We're about 10 days from the Republican National Convention in Tampa. But no matter your politics, we say nothing can cross party lines like a delicious craft beer or well-made cocktail.
So with tens of thousands of delegates, protesters, media figures and more about to descend on Tampa Bay, it's the perfect time to roll out tbt*'s Sixth Annual Ultimate Bar Guide. Over the next 36 pages, we're toasting more than 80 of the bars, bartenders and breweries that make drinking in Tampa Bay such fun.
What made each of these bars worthy of inclusion, you ask? Let's lay out our platform:
Strong leadership. You can find great bartenders at bad bars. But you can't be a great bar without great bartenders. This year's candidates for tbt*'s Ultimate Bartender are all deserving of the title. We had such a great time chatting and drinking with them that you're likely to see us back at their bar sometime very soon. Pages 26-29
A dedicated base. You hear the term "rally the base" a lot in election years — politicians must excite their core constituents before going after undecided voters. Bartending is a little like that. If you have a firm grasp on the base spirits that shape your cocktail menu — gin, tequila, rum, whatever — you can count on fans of those spirits to feel like they're in good hands. So we're raising a glass to bars that focus on doing at least one thing really, really well, whether it's rum, scotch, bourbon, Irish whiskey or more. Pages 32-45
A grasp of the issues. Week in and week out, our Barfly, Justin Grant, searches Tampa Bay for great watering holes. Along the way, he's noticed several new trends that keep popping up at local bars. He shares a few of these trends — and where to try them for yourself — on Pages 52-53.
Domestic policy. Cigar City Brewing may be the incumbent, but it seems a week doesn't pass in Tampa Bay without another craft brewery launching a campaign of its own. We catalogued some of the most visible local brews in town. Pages 48-51
Foreign policy. Craft beers are great, but what about the beers of Germany, Great Britain, even Asia? Finding a stellar import is easy, if you know where to look. Pages 46-47
Fresh ideas. So many bars are all the same. But in the past year, we've visited some that stand out from the crowd due to their unique location, atmosphere or creative sensibility. We share a dozen of our favorites on Pages 55-58.
The "It" Factor. Many factors can make a bar worth visiting. But in the end, it comes down to one question: Is it cool? That's what Stephanie Hayes considered when searching for the coolest bar in town. As you'll read, "cool" is a malleable, moveable quality — different for everyone, but something you know when you see. Page 31
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama may not agree on a lot these days. But bring them together at any of these fine watering holes — we'd buy Mitt, a devout Mormon, a Shirley Temple — and we think they could hammer out some common ground.