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Tampa Bay's best bars worthy of a grand old party

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.

— cridlin@tampabay.com

Staff picks: tbt*'s 2012 Ultimate Bars

HILLSBOROUGH

The Amphitheatre 57

Blue Martini 41

The Bricks of Ybor 57

Bulls Club 57

The Bungalow 34

Cigar Castle 36

Cigar City Brewing 46, 49

Ciro's Speakeasy and Supper Club 31, 32

Cold Storage Craft Brewery 49

Council Oak 37

Czar 40

Datz 36, 53

First Chance Last Chance Bar 53

Fly Bar and Restaurant 53

Four Green Fields 45

Fuma Bella 31, 33

Green Iguana 29

Grille One Sixteen 28

The Hub 40

Hyde Park Cafe 31

James Joyce Irish Pub 45, 52

Jerk Hut Jamaican Restaurant and Rhum Bar 38

The Kennedy 31

The Lime 43

Mangroves 28

Manhattan Dolce Bar and Bistro 34

Mermaid Tavern 57

Mojito Restaurant & Lounge

38, 53

Mr. Dunderbak's 46

O'Toole's Irish Pub 45

The Patio 55

The Pub 36

Senor Tequila 43

SideBern's 53

Supa D Tropical Bar and Grill 58

Tampa Bay Brewing Company 48

Taps Wine and Beer Merchants 28

Three Palms Brewery 50

World of Beer 47

Yeoman's Road Pub 47

Zoya Shisha Lounge 33

PINELLAS

Agave 42

The Ale and the Witch 31, 46

Bar Milo 34, 53

Barley Mow Brewing Company 50

Beachwood BBQ and Burger

34, 52

Besa Grill 42

Brew Garden 46

Cassis American Brasserie 31, 53

Crum's Bar and Grill 52

Dunedin Brewery 51

Flamingo Sports Bar 55

Five Bucks Drinkery 57

The Garden 53

The Hurricane 38

The Independent 31, 46

Lagerhaus Brewery and Grill 51

Lagerheadz 57

MacDinton's Jannus 55

Mahuffer's 31

Mandarin Hide 31, 34, 53

The Moon Under Water 29

O'Maddy's 38

Octave 31

PCI Beach Bar 52

Peggy O'Neill's Irish Pub and Eatery 45

Peg's Cantina 49

Rapp Brewing Company 50

Red Mesa Cantina 42

Ruby's Elixir 32

Rumba Island Bar and Grill 38

Saint Somewhere

Brewing Company 48

Seventh Sun

Brewing Company 49

Spinner's Rooftop Revolving Bistro 58

St. Petersburg Nights 40

Sunsets Tequila Bar 43

Taps & Tequilas 42

Tryst 26

The Undertow 38

Vue 19 57

Willard's Tap House 46

Tampa Bay's best bars worthy of a grand old party 08/16/12 [Last modified: Monday, August 20, 2012 6:05pm]
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