St. Petersburg's Beach Drive is picturesque this time of year. From the massive tree illuminated with thousands of colored lights to the teddy bear at the entrance to South Straub Park wishing us "happy holidays," it's tough not to get into a festive spirit. And after a chilly evening stroll through the park to see the holiday lights and decorations, a warm place to enjoy a drink afterward is a must.
There are quite a few excellent bars along Beach Drive, but last week I headed a few blocks south of the main thoroughfare to a smaller, more out-of-the-way spot: Courigan's Irish Pub. Courigan's is located in a somewhat awkward area of downtown St. Pete — just a touch too far down First Avenue S to capitalize on the heavy foot traffic a few blocks west, and only slightly removed from the currently booming section of Beach Drive just a short walk away.
While some bars on Beach Drive are warm and welcoming, with outdoor heaters and fantastic views of the decorated waterfront, Courigan's has a cozy, authentic pub atmosphere that is unmatched downtown, if not the rest of St. Pete.
If it weren't for a few neon lights on the windows, however, Courigan's would be hard to spot. At night, the surrounding streets are quiet, and the bar itself is nestled beneath a condo complex. Despite this apparent disadvantage, Courigan's has long enjoyed the patronage of a wealth of steady regulars. Visit on any given Friday or Saturday night and you'll find a crowd to rival most other area bars, complete with live music and an environment lending more credibility to the "Irish pub" designation than any number of shamrock decorations or St. Patrick's Day countdown clocks could hope to.
By that I mean that it's a bar centered on friendly conversation rather than simple diversions. A lone dart board and Golden Tee console sit at one end of the L-shaped interior, and there are a couple of TVs around the bar, but the vast majority of the floorspace is devoted to tables and booths, where both small and large groups can congregate, drink and converse. Live music is a fixture here, with acts ranging from traditional Irish music to local bands and acoustic cover artists.
A toasty refuge from the winter breeze is a good thing indeed, but it's even better with a nice drink. To that end, Courigan's boasts a wide selection of Irish whiskeys. The scotch and bourbon selections are also strong, with single-malt Scotches.
A good whiskey selection at an Irish pub is hardly a surprise, but a good beer selection often is. Courigan's stocks 29 beers on tap, ranging from local brews and other American craft beers and ciders to the traditional Guinness, served in a 20-oz. Imperial pint.
Regulars may be interested in checking out the mug club. More than 500 ceramic, numbered mugs hang neatly from the ceiling behind the bar. For $50, members get a mug of their own, which entitles them to a 17-oz. pour instead of the usual 16 oz. at an additional 50-cent discount per mug, as well as 15 percent off of their entire tab on Mondays, including food and non-beer purchases. If you're a regular, this is a good deal.
Of course, you don't have to be a repeat customer to enjoy Courigan's. Whether you find yourself taking a stroll down Beach Drive on a winter evening or you're just looking for a nice, friendly pub ever-so-slightly off the beaten path, I'd suggest stopping in for a pint. You may just find what keeps the regulars coming back for more.