Many people are content to write off Valentine's Day as a ridiculous, manufactured consumer holiday. For others, it's polarizing. Boon to lovers and romantics, bane of the lonely and broken-hearted, Valentine's Day has a highly contrasting significance between different groups of people.
Interestingly, whether one is celebrating or lamenting the occasion, a cocktail bar is a great place to spend the evening. A stiff drink works both ways, and a nice atmosphere can't hurt, either.
I recently caught wind of a new spot in South Tampa called the Manhattan Dolce Bar and Bistro and thought it might be a good candidate for such a venture. Opened in December, the bar is located just off Manhattan Avenue, a street which I like to think was named after the cocktail rather than the borough. The bar's logo — a cocktail glass holding a skewered Maraschino cherry — agrees.
The Manhattan is a classy affair, with a tasteful, low-key interior made up of a row of oversized booths, a few high-tops, a long bar backlit with an orange-red glow, and an outdoor lounge area. The relatively small size of the bar creates an intimate setting, further accentuated by soft lighting and generally low ambient noise (i.e. you can actually have a conversation in there).
In line with the minimalist interior, the food and drink menus are artfully concise, incorporating a wide range of styles and tastes into a relatively small number of choices. The food consists of modern gourmet fare coordinated by chef Rob Prisinzano, ranging from fresh salads and tapas-style dishes to seasonal entrées and liqueur-infused desserts.
The drink list is to-the-point, offering two-dozen wines, a single handful of craft beers on draft, and eight house cocktails. Despite its brevity, the list is well-executed and wide-ranging, especially in terms of cocktails. A classic martini can be ordered alongside the impossibly rich Mean Beans (Stoli Vanil, Kahlua, crème de cacao, and espresso) or the sweet and tart Grapefruit and Basil cocktail.
Of course, at the top of the list is the classic Manhattan itself, made with one of four choices — Crown Royal, Southern Comfort, Gentleman Jack, or Wild Turkey 101. These options perform quite nicely, but allow me to also propose a fifth way — with Hudson Manhattan Rye. It's right in the name! Though it's more expensive ($14 versus the $9-$11 that the others run), this makes for a fantastic and authentic Manhattan worth a splurge.
The bar features live music nightly during happy hour, with styles ranging from jazz to funk and soul, a low-key musical backdrop.
The bar closes fairly early — 1 a.m. on the six nights a week that it's open — which should give you just enough to time to enjoy a few drinks and settle up before your wallet disintegrates.
The Manhattan is a nice addition to the South Tampa scene. Whether you're in search of a nice Valentine's Day spot, a place to drink away a sorrow or two, or simply a night out at a cool spot with solid drinks and fancy eats, you may find what you're looking for there. — firstname.lastname@example.org