Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Features and More

VIP Lounge: Margaritas, Mexican make for a sweet beach getaway

By Justin Grant

Times Correspondent

In case you crave some hot food during a night out on the town, many bars offer a menu beyond pretzels and peanuts. On the other end of the spectrum are restaurants that serve a few drinks at the bar, or even offer a modest cocktail list for diners.

Treasure Island's VIP Lounge and Mexican Restaurant has a hard time fitting into either group, as its mouthful of a name makes clear. It's a fully stocked bar, with lots of drink specials, specialty cocktails and late-night hours. It's also a full-on Mexican restaurant, with seasonal menus, signature dishes and a food challenge involving an unreasonably sized burrito.

The unusual straddling between bar and restaurant is well-illustrated by the passageway between an outdoor patio lounge and the indoor bar : the kitchen. If you come inside through the rear entrance or go outside from the front entrance, you literally have to pass through the kitchen to get to where you're going.

None of this seems strange to the regulars, of whom there are many. A probable explanation for the VIP Lounge and Restaurant's popularity is that it's been around for nearly 40 years, with the current owners at the helm for the past 18. This practically qualifies it for landmark status, which is probably why it was packed on a Tuesday night.

Then again, it may not take much to pack VIP, as it's pretty small inside. A long bar stretches from the front entrance all the way to the back, and there's only room for a dozen or more people there. Small groups of two or three can share drinks or enjoy a meal at a few high-tops opposite the bar, positioned along a relatively narrow walkway — the rest end up on the outdoor patio.

The vibe inside is very dive bar, which is somewhat novel considering it's just as much a restaurant as it is a bar. Imagine diners ordering entire meals at the local working-class watering hole, rather than a bag of Fritos or mixed nuts. Because food is served, smoking is outdoors-only, although it is allowed late at night, after the kitchen has closed.

Out back is a small patio built over a few former parking lot spaces, populated by small palm trees and large circular tables. The tables are fitted with umbrellas, making it an ideal daytime hangout — and it just happens to be the perfect environment for a cold margarita, a specialty at VIP.

A Mexican restaurant offering margaritas isn't exactly headline material, but the selection is not limited to a single tequila, triple sec and sour-mix offering, either. A variety of margaritas are on special on different days, from Cuervo Gold versions with Gran Gala to El Mayor versions with Cointreau. VIP also features several other premium tequilas , ranging from great margarita bases like blancos from Kah and Don Julio to sipping tequilas such as Republic Reposado. The drinks I tried came with a generous pour and were well-made all around.

Of course, Mexican beers are also on hand, as well as several craft beers. There are house wines, and the liquor bar is fully stocked, in case you aren't in margarita mode. If shots are your thing, you'll have plenty to work with — daily specials feature food-themed shots, ranging from pineapple upside-down cake and key lime pie to a chocolate-covered pretzel .

If you're in the mood for a no-frills locals joint where you can get a freshly prepared Mexican meal between rounds of darts, then VIP's the place.

Times correspondent Justin Grant can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Tampa Rep’s ‘Gnit’ is a sharp commentary on narcissism in the age of selfies

Tampa Rep’s ‘Gnit’ is a sharp commentary on narcissism in the age of selfies

By JULIE GARISTOTimes CorrespondentTAMPA — Tampa Repertory Theatre’s Gnit strikes gold for theatergoers who appreciate deadpan wit, clever wordplay and incisive commentary on the human condition.First produced in 2013, the retread of a Scandinavian c...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Taste test: pot stickers

Taste test: pot stickers

Whenever I order meals at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant I always look for pot stickers on the menu. The tasty Asian dumplings are filled with pork or chicken and veggies and cooked with a perfect balance of steaming and frying. The reason I order ...
Published: 01/16/18
From the food editor: Recipe for warm, cozy Pita Ribollita soup

From the food editor: Recipe for warm, cozy Pita Ribollita soup

When I first made this soup, Florida was in the grips of a cold weather snap, the likes of which rarely happens in this part of the state. We’re talking a whole week of lows in the 30s. The 30s! It was everything I ever wanted and more — the rare win...
Published: 01/16/18
Restaurant review: Byblos Cafe has busted out of its mold with a broader Mediterranean menu, and that’s good

Restaurant review: Byblos Cafe has busted out of its mold with a broader Mediterranean menu, and that’s good

TAMPASeldom have I paid such close attention to a restaurant closure, remodeling and reopening. Byblos Cafe began a major renovation last year, keeping the restaurant open as long as possible during the summer with some nifty temporary walls to shiel...
Published: 01/16/18

Hometown Pasco for Jan. 19

Hometown PascoHIGH FIVESPhoto A was deleted because we ran the same information in a religion story.Church presents Walk through Bethlehem: Photo: pashometown011918-B Courtesy of Brenda WelcherCLUBS AND ORGANIZATIONSWomen’s club donates to CARES: Pho...
Published: 01/16/18

Hometown Hernando for Jan. 19

Hometown HernandoHIGH FIVESBicyclist rides 100,000 miles: Photo: herhometown011918-A Courtesy of Jennifer HoustonCLUBS AND ORGANIZATIONSPledge leads to donation for Arc Nature Coast: Photo: herhometown011918-B Courtesy of Nancy Stubbs• • •People Help...
Published: 01/16/18
A play about Miami’s Cocaine Cowboys is becoming a reality

A play about Miami’s Cocaine Cowboys is becoming a reality

MIAMI — The idea seemed outlandish, maybe even impossible at the time: a one-man play about Miami’s infamous Cocaine Cowboys of the 1980s. Some 15 years ago, the Miami-raised Billy Corben was deep into research for what would become Coca...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Review: Show Palace’s Pippin daring and dangerous

HUDSON —If you saw the musical Pippin when it first hit Broadway in 1972, or a high school drama club version, or even a touring company rendition a decade ago, it’s not exactly the Pippin you’ll see if you’re wise enough to go see the spectacular mo...
Published: 01/15/18
Baseball coach Billy Reed lived a life of courage, integrity

Baseball coach Billy Reed lived a life of courage, integrity

TAMPAAs a teenager in the late 1940s, when Jim Crow remained the South’s two most notorious syllables, Billy Reed had to walk past Hillsborough High’s baseball field to get to all-black Middleton."Those (Hillsborough) students would hurl racial slurs...
Published: 01/13/18
Restaurant review: Ichicoro Ane brings ramen, Japanese small plates and a whole lot of fun to St. Petersburg

Restaurant review: Ichicoro Ane brings ramen, Japanese small plates and a whole lot of fun to St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURGWhen Station House restaurant opened on Christmas Eve 2014 it was a totally reinvented space, Steve Gianfilippo’s vision for the basement level of a 104-year-old, five-story, 30,000-square-foot building he’d bought for $3 million. For y...
Published: 01/12/18
Updated: 01/13/18