Saturday, January 20, 2018
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The Patio brings friendly, laid-back atmosphere to South Tampa

My backyard is a mess. One of the patio chairs has a seat that sinks in if you sit on it the wrong way, there are branches from an overhanging oak tree scattered all over the place, one of the hot-tub heaters is on the fritz, and since legitimate grass will have nothing to do with the sand that passes for soil around here, I have a luscious spread of weeds instead.

One of my next home improvement projects will be a patio deck, but as I barely have time to mow the lawn, much less try my hand at construction, I think it may be on the back burner for a little while. For now, I have no choice but to admire the patios of others.

I recently found myself enjoying the outdoor patio at a relatively new bar in South Tampa called — what else? — The Patio. Here is a place that not only has a patio for patrons to kick back in, but the entire thing was built around one.

The Patio occupies the site of the former Rainbow Room, which used to have a volleyball court out back; now, it's a large, tropical patio area, covered in stone pavers and dotted with impressively lush foxtail palms and birds of paradise. It's sandwiched on either end by two separate bars, with a third — a square, wooden island bar — under construction in the center.

One bar is entirely outdoors, situated atop a raised deck at the back of the patio. This bar is the smaller of the two, with a limited bottle selection but a more intimate, laid-back vibe than the other — a large, busy bar situated half indoors and half outdoors on the opposite end. This one has an impressive array of draft beers (about 30 in all) and a breezy, open-air vibe. The enclosed half of this bar faces MacDill Avenue and is ostensibly the front entrance of The Patio, although most patrons come by foot, entering directly into the patio area from Horatio Avenue.

What gives? Most of the clientele here are locals from the several blocks of homes and condo units that surround The Patio. Many of these folks are the same ones that you'd find cruising the bars of SoHo on any given weeknight — after business hours of course — if they didn't have their own neighborhood bar within walking distance of their condo. Although I'm sure many of the patrons have a patio of their own at home, my guess is that The Patio has theirs beat.

The crowd here tends to run a bit older than in SoHo. As one Yelp commenter put it, this is a "frat crowd that has already graduated, and has had a 9-5 for at least 5 years." Vague cynicism aside, I couldn't have said it any better. That gives The Patio an interesting feel for a locals joint — it's made up of many regulars, but these are of the young, working professional variety. These folks don't just show up for a beer after work, either; they toss footballs on the side road, eat barbecue and sip brunch cocktails on the weekends — just as you might in your own backyard.

Regulars are rewarded for their repeat patronage in the form of personalized Patio mugs, made by Ki Designs Gift Boutique. They cost $25 and can be refilled for only $1 more than the regular beer prices (they hold about two beers), making the purchase a no-brainer for those who simply need to walk down a flight of stairs and half a block to their local bar. I also saw a bartender pouring some wine into one, so who knows what the deal is on that angle. The mugs stay on a shelf behind the bar, making this one personal possession you can forget after a night of drinking without negative repercussions!

All things considered, this place gives my future patio a run for its money (though the hot tub gives mine a clear edge). It's got a definite Florida vibe, and it's a nice fit with the slightly upscale residential surroundings. The Patio's proximity to nearby houses and condos all but guarantees a good nightly crowd (even on weekdays), and although it's without doubt a neighborhood spot, visitors should have no trouble settling in on a warm summer night with a nice drink and some friends to chat with.

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