BARFLY ON THE WALL

Tropicana Field bars: Best beers, cheapest drinks and secret spots

Would you believe that until this month, I'd never been to a Rays game? Come to think of it, the last time I stepped into a stadium to watch a major-league game was when my dad took me to see the A's at Oakland Coliseum a solid two decades ago. I've always enjoyed live sporting events though, so when the folks at Tropicana Field invited me to a game, I was glad to oblige.

See, the Trop and its hospitality partner, Centerplate, have been adding new dining and drinking spots to the stadium (as well as renovating old ones), so I was told that there were quite a few different bars to check out. This surprised me, as I'd always pictured a few generic beer tents slinging two, maybe three standard domestics as the usual setup for a baseball game. Nope — these guys are pretty serious about the whole bar and restaurant thing. There are about a dozen bars in different parts of the stadium, where you can get anything from craft beers to classic cocktails.

I arrived with my girlfriend a couple of hours before a game versus the Marlins and met with a few nice folks from the Trop, who provided me with a list of the different bars and a small map before leaving us to explore at our leisure.

The Centerfield Street area is where most people will start when arriving at the stadium, so you won't be surprised to know that it's home to the Trop's flagship bar, the Brewhouse. The Brewhouse is a large, brewpub-style bar and restaurant that fills up within minutes after the main doors open. The large bar in the center is home to a dozen or so draft beers, several bottled beers (including quality micros) and a full liquor bar. We grabbed a quick cocktail and moved along.

Like the Brewhouse, the Everglades BBQ Smokehouse is one of the more popular destinations at the Trop. The Smokehouse is a new addition, replacing the Batter's Eye Restaurant on the second level in centerfield. This is a sit-down restaurant featuring barbecue and a large salad bar, but a small full-liquor bar near the entrance provides the same panoramic view of centerfield that diners are afforded. The Smokehouse also is where broadcaster Rich Herrera holds his pre- and post-game radio shows, complete with a kitschy "On Air" sign that lights up during the show.

Between the Smokehouse and the Brewhouse are several beer vendors and snack stands similar to the ones you'll find throughout the stadium, but there are two interesting ones. The first is a replica of the old Anheuser-Busch beer trucks, with draft beer poured directly from the back of the truck, and the second is GF!, a stand offering gluten-free snacks, beers and ciders. Very cool.

Next, we decided to check out some of the other beer stands. There are quite a few, and I was pleased to see that most had some great selections. For example, Cigar City is easy to find nearly anywhere, with its Jai Alai IPA and Maduro Brown Ale being served at many of the beer portables. Several brands are represented with their own stands, such as Sam Adams and Becks, and the Brass Tap (known for its bars in Brandon and Wesley Chapel) even has its own location near rightfield.

We opted for Curley's Corner, a low-key spot on the bottom level near a children's carnival area. Curley's is a pretty bare-bones tap stand, with a dozen beers on draft representing a pretty solid variety. Aside from the aforementioned Sam Adams and Cigar City, there also were beers and cider from Crispin, Harpoon, Abita, Breckenridge, Palm and Brooklyn. It's also one of the few spots in the stadium where you can get a quiet beer before heading back into the chaos.

There was another hidden spot that we discovered — the Mezzanine Bar on the fourth floor, right past the Whitney Bank Club. If you didn't know it was there, you'd never find it. This is a fact well-known to season-ticket holders and other regulars who frequent the Mezzanine, a laid-back spot with a glimpse of the field where one can escape the crowd for a while or perhaps get a quick meal at the neighboring pasta place.

We moved along and had a look at the Del Ray Cantina, a small snack and cocktail bar at the end of the first-base food court on the first level. I'll leave it to you to figure out where its sister bar, the Third Base Oasis, is located. These are the spots for margaritas and other mixed drinks, but you'll also find the Trop's signature drink there — the Captain Morgan Blue Storm. This concoction of Captain Morgan Lime Bite, blue curaçao and lemonade probably won't win over cocktail purists, but the drink — which comes in a huge, plastic "yard" cup — is refreshing and good fun if you don't take yourself too seriously.

If you're curious about the Blue Storm, you'll also find them at the hard-to-spot Bar 410. This is a small tap stand in the leftfield seating area that occasionally offers beer or shot specials. If you do find it, you'll enjoy a full, unobstructed view of the field — one of the only bars at the Trop where you'll find one. And speaking of specials, another spot to escape the $10 price tag on most drinks is the Captain Morgan deck, which is attached to the Everglades BBQ Smokehouse. Not everyone knows this, but Captain and Colas can be purchased there for $5, a rare bargain amid the somewhat steep stadium prices.

Finally, we stopped by the Cuesta Ray Cigar Bar, which I'm told is the only bar of its kind in a major-league ballpark. It's located on the second level, above the Brewhouse and across from the Smokehouse. This is a pretty nice place, with a small, full liquor bar on one end and a large humidor on the other. In between is a comfy lounge area with a large flat-screen TV, where fans can watch the game in a quiet, low-key atmosphere. The real selling point is the large, outdoor patio that offers a view of downtown St. Pete — a great place to kick back as the sun goes down if you need a break between innings. That's exactly what we did before heading back in to watch the rest of the game from above the Rays touch tank, a small pool filled with actual rays. Game result: Rays, 7-4.

If you tried to make your way through all of these places, or even the myriad beer and wine portables, you'd probably miss the entire game. But it's good to know that you've got options. With the amount and variety of different places at Tropicana Field, it's a safe bet that there's something for just about everybody. Some may want to escape from the game for a few minutes with a cocktail or two; others may simply want a cold beer while watching the action. Whatever your motivation, you won't have trouble finding a drink — or an interesting place to drink it — at the Trop.

— jg@saintbeat.com

Tropicana Field

1 Tropicana Drive, St. Pete; 1-888-326-7297

The vibe: Variety is the word. Bars at the Trop run the gamut, from quiet, laid-back affairs and posh cigar lounges to jam-packed sports bars and party decks.

Booze: Beer, $5-$10; wine, $7-$9; liquor, $5-$12. There are deals to be found, such as $4 Dos Equis on the tbt* Party Deck on Friday nights and $5 Captain and Colas on the Captain Morgan Deck. Bud and Bud Light drafts are $3 at Centerfield Street bars beginning two hours before each home game (the special lasts one hour). Postgame Budweiser specials also are offered in the Brewhouse and Everglades BBQ Smokehouse.

Food: Ranges from simple snacks like popcorn and pretzels all the way up to full entreés at one of several in-stadium restaurants. Appetizers and snacks are generally in the $4-$10 area, and entreés are $10-$19.

Specialty: The signature drink at the Trop is the Captain Morgan Blue Storm, a drink that you'll easily recognize, as it's served in a large, plastic "yard" with the Rays logo on it. The cocktail consists of Captain Morgan Lime Bite, blue curaçao and lemonade. If you're not afraid to walk around holding a bright blue cocktail in a comically-oversized vessel, give it a shot — it's light, fruity and refreshing. Blue Storms are $9 on Friday nights and $12 otherwise.

Hours: Vary based on game schedule. Bars open two hours before the game begins; most close during the seventh inning, while others, such as the Brewhouse and Cuesta Ray Cigar Bar, will often stay open for a short while after the game.

Tropicana Field bars: Best beers, cheapest drinks and secret spots 06/29/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:13pm]

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