Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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New South Tampa Ceviche offers big wine list in casual bar setting

Ceviche has been a staple in the bay area dining scene for as long as most can remember, but it's not often that I hear about the drinks there. I've heard good things about Ceviche's house sangria, but if you asked me what to expect from the cocktail menu, I would be hard-pressed to answer.

Part of the reason is likely due to Ceviche's original South Tampa location, which forbade the restaurant from staying open long after midnight. Earlier this year, Ceviche packed up and moved a few blocks down the road to another chic SoHo spot, this time off the corner of Armenia and Azeele. Now, late-night crowds hang out long after the dinner crew goes home, shifting a good deal of the focus to the bar's wine and cocktail list.

The new Ceviche has a decidedly South Tampa vibe to it, with the restaurant housed in, well, two houses, connected by an outdoor boardwalk and patio deck. This deck, complete with a decorative waterfall and candle lighting on each rustic, tiled table, just happens to be a great spot for a late-night cocktail, especially in the current balmy weather. You could almost mistake it for a night in Northern Spain, from where Ceviche takes much of its aesthetic and culinary cues.

One of the big draws at any Ceviche location — there are five in all, from downtown St. Pete to Orlando — is the Flamenco Bar, a purposefully cramped stage and dance floor with a nearby bar and lounge. In the Flamenco Bar, patrons can drink and dance in close quarters with a rotating roster of live musicians and, yes, occasional flamenco dancers.

The new Tampa location's Flamenco Bar occupies one of the two houses; it consists of a long bar on one side, a tiny stage opposite, and a scattering of high-top tables in between. Between the music and the inevitable crowding, the atmosphere tends to be pretty festive in here. I opted to grab a couple of cocktails and head outside to the patio to get some fresh air.

On the opposite side of the patio lies the main dining room, providing a more sedate and relaxed atmosphere for those coming for lunch and dinner, rather than for tapas and late-night cocktails. Both interiors are minimally decorated, save for a few well-placed oil paintings, resulting in a cool, homelike vibe. In fact, having drinks at Ceviche often feels more like hanging out at an upscale house party than a busy restaurant or bar — a nice change of pace from some other area hotspots.

The real story here is the wine list. I can't recall seeing a list of so many wines from this particular region — namely, Spain and Portugal — on one menu. Whites, reds, sangrias, brandies, cavas, ports, and cordials — totaling around 100 in all — dominate the drink list, with just a lone page dedicated to cocktails.

Despite the relative difference in size between the lists, the house cocktails are very much worth checking out. Many add a Spanish flair to old standards, like the Spanish Sidecar, which blends Cardenal Mendoza brandy and Gran Torres orange liqueur with a Cuarenta y Tres-soaked lemon and sugared rim. Can't decide between tapas or a cocktail? Try both — the Gazpacho Martini blends Grey Goose with homemade gazpacho, and the result is more delicious than you may be thinking.

From the serious wine selection to the creative, Spanish-influenced house cocktails, I expect to be hearing much more about the drinks at Ceviche. And if the surrounding bars and lounges are any indication, it'll be no time at all before Ceviche is known as much for its late-night entertainment and libations than it is for the Spanish fare that made it so popular in the first place. — [email protected]

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