Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Tampa gastropub Dale 1891 flies high with unique flavors, flair

Of all the innovations and concepts changing tastes in today's bar scene, the gastropub stands out.

The concept is simple enough — serve high-quality beer, wine and cocktails alongside high-end food — and that's precisely why it works so well. The gastropub becomes a "one-stop shop" of sorts, where you can grab anything from a light meal to a full dinner and wash it down with a fine cocktail or nice craft beer.

Dale 1891 is a new addition to the gastropub scene in Tampa, a city that has been especially welcoming to such ventures — Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Datz and Ciro's Speakeasy among notable examples. Dale 1891 chef Jason Dame is no stranger to this environment, having spent time working at both Mad Dogs and Datz.

That said, I think it's important to make sure that your business model extends beyond fancy food and good beer. Fortunately, this gastropub does just that.

Dale 1891 occupies a corner space of a Carrollwood strip mall on Dale Mabry, a highway bearing the name of the WWI pilot after which both street and bar are named. His year of birth was 1891, hence the name of the bar, which features a variety of items commemorating his legacy.

What all this has to do with drinking or dining, I'm not sure, but a unifying theme is always interesting. And though the theme is present in everything from a propeller on the wall to the names of the drinks — "Red Baron," "Archduke's Assassination"— the overall impression is that of a laid-back beer bar or cocktail lounge.

In fact, Dale 1891 often feels like several different bars at once. The main dining room has booth and table seating, with a small stage for live musicians. On the other end is a long, brick-front bar with a fair selection of draft beer, fine wines, and premium spirits, as well as several flat-screen TVs, some of which support 3D broadcasts, allowing patrons to watch the game with cool plastic glasses on. This is adjacent to a large, open-air tiki bar and an intimate outdoor cigar lounge, complete with cushioned wicker couches and tiki torches. For the latter, a small cigar menu is available, with a recommendation to pair your cigar with a fine port or Cognac.

The cocktail list is extensive, but many of the drinks seemed a little busy, often combining gin, vodka, rum and schnapps into a single drink, like so many variations on a Long Island Iced Tea. Despite this, the drinks I tried were solid — flavorful, reasonably strong, and incorporating interesting flavors, mirroring the creativity of the food menu.

The food is simple and effective, with the occasional unexpected twist. For example, a side of spicy napa cabbage had a nice smoky kick from toasted sesame oil; sides of sautéed spinach and jicama slaw were complemented with fresh ginger. Although the menu is only one page, the dishes were flavorful, attractive, and affordable — a selection of small plates and sides can easily be cobbled together for under $20.

And more drinks are on the way. Mike McGhee, Dale's bar manager, has plans to overhaul the cocktail list over the next few months, refining the current selection and adding some new twists on Prohibition-era cocktails.

Although it's relatively new, I think that Dale 1891 is a welcome addition to Tampa's gastropub scene. From weekly live music and karaoke to ­trivia nights and 3D sports, there's a lot to keep you busy. And if you simply want a bite to eat and a cocktail to sip, well, they do that too.

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