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BARFLY ON THE WALL

Palm Pavilion in Clearwater Beach: A sublime sunset setting

What’s better than enjoying a Clearwater Beach sunset while sipping your favorite cocktail?

Luis Santana/tbt*

What’s better than enjoying a Clearwater Beach sunset while sipping your favorite cocktail?

It's that time again, when Floridians suddenly remember that we have beaches that most of the world can only dream of, with white sands, picturesque palms, and cool, blue water reflecting the sun in a scene straight from a postcard. And while it looks great on paper, it's actually quite nice to experience in person once in a while.

I'll admit that I'm not much of a beach guy, generally favoring an air-conditioned refuge from the summer heat than a day of sweat, sand and salt water; but an occasional trip to the beach is a good way to remind yourself that Florida is a pretty nice place.

Many people, however, are regular fans of the beach. And it has occurred to many of them, as they recline in a beach chair or take shelter under an oversized umbrella, that a nice, tropical cocktail is the perfect accompaniment.

Enter the beach bar, that iconic Florida venue. Beach bars are common, but sometimes they offer something unusual or exceptional, such as a taste of Old Florida, well-made cocktails or a premium location with great scenery. The Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill and Bar on Clearwater Beach is one such place.

Originally opened in 1926, the Palm Pavilion was first a beach pavilion and bathhouse where beachgoers could change and wash off after a day of swimming and sunshine. In the '50s, lunch was added, and in the '80s, the transition was made from bathing facility to full-time restaurant and bar.

The Palm Pavilion considers itself a destination for locals, and while I don't doubt that, this is a very popular place with tourists. As it's in the heart of Clearwater Beach, one of the most scenic and prized beaches in Central Florida, this certainly makes sense. I knew this going in, so I set out in the early evening in an attempt to miss the beach crowd and possibly catch a nice sunset.

You've probably already caught my mistake here — the Palm Pavilion is apparently the most popular sunset-viewing spot in the state. The bar is massive, lined with tile and staffed by at least four bartenders, which is necessary given that about 200 people are ordering drinks at once. A boardwalk and outdoor patio surround the open-air bar, and an indoor seating area is attached for the benefit of diners not willing to contend with the noise or heat.

Despite the crowd, the service was quick and the drinks were out in minutes. If you've spent any time at beach bars, you've probably been the victim of weak, overly fruity drinks. Not so here, as the drinks were surprisingly well-made and potent. I forked over about $14 for two cocktails, expecting drinks concocted solely to please the masses, but they were instead pleasant and flavorful. The bar is well-stocked, but the cocktail menu consists mostly of the tropical stuff.

The Palm Pavilion has a lot going for it, from live music seven nights a week to direct beach access, where one can step off the boardwalk and onto the sands of Clearwater Beach. And yes, the sunsets are beautiful. The Palm knows this — its website even lists the next daily sunset time. With good drinks, a great location and fantastic scenery, it's no mystery that the place is absolutely packed during the summer. — jg@saintbeat.com

Palm Pavilion

10 Bay Esplanade, Clearwater Beach; (727)446-2642, palmpavilion.com

The vibe: A beach hot spot with tropical drinks, beach access and unparalleled views of the sunset.

Booze: Beer, wine, liquor; mostly in the $4-$10 range. Happy hour is 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Food: Appetizers, sides and salads, $3-$13; entrees, $8-$22.

Specialty: Although some beach bars rely on overly gimmicky tropical fare, the Palm Pavilion has a few well-made takes on the classics, from the margarita and mojito to Florida's own cocktail, the Rum Runner. Personally, I enjoyed the Raspberry Mojito, and the Berry Açai version is nice as well, even though it's made with vodka (gasp)!

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Palm Pavilion in Clearwater Beach: A sublime sunset setting 06/09/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 11:36am]
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