Thursday, April 19, 2018
Features and More

In pirate-crazed Tampa Bay, rum bars abound

One of the weirdest moments of my year occurred in March, when I found myself in the back of a limousine outside a karaoke bar, sitting thigh to thigh with porn star Ron Jeremy.

It wasn't what you think.

Jeremy was in St. Petersburg to promote his new line of rum, called Ron de Jeremy. The stuff is pretty good, actually. And the fact that a guy like Ron Jeremy has his own label just proves what people have been saying for a while now — that rum, the spicy nectar of the Caribbean, is the sexy new spirit du jour.

A growing number of bars in major cities like New York, London and Los Angeles boast menus of dozens of rums from around the western hemisphere. The trend has been slow to reach the Tampa Bay area — most of us are fine with our Captain 'n' Cokes, thank you — but a few bars are starting to get with the program.

Local restaurant luminaries Tom Pritchard and Frank Chivas (Salt Rock Grill, Island Way Grill) opened Clearwater's Rumba Island Bar and Grill in 2007. The dining concept is simple — barbecue and Caribbean-inspired fare — but the drinks behind the bar are a welcome sight for any rum enthusiast. Specialty cocktails are scant (a rum punch is pretty much it), but they do stock a number of premium sipping wines, from 10 Cane to Ron Zacapa 23-year. The Clearwater location has a nice outdoor tiki bar to sip and savor, while a newer location in Oldsmar has an indoor-outdoor bar topped with sleek tile.

Any bar calling itself Mojito better be able to make a good one. Fortunately the sleek new bar and restaurant at Crowne Plaza in Tampa's Westshore district does, with a well-made mojito that's only $5 at happy hour. Behind the bar is an impressive shelf of rums from around the Caribbean. And while Mojito has garnered attention for its embrace of the South American spirit pisco, it is unabashed in its love of Tampa Bay. They serve drinks called the Hillsborough Old Fashioned and Sunday Tampa Bay (the latter's made with Cigar City Jai Alai beer), not to mention the very bold Hav-A-Tampa Smoke — Cruzan 9 and Cruzan Black Strap, vanilla-spice liqueur and a dash of cigar smoke-flavored bitters. Shiver me timbers.

The Jerk Hut Jamaican Grille and Rhum Bar in Tampa has long been a source for some of the best Caribbean food in Tampa Bay, but you'll also find a big array of Cruzan flavored rums (guava, vanilla, black cherry, coconut and more) and flavored liqueurs and mixers, all of which go into the bar's many potent cocktails. Try the Jamaican Iced Tea, a blend of Malibu Black and Cruzan black cherry rums, vodka, gin, pineapple juice and sour mix; or the Bob Marley, combining Cruzan coconut rum, Midori melon liqueur and pineapple and cranberry juices. The Jerk Hut has a few finer rums and mojitos made with rum infused with mango, pineapple and coconut.

All of that said: A bar can still be a great rum destination without a great rum menu. Tampa Bay is loaded with laid-back beach-bum joints, many of which make mean rum runners, hurricanes, mojitos and punches.

Start your search on Pass-a-Grille, on the roof of the Hurricane. Its signature rum runner is simple, spicy and delicious. But if rum is your spirit of choice, you won't want for options. For example: The Hurricane serves a Voodoo Punch containing no fewer than six types of Cruzan (citrus, pineapple, mango, banana and coconut, with a floater of dark aged rum), plus cranberry, pineapple and orange juices. It comes in a 32-ounce bucket. The Hurricane also has a variety of flavored mojitos, some made with rum, others with vodka. As always, the best part of the bar is the rooftop view. You won't find a better place to raise a glass at sunset.

The Undertow Beach Bar in St. Pete Beach has long been a summertime mecca for many a Gulf Coast sunbather. Even without a cocktail menu, its tropical drinks, including a zingy Planter's Punch, are popular with locals, and over the years it's amassed a huge bottled craft beer selection. With five distinct bar areas, including a rooftop patio, it's easy to squirrel away with a drink in any corner.

And down in Gulfport, you'll find O'Maddy's, which has a Belfast name but a Key West flavor. O'Maddy's cocktail menu is thick with tropical drinks (including solid Mai Tais and Dark and Stormys) and daiquiris. It's right across the water, and far enough off the Gulfport strip that you'll feel hidden. Try the Gulfport Guava Breeze (guava rum; pineapple, orange and cranberry juices; and a splash of lime). It's also one of the top karaoke bars in the area. No doubt the rum has played a big role in that.

Comments
Freefall flavors 2018-2019 season with comedies and a pair of musicals

Freefall flavors 2018-2019 season with comedies and a pair of musicals

ST. PETERSBURG — In the coming season, Freefall Theatre is rolling out a world premiere, a different take on Christmas, a sharp comedy and a recent work by Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage. The theme for the 2018-2019 season, "A Brighter Tomorrow," color...
Published: 04/19/18
Persall: Upon retirement, a look back at a star-quality career

Persall: Upon retirement, a look back at a star-quality career

Do you see what I did there? The comma and extra "E" in my byline?One last pun, just for fun.It’s the end, fin in French, and something unfortunately ruder in Swedish.Time to retire, nearly 25 years to the day after starting work as the Times’ movie ...
Published: 04/19/18
Tampa’s 60-year-old Housewife Bake Shop may not be closing after all

Tampa’s 60-year-old Housewife Bake Shop may not be closing after all

For nearly 60 years it was breads, cakes and pastries, up before dawn for the Perrone family in Armenia Garden Estates. For a minute it looked like Tampa’s Housewife Bake Shop was going to close, but third-generation owner Tena Perrone said on Wednes...
Published: 04/18/18
Four new restaurants in Tampa Bay: Brazilian steakhouse, Chinese, juice bar and more

Four new restaurants in Tampa Bay: Brazilian steakhouse, Chinese, juice bar and more

TERRA GAUCHATerra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse, a classic churrascaria-style Brazilian meatery — you know, where the guys in South American cowboy attire walk around with the swords of meat until you capitulate in a carnivorous haze — has opened a loc...
Published: 04/18/18
This is a week to spring clean instead of hitting a movie theater.

This is a week to spring clean instead of hitting a movie theater.

It’s a spring cleaning weekend at multiplexes, with studios vacuuming every dollar from current releases before the Avengers and Amy Schumer drop in next week. If you’ve seen A Quiet Place, Ready Player One and Black Panther, this is probably a good ...
Published: 04/18/18
Desi Oakley savors pie making in ‘Waitress,’ orchestra does Verdi’s Requiem

Desi Oakley savors pie making in ‘Waitress,’ orchestra does Verdi’s Requiem

HEAD WAITRESS: DESI OAKLEYThe blue collar mother who drives the plot of Waitress never thought she could win a pie-making contest, let alone start a business."She doesn’t even have the capacity to understand that she could do this," said Desi Oakley,...
Published: 04/18/18
We critique the best and worst brands of sparkling water

We critique the best and worst brands of sparkling water

Sparkling water, much like when you shake it before opening, has exploded in the United States the past few years. The fervor for fizzy water has soft echoes of the meteoric rise of bottled water during the early 2000s, just with more pastels perfect...
Published: 04/18/18
How much water do I need? Plus, other H20 facts

How much water do I need? Plus, other H20 facts

Okay, really, how much water do we need? The Mayo Clinic says there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for this because of differences in exercise, environment, overall health and factors like pregnancy or breast-feeding. The National Academies of Science...
Published: 04/18/18
A taste test for drinking water? They can be surprisingly different

A taste test for drinking water? They can be surprisingly different

BROOKSVILLEThey brought it in glass carboys, in jars, in 2-liter bottles. It stacked up at the entrance to the auditorium, some of it just slightly murky but most of it crystal clear.Water. For more than 15 years the members of Region IV Florida Sect...
Published: 04/18/18
Five ideas for travel-friendly snacks

Five ideas for travel-friendly snacks

Whenever I fly, I pay way too much for food. I’ve stumbled jet-lagged into fancy wine booths and nearly bankrupted myself with cheese plates. I’ve purchased granola bars that cost more than my plane ticket (okay, maybe it just felt that way). If you’...
Published: 04/18/18