Monday, May 28, 2018
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Three below-the-radar beer bars worth a visit

Since my work requires me to visit many different bars on a regular basis, there are invariably a few that stay on my to-do list for a long while, always lingering in the back of my mind as I travel to and from the various watering holes of Tampa Bay.

Three beer bars in Pinellas have been on my list for months, so I decided that it was time to stop procrastinating and start doing my homework. I'd visited one (Clearwater's Brew Garden) around two years ago, but the others were new to me, so I paid a visit to all three.

The Westy Grille & Pub is a tiny beer bar in an improbable spot. Its Central Avenue strip-mall location in St. Pete belies its quality selection of craft beers and gastropub-style fare — the latter simple yet creative and with a focus on presentation; the former brief but very solid.

The modern, relaxed interior consists of a lively red-orange color scheme, long wall mirrors in frames made of colored tiles, some beer signs, and a few TVs for the sports crowd. A TV above the bar displays information about the beers on draft, including their Beer Advocate score — a really cool feature. The Westy is relatively new, having just celebrated its one-year anniversary last month.

Of 16 taps, most are dedicated to craft breweries like Southern Tier, Widmer, Dogfish Head and Cigar City, with a few held out for the big name domestic macros. This is consistent with an overall laid-back atmosphere, where folks from nearby Treasure Island come to eat dinner, watch the game, and have a cold pint, while beer nerds visit for the new craft brew being tapped every Tuesday, at half-off the price. If you don't want a full pint, 4-oz. samplers are available for $1.50 each, and for $7, you get a full flight of five. The Westy also serves a variety of wine and wine-based cocktails.

Next up was The Brew Garden, a European-style beer bar opened in 2009 that specializes in Belgian brews and light bistro fare. There are 32 beers on tap and several dozen more in the bottle, many of which are tough to find at local domestic-heavy craft beer joints. If the European-themed murals and rows of Belgian ale bottles lined up above the bar don't give you an idea of what the place is all about, take a trip to the bathroom, where the doors are decorated in large reproductions of Unibroue's Maudite and Éphémère labels. Guess which one belongs to which gender?

The Brew Garden also hosts nightly specials and events, including poker on Sundays, karaoke on Wednesdays, and trivia competitions on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

My last visit was to Green, Central Café & Organics' courtyard craft beer bar. The small breezeway space also is occupied by Five Bucks Drinkery's outdoor bar, as well as the stairway leading to A Taste For Wine. Green's corner of the courtyard is minimal, with a small, makeshift DJ booth, a few sofas, chalkboard-topped café tables covered in patrons' doodles, and a bar with six taps and 100-odd beers in the bottle. Tinted lanterns fill the small space with green light.

For a low-key courtyard bar that's only open four nights a week, Green gets pretty packed. With little Web presence to speak of, the popularity is due to simple word of mouth, if that tells you anything. No gimmicks, little hype; just a chilled-out, open air courtyard bar with a few good drafts and a cooler full of quality beers.

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