I'll admit that I don't generally look to upscale, planned communities in my hunt for new and exciting drinking destinations. But I was given a heads-up about Park Square Cellar, located in the heart of the FishHawk Ranch community, and it looked promising.
FishHawk Ranch is a relatively new, picturesque neighborhood in Lithia, a small community southeast of Brandon. The neighborhood is quite different from your average suburb filled with cookie-cutter houses, as it incorporates a lot of the surrounding wilderness into the community itself.
During the drive into Park Square, where the restaurant and bar bearing its name is located, I was impressed by the trees, flowing water, wetlands foliage and deer-crossing signs, giving the impression that I had traveled further from a busy stretch of State Road 60 than I really had.
Opened in 2005, Park Square Cellar — then simply a wine retailer — was forced to close its doors during the recession; in 2009, with the help of a new business partner, the Cellar reopened, this time as a full-scale bar, restaurant and wine boutique.
While the adjoining restaurant is well known for its creative and seasonally changing menus, the bar is interesting in itself. A small space is dominated by a curved, serpentine bar, finished in what appears to be a walnut veneer. Wooden panels on the ceiling mirror the bar, containing several small lights that compliment the intimate setting. The interior is gorgeous down to the smallest detail, such as the wine and drink menus, which are held in a cork binder.
The opposite wall contains a wine humidor, boasting several of the cellar's fancier varieties, one with a price tag reaching into four digits. To the side of the bar is the retail cellar, where a few hundred additional wines are sold by the bottle. Bringing these three areas together is a corner lounge, with a small space for live music and a few sets of small tables and lounge chairs bunched tightly together. On this particular night, jazz/funk band Friends of Fil was playing, complete with a player on the vibraphone. I'm a sucker for vibraphones.
On to the drinks: Wine is of course a big player, with a wealth of house and signature wines by the glass, as well as a few hundred others in the bottle. However, the bar is up to speed on the beer and cocktail front as well, with a small menu of house cocktails — fresh takes on the classics with a few new creations — and 24 beers on draft. Keeping with FishHawk Ranch's eco-friendly vibe, Park Square Cellars serves all beer on draft, eliminating excess bottle waste.
Despite the upscale digs, the prices are surprisingly fair for both food and drink. Even the unsophisticated beer drinker goes unpunished, with Miller Lite clocking in at only $2.25 a pint. The most expensive spirit, the Grand Marnier 150-year, is around $25.
For me, Park Square Cellar is a bit of a drive. But for those living in the surrounding communities, it may be a hidden gem. A casual and refined atmosphere with a diverse crowd and solid live entertainment can make any bar, but the owners of Park Square Cellar have clearly gone the extra mile to make theirs unique and interesting. Although quite literally a neighborhood bar, I think it's safe to say that FishHawk Ranch residents won't be keeping this one to themselves.