Sunday, February 18, 2018
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Irish31 updates Irish pub themes for a Hyde Park lifestyle

It's been a while since I've had a look around Hyde Park Village. I used to frequent what's now CineBistro throughout its various incarnations, but it wasn't until this year's Gasparilla International Film Festival that I became casually reacquainted with the chic South Tampa neighborhood and its upscale drinking, dining and shopping establishments.

During several trips to and from the theater, I noticed a new and perpetually busy bar, Irish31, next door. All day, the tables were full, people played cornhole on the sidewalk, music was playing, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. It had the cheer and neighborhood vibe of a classic pub in an area where one would expect something a bit flashier.

The bulk of Irish31 is contained in an outdoor patio, featuring a raised deck with bar-and-stool seating around the perimeter, and more tables and sets around the base of the deck. Flat-screen TVs are scattered around, broadcasting whatever sporting event happens to be on. A window and bar top at one end offers access to the indoor bar, so you could feasibly walk straight up to the patio, order a meal and a drink and watch the game, all without ever stepping indoors.

That convenience might come in handy during busier times, as the indoor area of Irish31 is fairly compact, with rows of tables and benches bunched tightly together against the walls and a bar area smaller than almost any in Hyde Park. This creates an atmosphere of intimacy, but it can also lend itself to crowding, hence the benefit of full access from the outdoor patio.

As the name suggests, Irish31 draws much of its influence from the archetypal Irish-style pub. But where some bars use that ubiquitous, often-tiresome theme as a lazy alternative to originality, Irish31 simply uses it as a starting point. Dark, heavily lacquered wood is omitted in favor of a more natural look, with a matte finish; rough, metal lamp frames and brickwork takes the place of polished brass; craft beers, a tidy wine list and lots of signature cocktails support the usual Jameson-and-Guinness selection behind the bar.

The cocktail list has some tantalizing options, but I was unable to try some of the more interesting ones due to an apparent ingredient shortage. Pineapple Mojito? Nope, out of mint. Irish Mickey? Out of ginger syrup. Snake Charmer? Fresh out of Feckin' Irish Whiskey. And Bushmill's. To be fair, my bartender was extremely friendly and willing to make substitutions to accommodate, and the drinks were quite good. I'm sure I just caught them before order day, and I normally wouldn't gripe about it, but some of those cocktails looked fantastic, and I hope to try them at some point.

In addition to the varied mix of classic and signature cocktails, Irish31 has a pretty fair wine list, including several styles not often found on the usual Irish pub menu, such as Malbec and Bonarda. All of the usual Irish beers were on draft, with a few craft options to boot, like Dogfish Head 60-minute IPA and Southern Tier IPA. I hear that a Bloody Mary bar is also set up for brunch on Sundays, with a variety of spicy, flavorful condiments and garnishes to choose from. I'm not surprised — it seems like a great spot for an afternoon cocktail.

The owners' aim is for the bar to capture the essence of the classic Irish pub in an updated environment befitting Hyde Park Village. It's as neighborhood a bar as a bar in Hyde Park can be, which explains the many smiling faces that I noticed in March.

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