As the sound of IndyCars tearing through downtown St. Petersburg takes over the sonic landscape, some people will be looking for a place to relax, away from the crowds and fanfare. Others will be looking for a spot to grab a few quality brews after a day at the races.
Here's a good solution close to the track.
Nestled inside the strangely desolate Plaza Tower and Courtyard Shops (located next to the similarly sleepy BayWalk shopping complex) lies a new beer bar, joining local craft beer hangouts like the Independent and Rex. Although it has only been open about two months, the Ale and the Witch already has a following.
On the surface, there doesn't seem to be much to the place, which occupies a small corner spot inside Plaza's courtyard, which is tough to notice from the street. Once you're inside, the complex itself is quite striking, with multiple levels of storefronts and offices encircling a large, red-brick courtyard filled with table seating and plenty of foliage to enhance the scenery. But if you didn't know it was there, you'd miss it completely.
The interior of the Witch is neat and simple. A long, stone bar sits adjacent to a small lounge area, with heavily pillowed bench seating and a few end tables to rest beers on. Surrounding the lounge area are a jukebox, a small bureau and shelves with board and card games aplenty and what appears to be an electronic fireplace. The lounge and courtyard features live music nightly, ranging from jazz and bluegrass to solo acoustic sets and world music.
Of course, the real story here is the beer: 32 craft beers on draft, all domestic. The twist is that kegs are not replaced by the same beer once they run dry — a new beer appears as soon as an old one runs out. The perpetually changing beer menu keeps people coming back again and again.
It's all the result of the enthusiasm of owner Brett Andress, who goes out of his way to try to stock beers that aren't on tap at most other places in the area. And the "flight" of four 4-ounce beers — a crowd favorite — makes it that much easier to work your way through the ever-changing roster of ales, lagers and ciders.
The Ale and the Witch is a fantastic destination for the serious beer fan, and no doubt it will receive its share of the Grand Prix crowd. The secret in the courtyard is out.
Times correspondent Justin Grant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.