Yes, that's Bakon as in bacon, although this vodka is strictly vegetarian. If that sounds like a bit much, you may be interested to know that the lounge has built a small book of food-replica shots, ranging from booze renditions of Ambrosia salad and oatmeal cookies to an uncannily close Tootsie Roll. 2760 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg. myspace.com/luckystarlounge28.
THE GARDEN | INFUSED SPIRITS
The Garden's long-time bartender, Jaime, has been toying around with infused vodkas for a while now, but only recently has the selection grown to a full line of flavored spirits, with flavors ranging from sweet and fruity to rich and spicy. Most of these are vodka-based, as it's an ideal candidate for infusion, but the vanilla and peach-infused bourbon is our favorite — make sure to order it neat. Other notable options are vodkas infused with kiwi and strawberry, peach and ginger, plums, orange tea, and even a "Bloody Mary," infused with vegetables, peppers and spices. 217 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 896-3800, thegardendtsp.com.
THE HUB | REALLY STRONG DRINKS
When a term like the "Hub Pour" enters the local vernacular, it's probably wise to take note. If you've spent any time in The Hub — Tampa's quintessential downtown dive bar — you already know what a "Hub Pour" is; if not, it can be summed up in two words: heavy-handed. This is even somewhat of an understatement, as you'll notice when watching the bartender pour your drink — these things are strong. If you're looking for a cocktail that's got legs, you'd be hard-pressed to find one that beats The Hub. 719 N Franklin St., Tampa. (813) 229-1553, thehubbartampa.com.
CZAR | ICE SHOTS
A Russian-themed bar, Czar obviously takes vodka seriously. But 268 varieties? That's borderline obsessive — or brilliant, depending on your drinking habits. The bar makes it easy to tackle a bunch of them with its ice shots. Pick your poison at the Cyberia bar, and the staff will serve it in a shot glass made of ice. Chug, then chuck the "glass'' against the wall. They encourage it. Double espresso is a favorite among comrades because it's yummy and goes down easy. Bison grass from Poland is a strong seller, too, but for less obvious reasons. It tastes as good as it sounds. Don't ask for a lemon drop or other sweet concoction. Ice shooters are served straight up because, duh, it's all about the vodka. 1420 E Seventh Ave.; Ybor City; (813) 247-2664; czarnation.com.
The Castle | Absinthe
A couple of years ago, absinthe — the forbidden green nectar of the damned — made a comeback in this country, and several bars hopped on the bandwagon. But none did it with more gusto than the Castle, Ybor City's palace of goth and outsider culture. With a custom menu of more than a half-dozen absinthes from France, Czechoslovokia, Switzerland and the United States — some priced at up to $24 a glass — the Castle can feed your fix. The flaming sugar cubes, the ornate goblets, opalescent hue, the intense taste of licorice — whether you're wearing a leather duster or a raccoon-skin coat, you'll feel like you just fell down a rabbit hole. How very curious! 2004 N 16th St., Ybor City. (813) 247-7547, castleybor.com.
Fly Bar and Restaurant | Fat Cat Daddy
It's hard to go wrong with almost any of Fly's fine cocktails — and because their menus can rotate, sometimes you never know what you're gonna get, both downstairs and on the rooftop bar. But come on — you have to admire the straight-up balls of any bar bold enough to put moonshine on their menu. Fly's Fat Cat Daddy — Midnight Moonshine, creme de cassis and a pinot grigio syrup, served in a mason jar — won't turn you blind like the white lightning your pappy grew up on. But it's very refreshing, and a modern way to reaffirm your devotion to the Deep South. 1202 N Franklin St., Tampa. (813) 275-5000, flybarandrestaurant.com.
BAHI HUT LOUNGE | MAI TAI
Since 1954, the Bahi Hut in Sarasota has been serving up tropical drinks in its kitschy, now-retro roadside tiki bar. The signature drink is the Mai Tai, created by the original bartender, and it carries a two-drink limit. What's that, you say — a drink limit on a lowly Mai Tai? Rest assured, these are no ordinary rum-and-grenadine concoctions; the Bahi Hut blends several rums — including Bacardi 151 — with fresh fruit juices and omits the grenadine entirely. The pours are generous to say the least, and the result is a serious cocktail, one that easily warrants a two-drink maximum. Despite its potency, the Mai Tai is actually quite tasty — not too fruity, sweet and slightly tart — and if you end up with a bit too much rum in your system, the attached Golden Host Resort has rooms available. 4675 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 355-5141.
DUNEDIN/PALM HARBOR HOUSES OF BEER | RANDALL-INFUSED BEERS
Dogfish Head Brewery, known for its unusual and innovative beers, needed a way to infuse their already hop-heavy 120-Minute IPA with an even more monstrous addition of hops. Thus was borne the Randall, a pressurized system used to push beer through fresh hops, imbuing beers with a crisp, hoppy taste. When Dogfish Head started selling Randalls to the public, the Dunedin and Palm Harbor Houses of Beer picked one up and started experimenting. The resulting "Randall Nights" — generally every other Tuesday in Dunedin and Sundays in Palm Harbor, but call ahead to confirm — have featured beers infused with anything from vanilla and coffee beans to cinnamon and fresh fruit. Dunedin House of Beers, 927 Broadway #A, Dunedin. (727) 216-6318, dunedinhob.com; Palm Harbor House of Beers, 34970 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor. (727) 784-2337, palmharborhob.com.
CASA TINA | Michelada
A popular beer found in restaurants and bars in Mexico is the Michelada, a mixture of beer and savory elements, such as tomato juice and hot sauce. If you didn't immediately stop reading, then you may be interested in hearing the rest. Casa Tina, a well-respected Mexican restaurant on Dunedin's scenic Main Street, serves its own version of this hearty drink, blending Modelo Especial lager with fresh lime juice, Maggi seasoning sauce, Valentina hot sauce and a salted rim. Surprisingly refreshing and well-balanced, it goes equally well with your dinner as it does with a nice day enjoyed from the restaurant's patio. 365 Main St., Dunedin. (727) 734-9226, casatinas.com.
GEORGIE'S ALIBI | LONG ISLAND ICED TEA
If you've been to Georgie's Alibi on a Thursday night, you've already had one of their Long Island Iced Teas. But first-time visitors may wonder what the fuss is with these oversized Mason-jar drinks, found in the hands of many suspiciously tipsy-looking folks. The answer is a combination of cost, quantity and effectiveness; for $4, you get an outrageously large Long Island, served in a 32-ounce Mason jar, with a simple lemon and lime garnish. Take a sip and you'll see why these are a hit — they're one of the strongest drinks in town, short of drinking straight from the bottle. 3100 Third Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 321-2112, georgiesalibi.com/stpete.
RESERVOIR BAR | PINEAPPLE VODKA
Cans of PBR and whiskey cocktails are the default for many patrons of the Res, but ask Mama, the bartender, about her pineapple-infused vodka. Thick pineapple spears are soaked in vodka for two weeks before they're ready to serve, complete with a chunk of the vodka-soaked pineapple thrown into the glass. Although she suggests eating the pineapple first because of the sugars being dissolved into the vodka, we prefer to eat it as we go. As for the vodka, it does indeed contain the dissolved fruit sugars, and if you're a pineapple fan (as any reasonable person is), you'll want to give it a shot. 1518 E Seventh Ave., Tampa. (813)248-1442, resbar.com.
TAVERN AT BAYBORO | BIRTHDAY beer
Everyone goes out drinking on their birthday. Why not take your friends and do it for free? This bar, located near the USF St. Pete campus, offers free booze for all good birthday boys and girls. Get a free pitcher at the Tavern at Bayboro — usually Miller Lite or Yuengling, but if you're a regular, they might give you something a little classier. Your friends may have to buy the next round, but hey, no one ever said your friendship came cheap. 121 Seventh Ave. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 821-1418.
ZOM HEE | ST. PETERSBURG SLING
This unassuming Chinese restaurant is a favorite with Pinellas locals, who praise it for fresh, home-style cooking. I'm one of these folks, but I probably would never have found the place if it were not for the curious cocktail lounge advertised on the shopping-center marquee. Zom Hee is a bit of an anomaly — a traditional Chinese restaurant that has an extensive cocktail list of classics and signature takes on old favorites. Among these are a piña colada served in a brilliant faux-coconut mug and the St. Petersburg Sling, a mixture of gin, sloe gin, orange and pineapple juices, sour, and grenadine, served in a kitschy mug resembling an Easter Island statue and garnished with an orange slice, maraschino cherry, and — importantly — a little paper umbrella. As the cocktail menu suggests, it's like a Singapore Sling, but it "tastes better." 9015 Park Blvd., Seminole. (727) 391-8393, zomhee.com. — Justin Grant
ST. PETERSBURG NIGHTS | RUSSIAN BUM
You won't find a drink more Russian at heart than straight vodka. Russians are well-known for their affinity for this mostly neutral spirit, and much emphasis is put into the cultural aspect of downing shots of vodka with friends at social gatherings. One traditional way to serve vodka is neat, in a shot glass, with a side of pickles. Yes, pickles. People that know me well know how easily I'm sold on this idea, but even a skeptic will have to admit that a pickle chaser is a great way to make a shot of Russian or Ukranian vodka go down smoothly once they try one of these Russian Bums for themselves. 6800 Sunset Way, St. Pete Beach. (727) 363-3832, stpetersburgnights.com. — Justin Grant
WET WILLIE'S | CALL A CAB
Nary a day passes that I don't lament the tragic loss of the Wet Willie's at St. Pete's Baywalk. Spending a summer night sipping an impossibly cold, devastatingly alcoholic slush while kicking back on the courtyard balcony was a favorite pastime. The good news is that Channelside is home to a Wet Willie's, and the signature drink — the Call a Cab — is as over-the-top there as ever. The mixture of what I can only imagine is cherry cough-syrup flavoring, combined with straight grain alcohol, goes down easier than you'd think, thanks to the low freezing point of alcohol. The result is so cold that your tongue will go numb and your souvenir cup will become coated in a thick layer of frost as the condensation freezes. Bring a DD to enjoy a non-alcoholic Weak Willie, or you'll need to take the drink's advice and get a taxi. 615 Channelside Drive #116, Tampa. (813) 221-5650, wetwillies.com/locations/tampa. — Justin Grant
HELLAS RESTAURANT | OUZO
One of the best ways to while away an afternoon in the Bay area is to hang out around the Tarpon Springs sponge docks, where you'll find no shortage of scenery or drink. It'll be no surprise to learn that many of the restaurants and bars along Dodecanese Boulevard carry a variety of Greek wines and spirits, including the omnipresent ouzo, the traditional liquor of Greece. Hellas Restaurant, one of the busier spots along the docks, has a very nice bar in the back of the restaurant, where you can order such a drink. Try it on the rocks — the ice will cause the clear liquid to turn milky white — and enjoy it by the waterfall fountain near the bar or outside on the patio. 785 Dodecanese Blvd., Tarpon Springs. (727) 943-2400, hellas-restaurant.com.
Mise en Place | Kentucky Breakfast
It's one of those drinks that sounds so wrong, you just have to try it: Bacon-infused bourbon, maple syrup and muddled orange. It's a fascinating concoction — the bourbon takes four days to infuse, and as the fat separates from the bourbon, it is scraped off and sometimes saved for use in the Mise en Place kitchen. As for the taste? You may be surprised (disappointed?) to learn that the orange flavor overwhelms the bacon, which is surprisingly mild. But it's still very nice, and not as heavy as it sounds. Besides, you can't put a price on the subtle joy of drinking from a mason jar at one of Tampa's finest bistros. 442 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 254-5373, miseonline.com.
CAFE ALMA | BLOODY MARY
There's no shortage of notable Bloody Marys around town, but Cafe Alma gives them extra splash with tomato-flavored vodka. This downtown St. Pete restaurant sets up a Bloody Mary bar every Saturday and Sunday for the do-it-yourself breakfast and lunch crowd craving a meal in a glass. The bloody good fixins' bar has items you won't find elsewhere, from mushrooms to pickled zucchini, plus 20 kinds of pepper and hot sauces. The Three Olives tomato vodka blends so well with the veggie juice that you might forget the drink contains alcohol. 260 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 502-5002; cafealma.com.
BAR MILO | BLUEBERRY SHRUB
There are a few notable house specialties on Bar Milo's inventive, ever-evolving cocktail menu, but one that you won't find easily elsewhere is the blueberry shrub. A modern rendition of a late-18th century drink, it contains blueberry vodka and club soda flavored with an acidic mixture of balsamic and rice-wine vinegars sweetened with sugar. The result is highly palatable, crisp and refreshing. 300 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 822-7273.
Datz | Eberson's Old Fashioned
Would Don Draper be caught dead drinking in a deli? He would if he could get an Old Fashioned like the ones they make at Datz. The popular South Tampa eatery is also a brilliantly stocked bar, with sprawling lists of spirits, beers and inventive cocktails. Their Eberson's Old Fashioned uses Luxardo cherries (soaked in brandy, imported from Italy) and a few dashes of cherry bitters by Fee Brothers and is garnished with a candied bacon skewer. That's right: BACON. It doesn't come cheap — ours was $14 — but the finer things in life rarely do. 2616 S MacDill Ave., Tampa. (813) 831-7000. datzdeli.com.
VUE SUSHI & MARTINI BAR | CUCUMBER FRESCO
When I first noticed the Cucumber Fresco on Vue's signature cocktail list, it looked like a solid creation: Patron Silver, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, mint, diced cucumber and grapefruit juice. I ordered one and found that it was a totally different recipe. The current Cucumber Fresco combines Seagram's gin, St. Germain, grapefruit juice, diced cucumber, and — brace yourself — pickled sushi ginger. And somehow it works great, yielding a cocktail that neatly balances the contrasting dry and sweet spirits (Seagram's and St. Germain) with cool and tart flavors (cucumber, grapefruit and ginger). 200 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg. (727) 821-4600, vue19.com. — Justin Grant
Timpano Italian Chophouse | Liquid Karma
"In this day and age," says Timpano bartender Kim Kraimer, "a martini is no longer your classic vermouth, gin or vodka." Sometimes it's even made with rum. Arguably the most popular of Timpano's two dozen house martinis is the Liquid Karma, a greenish concoction containing Bacardi Limon, Zen Green Tea liqueur, lemon juice and fresh ginger, served with a honey rim and lemon twist. It's as sweet as it sounds, and it's developed quite a reputation. "A lot of people know Timpano's for that," said Kraimer. As well they should. 1610 W Swann Ave., Tampa. (813) 254-5870, timpanochophouse.net
OCEAN PRIME | BERRIES & BUBBLES
With six locations in five states, the upscale chain Ocean Prime deserves at least a sliver of the credit for the mainstreaming of the Prohibition-era cocktail, with its Cucumber Gimlets, Whiskey Clovers and Strawberry Smashes. But its signature show-stopper is still one of its silliest drinks: The Berries & Bubbles. Chunks of dry ice are added to a rich purple mix of citrus vodka, Champagne, marinated berries and house-made sour mix, and the end result is a raucously bubbling brew that's guaranteed to turn heads around the bar. The fruit flavor is intense, the bubbles add texture and the dry ice gives it a strangely intoxicating aroma (and creates ice on the stem). It's pulpy, it's preposterous ... and somehow, it makes perfect sense. 2205 N West Shore Blvd., Tampa. (813) 490-5288. oceanprimetampa.com.
ORBIT 19 LOUNGE | CUCUMBER MARTINI
No one would expect to find a top-flight cocktail bar in sleepy Holiday, especially not one joined at the hip to a barnlike package store. But Orbit 19 is an outpost of Prohibition-era professionalism in southwest Pasco County. Their most popular drink might be the Cucumber Martini — Hendrick's gin or Americana vodka, a whole blended cucumber (!) and fresh oregano, plus a salted rim and cucumber garnish. It's unbelievably refreshing, like drinking a salad. Even better is another, nameless drink they offered us, with Hendrick's, muddled cucumber and Gosling's ginger beer: Fizzy, fuzzy and wickedly refreshing. It doesn't have a name yet, and maybe it doesn't need one. Maybe it should just stay our little secret, m'kay? 1542 U.S. 19 N, Holiday; (727) 937-8330; orbit19lounge.com.
SHADRACK'S | EVANDER BEER
There are many places in Tampa Bay where you can order a bottle of Evander Beer. But this may be the only bar where you're likely to see the guy on the label sitting next to you. Shadrack's, a little dive in Pass-a-Grille, sits next door to the home studio and boutique of jewelry artist Evander Preston, an eccentric, unmistakably mountain-mannish fixture on the South Pinellas arts scene. Brewed by the Florida Beer Co., the pilsner-style lager is available throughout Tampa Bay, but for the full Evander Beer experience, you need to consume it at Shadrack's — or, heck, in Preston's own studio, which serves it on tap. 114 Eighth Ave., St. Pete Beach. (727) 360-8279.
DON CESAR RESORT | RUSSIAN STEED
Sometimes the house cocktail isn't the most interesting thing on a bar menu. For example, the Don CeSar has a signature shot (The Don), a signature daiquiri (Don of the Daiquiri) and, as with all Lowes Hotels, a signature cocktail (The Tickled Pink). Ignore them all and order a Russian Steed, a tart twist on the Moscow Mule. Vodka, ginger syrup, fresh lime juice and creamy ginger-beer foam, topped with lime-peel shavings, served in a traditional copper mug. The deliciously sour concoction looks, and tastes, not unlike a sherbert sundae, and it goes down just as smoothly. 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach. (727) 360-1881, loewshotels.com/doncesar.
THE HURRICANE | HURRICANE RUNNER
Unless you're starving, skip the historic Hurricane's first- and second-floor dining rooms, and head straight for the rooftop lounge, which offers as blissful a view of the Gulf of Mexico as you'll find anywhere in Tampa Bay. If the bar has a signature drink, it's the Rum Runner, which is simple, spicy, potent and deep enough to last until sunset and beyond. Bonus: There's a large selection of non-alcoholic slush drinks, all of which can be ordered in a souvenir carved monkey-head coconut that doubles as a coin bank. Perfect for the kiddies! 807 Gulf Way, St. Pete Beach. (727) 360-9558, thehurricane.com.
AGAVE | FROZEN MARGARITA
Finally: A beach bar that puts the Mexico back in the Gulf of Mexico. With a name like Agave, this cozy little cantina better deliver on the tequila front, and boy, does it ever, with more than 50 labels on the menu, including an $80 shot of Don Julio Real. The mix 'n' match margarita list is suitably flexible, allowing you to choose your own tequila, flavors and preparation style. We enjoyed the frozen raspberry margarita — sweet, fruity and generous. Just like all our best amigos. 6400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach. (727) 367-3448.
FOUR GREEN FIELDS | PINT OF GUINNESS
Sure, you can order a domestic beer at this Irish pub but don't broadcast it too loudly. True fans of the clover drink Guinness, by far Four Green Fields' best-seller. (The bar had 125 kegs on hand for St. Patrick's Day.) The thatched-roof pub arguably pours the perfect pint, a multistep process that requires nitrogen to make the frothy head. For the full experience, ask the bartender to make a shamrock in the head. At the very least, it's pretty cool to see. 205 W Platt St., Tampa; (813) 254-4444; fourgreenfields.com.
INFUSIONS LOUNGE | TEAGRIA
Here's a signature drink that boasts healthy benefits. The reinvented Hooker Tea Company in Tampa, now called Infusions Lounge, serves teagria — a blend of wine and antioxidant-rich tea. Owner Eric Starr and his girlfriend came up with it one night over a bottle of awful wine. They added some tea to improve the taste and, voila, created teagria. Served in a tall pilsner glass with slices of fruit, teagria comes in red and white. The white is made with Mayan Mate green tea; the red is made with passion berry tea. People planning to party in SoHo all night might go for the white. It's caffeinated. 223 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 443-5797; infusionslounge.com.
SPLITSVILLE | BIG BOWL DRINKS
While you're knocking down pins at Splitsville's swanky bowling alley in Channelside, take the opportunity to knock yourself to the ground, too. The theme restaurant offers bowl drinks in an 18-ounce schooner for $9 and a monumental 60-ounce super schooner for $21. They're designed for a group, but we have no question you'll give it your best try solo. There are seven flavors of bowl drink, including a Voodoo Juice Bowl (coconut rum, banana liqueur, blue curacao, pineapple, cranberry juice), a Splitsville Bowl (huckleberry vodka, lemonade, sprite, strawberry Pucker), and if you really hate your liver, a Long Island Bowl (vodka, rum, triple sec, sour mix, coke). Just try and stay out of the gutter. 615 Channelside Drive, Tampa; (813) 514-2695; splitsvillelanes.com.
PADDY O'SULLIVAN'S | SPIKED MILKSHAKE
Burgers and shakes. Can't screw that up too badly, can you? Well, Paddy O'Sullivan's in St. Pete Beach offers not only a mind-bending array of gourmet burgers, and a beer list stretching into the triple digits, but also a half-dozen "spiked milkshakes" blended with vodka, rum, Kahlua and more. We paired our Three Irish Cheeses Burger — which features cheeses made with Guinness, Irish whisky and Irish porter — with the Creamsicle, a blend of orange sherbert, orange vodka, triple sec and milk. Rich, decadent and delicious, it's like drinking a dessert. If only they'd thought of that at Arnold's Drive-In. 6101 Gulf Blvd., St Pete Beach. (727) 360-7888, paddyosullivans.com.
BERNINI | GODIVA CHOCOLATE MARTINI
This drink tastes as good as it sounds. Bernini combines 360 Double Chocolate vodka, Godiva chocolate liqueur, Creme de Cacao and a hint of Frangelico to satisfy a chocolate lover's fix. Served chilled straight up, it's just frothy enough to qualify as a summertime dessert. But with a lot of kick. It's not on the current seasonal cocktail menu but just ask for it. Bartenders know it by heart. It's a favorite around Christmas and Valentine's Day. 1702 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City; (813) 248-0099; berniniofybor.com.
JIMMY B'S BEACH BAR | THE WET SPOT
If you're man enough to order one by name, be our guest. The signature drink at this poolside bar in back of the Beachcomber Resort is a silly, frothy little thing — it's basically a blueberry pina colada topped with fresh whipped cream — but it's proven popular enough to spawn a line of merchandise, from "Wet Spot" tank tops to coolie cups. And besides, once the first one's out of the way, it gets a lot easier to order a second. And a third. And a fourth. 6200 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach, (727) 367-1902, beachcomberflorida.com.
PELAGIA TRATTORIA | GRAPPA
Some call it "Italian moonshine." But there are those who say that in the right hands, the potent, winelike brandy known as grappa can be an exquisite digestif for a fine Italian meal. At Pelagia Trattoria in Tampa, chefs offer a handful of grappas at any given time, infused with house flavors like pear, pineapple, mango, raspberry, coffee and mojito. They rest in a rack in the rear of the restaurant, near the bar, so the next time you need a pick-me-up during a day at the mall, take a deep breath and order a glass. Located at the Renaissance Tampa Hotel International Plaza, 4200 Jim Walter Blvd., Tampa. (813) 313-3235; pelagiatrattoria.com
THE CHIC-A-BOOM ROOM | COSMOPOLITAN
Men may not fare well with the Chic-A-Boom Room's roster of "martoonis," stocked as it is with fruity, indulgent concoctions with cartoonish names (the Slippery Finger, the Pink & Perky, the Big "O"). Just go all out and order their pitch-perfect Cosmo, which is sweet but delicious, like a birthday cupcake, and pink as a slinky satin negligee. If you're gonna abandon all pretense of masculinity — or simply have a night out with your own personal Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha — this is the way to do it. 319 Main St., Dunedin, (727) 736-5284, kellyschicaboom.com.
BAR 1570 | VODKA BUTTERBEER
Only in Tampa Bay could you find an adults-only version of Harry Potter's favorite drink. When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 premiered in 2010, the Tampa Museum of Science and Industry wanted to celebrate the flick with a drink at Bar 1570, located in the lobby of its IMAX Dome Theatre. The answer: Vodka Butterbeer, a rich, buttery, extremely sweet blend of vodka, cream soda, butterscotch syrup and whipped cream that tastes much like the "official" butterbeer served at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. It's one of the few places in America that serves alcoholic butterbeer. Would J.K. Rowling approve? Bar 1570 is located on the second floor of MOSI, 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa. (813) 987-6000, mosi.org.
The Swigwam | The Bushwacker
When the Postcard Inn and PCI Bar took over its property on St. Pete Beach, the Swigwam lost its oceanfront view — and its liquor license. That put an end to its legendary Bushwacker, a potent, ice-cold slush comprised of vodka, rum, Bailey's, Kahlua, amaretto, Coco Lopez and chocolate syrup. But after a brief beer-and-wine-only phase, the new Swigwam on Corey Avenue has regained its liquor license, and the booze is once again flowing. You know what that means — Bushwackers for all! 336 Corey Ave., St. Pete Beach; (727) 363-7944, swigwam.com.
The Double Decker | das boot
Near the tail end of a bachelor party last fall, some friends and I stopped by at the Double Decker pub in Ybor City. Behind the bar sits "Das Boot," a giant glass boot that can holdwhat must be a gallon of beer. A round! someone demanded. The rest of the night unfolded like a 12-round bare-knuckle brawl, with grown men leaning on the bar to maintain their upright and locked position, glowering and howling at the vessel before them: "Boot! BOOOOOOOOOT!" It wasn't pretty. And yet, one month later, the battle of Das Boot made its way into the best man's wedding toast. Das Boot had become canon, a part of our shared history in all the ways our mothers never intended. 1721 Seventh Ave., Ybor City. (813) 248-2099, doubledeckertampa.com. — Jay Cridlin
Packard's Bar | CaIpirinha
The caipirinha, a Brazilian version of the mojito, is hard enough to find in Tampa Bay. Who ever would have guessed you'd find one in this tiny Prohibition-style lounge hidden inside Grayl's Hotel? Packard's caipirinha uses cachaça (sugarcane rum) as the liquor base, an ingredient that is unusual to find in these parts. It's a bit sweet (our bartender compared it to "burnt sugar cane"), but you'll enjoyed the chance to try a popular cocktail that isn't often spotted around here. 340 Beach Drive NE, St. Pete; (727) 896-1080; graylshotel.com.
VINOY RENAISSANCE HOTEL | CUBAN SOCIETY
They call it "a Hemingway favorite of La Bodequita in Havana." We call it a razzamatastic take on the mojito. However you view the Vinoy's Cuban Society, it's best enjoyed on the hotel's fan-cooled veranda, overlooking St. Petersburg's Vinoy Basin. Blending Bacardi Razz rum, Galliano liqueur, simple syrup, mint leaves, fresh raspberries, lime and club soda, it's a cool, casual cocktail that goes well with the Vinoy's warm BBQ kettle chips and Ybor City Amber Lager cheddar dip (a steal at only 99 cents). It's tart, pulpy and a classic twist on stately old Florida. Vinoy Renaissance Resort, 501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg; (727) 894-1000, vinoyrenaissanceresort.com.
BAILEY'S | DOG DRINKS
At Bailey's restaurant, dogs get the royal treatment with water, Milkbones and even meatloaf when it's one the menu. They can also get their name on a cocktail. The restaurant has expanded its drink menu to include cocktails named after people's pooches. Just bring in a photo and owner Kim Bailey and the staff will come up a drink to match your pet's personality. The summer cocktail menu featured two dog-inspired concoctions: The Stafford and The Buddy. The Stafford, a pretty, pinkish whisky sour made with Aperol, lemon juice and simple syrup, is named after Acey Williams' Shih Tzu. The Buddy is named after Bailey's greyhound/bird dog mutt and combines the restaurant's homemade raspberry lemonade and Stoli vodka. Photos of the dogs and their drink recipes get posted in the restaurant's bar. 238 E Davis Blvd., Tampa; (813) 254-8018; baileycatering.com.
BLUE MARTINI | BLUE MARTINI
The Blue Martini does not actually come in a martini glass, but don't be fooled. It packs just as much wobbly punch as a traditional James Bond-style beverage. Good thing the mall is right there to walk off the buzz among slick business types, professional athletes and women toting Gucci bags. The bar at International Plaza's Bay Street offers its namesake drink in the form of Van Gogh Blue vodka, Cointreau, blue curacao, sour mix and orange juice, served in a large snifter over ice with three cherries and an orange slice. For a nighttime effect, they add a funky glow stick. If you drink it outside while the bar's large fans cool you off, things start to feel very Miami. It's $12 normally, but half price during happy hour from 4 to 8 p.m. every day. 2223 S. Westshore Blvd., Tampa; (813) 873-2583; bluemartinilounge.com.
THE LIME | MARGARONA
Urban dictionary calls this the bastard child of the margarita. The folks at Lime declare it the "not quite famous'' margarona. Call it what you want, it's a drink you conquer, not sip. The margarona combines two Mexican favorites: a 24-ounce margarita, frozen or on the rocks, and a bottle of Corona placed bottoms up in the glass. It starts off tasting like a regular margarita but transitions to beer as you make room in the glass for the Corona. Imagine this: Snooki from Jersey Shore was spotted drinking a margarona with not one, but two beers. Lime sells the drink for $15 or $12 during happy hour from 2 to 7 p.m. daily. Still thirsty? The bar also has a 60-ounce margarita for anyone who doesn't have to function the next day. 915 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 868-5463; thelimetampa.com.
COLUMBIA RESTAURANT | MOJITO
Everything about the 105-year-old Columbia is legendary. There's even a story behind its beloved mojito. For nearly a century, the institution made the drink: by muddling the mint. But that changed a decade ago after president and CEO Richard Gonzmart had lunch with his friend Booker Noe, the late Jim Beam bourbon innovator. It was over that meal that Gonzmart learned the secret to making a great mint julep and a great mojito, too: simple syrup. The result is a more efficient, more invigorating beverage. And we're not ashamed to say it: It's the best mojito in Tampa Bay. Four locations: 2117 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City, (813) 248-4961; 801 Old Water St. #1905, Tampa (inside the Tampa Bay History Center), (813) 229-5511; 800 Second Ave. NE, St. Petersburg (The Pier), (727) 822-8000; 1241 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater, (727) 596-8400. columbiarestaurant.com.
RED MESA CANTINA | TEQUILA FLIGHTS
How does the old saying go? "One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor?" That's exactly how Pete Veytia does NOT want you to think. "The days of quantity are pretty much over," said Veytia, owner of Red Mesa Cantina in St. Petersburg. "Now it's about quality." To that end, Red Mesa has built an extensive collection of fine sipping tequilas and mezcals, which you can order in flights — three 1-ounce shots served with limes, oranges, chili salt and a palate-cleansing slush called a Sangrita (it's a little like a non-alcoholic Bloody Mary). Red Mesa's freshly renovated tequila menu suggests six flights for tequila newbies and connoisseurs alike — like the Patron Challenge ($20), which pits the most popular mainstream tequila (Patron) against shots from Cabo Wabo and Corralejo. Or El Supreme, a high-roller's trio of three superior tequilas for $112. Too rich for your blood? Visit on one of Red Mesa's "Tequila Tuesdays" — you'll get discounted tequila drinks and $2 off your flight. 128 Third St. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 896-6372, redmesacantina.com.
SEMINOLE HARD ROCK HOTEL AND CASINO | LOUIS XIII DE REMY MARTIN
Everyone knows that the house always wins, unless they don't, in which case you may get the urge to celebrate. Maybe you just hit a big jackpot or had a red-hot run on the tables and you're in a hurry to give some of that cash right back to the casino. If this happens, consider ordering a Louis XIII de Rémy Martin from the Hard Rock's Lobby Bar. This super, super-premium cognac comes in a wonderfully ornate crystal carafe made by Baccarat and carries a price tag that is a gamble in itself — $150. But it's also quite excellent, among the best spirits I've ever had the pleasure to try. Louis XIII has a strong earthy flavor, originating from being aged in "tiercons," barrels that are several hundred years old, according to Rémy Martin. The cognac is a blend of 1,200 (not a typo) eaux-de-vie, some of which are more than 100 years old. Don't be distracted by the flashing lights and sensory overload of the casino floor — you'll need to set aside some time to really appreciate the depth and complexity of this one. It's a rare treat for high rollers and those who find themselves momentarily taken by the kind of chance-taking impulses often found in casinos. 5224 Orient Road, Tampa. (813) 627-7625, seminolehardrocktampa.com. — Justin Grant
CASSIS AMERICAN BRASSERIE | INFUSED LIQUORS
This might be the only joint in town where you'll see dainty, petite women throwing back whiskey on the rocks. At Cassis American Brasserie, a French-American restaurant positioned near the water on elegant Beach Drive, whiskey comes infused with apple, vanilla and cinnamon. It tastes less like leather polish and more like a warm, delicious dessert fresh from the oven. Other infusions include vodka with sour apple Jolly Ranchers, tequila with jalapenos and guava juice, gin with cucumber and thyme and a Parisian martini made to taste like a peppermint patty. They're all $9. 170 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg; (727) 827-2927; cassisab.com.
SAKE BOMB | SAKE
"Sake, sake bomb!" You chant it as you beat your fists on the bar, shot of sake teetering on a pair of chopsticks above a beer. When the shot falls in, well, what choice do you have? "Chug, chug, chug!" St. Petersburg hipster haven Sake Bomb specializes in Japanese rice wine, which you can buy hot, cold, sparkling, by the bottle or in the form of cocktails called saketinis, priced at $7.50 in flavors like lychee, blue raspberry, pomegranate and sour apple. The alcohol content of sake ranges from a modest 6 percent to a drunky-drunk 20 percent, so you can really tie one on at daily happy hour from 5 to 8 p.m. And you can learn fun facts about sake by exploring the menu. Did you know the Nihon Bare rice in milky sake was a royal favorite 1,200 years ago? Well, now you do. 548 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 542-8893; thesakebomb.com.
SAW GRASS TIKI BAR | 100-OUNCE MARGARITA
A 100-ounce cocktail is only 28 short of a gallon, which is a bit much by most standards. The Saw Grass Tiki Bar doesn't care, proudly proclaiming itself the home of the "Famous 100-ounce Margarita." Challenge accepted! Like many beer and wine-only bars, Saw Grass serves a variety of wine-based drinks meant to simulate the flavor of various spirits. But instead of hiding them in dark corners, Saw Grass proudly displays them on its shelves and offers an extensive cocktail list utilizing them as primary ingredients. Unlike many such wines made from oranges and other fruits, the "tequila" is Los Cabos Agave Especial, a 100-percent agave wine which I have to admit goes quite well in a margarita. The 100-ounce Margarita (available in smaller 50-ounce increments for the timid) can be ordered in the "Traditional 1948" variety (rocks, $25) or in frozen form ($50), served from an old soft-serve machine. It's served in a comically oversized Margarita glass, complete with elaborate garnish — pineapple wedges, lime, maraschino cherries, and the uncommon and delicious golden kiwi. Although the Margarita is quite drinkable, it's also surprisingly potent, so bring some friends to split it with. 610 Athens St., Tarpon Springs. (727) 942-4290, sawgrasstikibar.com.
CARMEL CAFE & WINE BAR | WINE VIA IPAD
When you walk into the unassuming Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar, nestled in a strip mall in north Pinellas, you're in for a surprise. It has a luxurious atmosphere that's both modern and cozy. The hostess hands your own personal iPad to use during dinner, outfitted with Carmel's menu and wine list (and full Internet capability if you want to snoop the page history). What's more, the magical, all-knowing iPad then suggests wine pairings for your dinner. Mind trip. You can order glasses of vino in 3-, 6- or 9-ounce servings, and if you can't decide on one, you can get three 3-ounce glasses of different varieties. Each Tuesday, Carmel features tours of three wines from different parts of the world. On Wednesday, they offer free wine samples. 2548 McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater; (727) 724-4228. On Sept. 13, Carmel opens a second location at 14306 N Dale Mabry Highway in Carrolwood. carmelcafe.com.
Yuengling Brewery | Black & Tan
This isn't St. Louis or Milwaukee, a city where even out-of-towners know you can sample a major American beer directly from the source. But Tampa does have a massive Yuengling brewery. The Pennyslvania brewers moved into the plant (formerly owned by Schlitz, Stroh's and Pabst) in 1999, and six days a week you can partake in a free tour that winds around the sweet, bready-smelling brew kettles, through the curiously clinical tasting lab and past the sprawling bottling plant. The best part? It ends in Yuengling's public biergarten for samples. The Tampa brewery produces lager, light lager, black & tan, premium and occasionally seasonal bocks, so if you want ultra-fresh beer, order one of those. Tours are generally offered at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon Saturday (times are subject to change) at 11111 N 30th St, Tampa. (813) 972-8529, yuengling.com/breweries/tampa.
DOOLY'S IRISH PUB | CHERRY BOMB
Dooly's is about as straightforward as they come, with the primary drink decision boiling down to which basic domestic lager you'd l'd like served in a frosty beer mug. But those in the know may instead opt for one of the bar's Cherry Bombs, amped-up maraschino cherries served in a small plastic cup. Although you're unlikely to do too much damage with a few unassuming cherries, they pack a surprising punch, and they make a great sidekick to your ice-cold draft. For a mere $1 each, who can argue? 2329 28th St. N, St. Petersburg. (727)323-3409.
BEACHWOOD BBQ | POSTCARD JULEP
With the closing of Savannah's in St. Petersburg, the title of Tampa Bay's top mint julep bar falls to an unlikely location: A barbecue joint inside the sleek, hip Postcard Inn on the Beach. Beachwood has a very respectable bourbon menu — 17 brands, by our count, including a bottle of Van Winkle Special Reserve — and their signature cocktail is a peach-flavored julep. Not exactly your standard beach drink, but still, ask for it in a plastic to-go cup, so you can enjoy it outdoors, poolside, or at Postcard's happening PCI Beach Bar. 6300 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach. (727) 369-4950; postcardinn.com.
THE VENUE | BOTTLE SERVICE
The Venue recently renovated to tone down its elite vibe, making way for a wider audience in the bad economy. It replaced its swanky restaurant with an open, casual grill and ripped out the first level martini bar for more stage space. But the multi-story club still remains a hot-spot for visiting celebrities, a place where sexy folks celebrating weddings and birthdays flock to drink in comfort and style. Bottle service starts at $350, and includes any bottle of liquor, whatever mixers your heart desires, cover for 10 friends, use of a VIP room and attention from a waiter all night. If you're really want to make it rain, you can book the skybox for $1,000. That comes with at least three bottles and overlooks the whole club. It's where P. Diddy (briefly) hung out at his Super Bowl party in 2009, so you know it's good. 2675 Ulmerton Road, Clearwater; (727) 571-2222; thevenueclub.com.
LEE ROY SELMON'S | SMOKIN' TAMPA TEA
No one goes to a sports bar for the cocktails. But one look at this local chain's signature brew, and you can't help but smile. Served in a giant jug, the bubbling blend mix of Finlandia vodka, Captain Morgan rum, DeKuyper peach schnapps, orange juice, sweet and sour, grenadine and a Meyers's Rum float is tart, tangy and big enough for four. Plus the smoking dry ice will turn heads around the restaurant. Lee Roy's introduced a Lightning-themed blue version this spring during the Stanley Cup playoffs, but stick to the original — the color conjures up images of Selmon himself during his Creamsicle glory days. leeroyselmons.com.
CEVICHE | SANGRIA
You worship the sangria at Ceviche. It's spicy, it's sweet, it's rich, it's delicious. You want to whip up a batch at home. Well, TOO BAD. The wildly popular tapas restaurant won't divulge its legendary sangria recipe, calling it "proprietary." The red sangria, brought to Tampa Bay from Spain by executive chef Antonio Escobar, has been a crowd favorite since the first location opened in 1997. Also popular are white and sparkling varieties. This year, Ceviche introduced a "skinny" sangria — pink with half the sugar and calories for those intrepid soldiers going to this delicious mecca in hopes of staying on a diet. The sangria ranges from $6 a glass ($4 on Tapas Tuesday) to $32 for a signature large blue pitcher. Locations in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Sarasota, Orlando; ceviche.com.
Tropicana Field | captain morgan blue storm
This concoction of Captain Morgan Lime Bite, blue curacao and lemonade won't win over cocktail purists, but the drink — which comes in a huge, plastic "yard" cup — is refreshing. If you're not afraid to walk around the Trop holding a bright blue cocktail in a comically oversized vessel, give it a shot. Blue Storms are $9 on Friday nights and $12 otherwise. Tropicana concessions.