Monday, July 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
Grief and wit, heritage and family dynamics collide in ‘Bad Jews’ at American Stage

Grief and wit, heritage and family dynamics collide in ‘Bad Jews’ at American Stage

ST. PETERSBURG — Whatever else he learned at Cornell University and the Juilliard School, playwright Joshua Harmon surely learned family dynamics. His play, Bad Jews, bristles with wit and malevolence dished out by people for whom familiarity breeds ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
‘Honky Tonk Laundry’ starts a summer run at Show Palace in Hudson

‘Honky Tonk Laundry’ starts a summer run at Show Palace in Hudson

HUDSON — If you’re into country, Honky Tonk Laundry, which opens July 21 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, might be the ticket. Written by Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes/Life Could Be a Dream?), this comedy musical features a two-woman cast ...
Published: 07/16/18
Taste test: New snacks from Klondike, Quaker, Planters and Lay’s

Taste test: New snacks from Klondike, Quaker, Planters and Lay’s

Every parent knows the need to stock up the snack cupboard when their children are around for the summer. I am not sure whether they get hungrier in the hot weather or just bored. But judges said their children always want something to eat when they ...
Published: 07/16/18
Recipe for Roasted Peach and Chicken Salad With Bacon Vinaigrette

Recipe for Roasted Peach and Chicken Salad With Bacon Vinaigrette

I adore a hearty salad for summer, and this one came about as a result of having to use some leftovers in my fridge. Roasted peaches are a staple this time of year: slowly roasted in the oven for about 30 minutes on 350 degrees, drizzled with honey, ...
Published: 07/16/18
Hulk Hogan returns to the WWE after a three-year suspension

Hulk Hogan returns to the WWE after a three-year suspension

A racial tirade caught on tape caused World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. to cut ties with Hulk Hogan in 2015.But now the WWE has decided that Hogan, who helped turn the company into the biggest wrestling promoter in the world, has done enough to prov...
Updated: 8 hours ago
This Florida burger joint is one of the 10 best in America, travel website says

This Florida burger joint is one of the 10 best in America, travel website says

A 2½-hour drive south could land Tampa residents at one of America’s best burger joints, according the review and travel website TripAdvisor.com.The website released a list of the "10 Most Delectable Burger Joints" in America on Wednesday, placing Na...
Published: 07/14/18
Epicurean to host fourth annual Epic Chef Showdown for Feeding Tampa Bay

Epicurean to host fourth annual Epic Chef Showdown for Feeding Tampa Bay

The Epicurean Hotel, 1207 S Howard Ave., plays host to the seven-week Epic Chef Showdown Feeding Tampa Bay benefit from 6:30 to 9 p.m each Monday starting July 16 running through to Aug. 27.Local celebrities and notable food writers will judge the fo...
Published: 07/12/18
Updated: 07/14/18
Bar review: New St. Pete breweries have sour power

Bar review: New St. Pete breweries have sour power

It took a few years, but downtown St. Petersburg is officially ready for a pair of manageable brewery crawls, thanks to the recent openings of Overflow Brewing Company and Inoculum Ale Works.The two breweries bridge the gap between Green Bench, Cycle...
Published: 07/12/18
Keke’s fourth site in South Tampa thrives among locals

Keke’s fourth site in South Tampa thrives among locals

Popular up-and-coming Orlando chain, Keke’s Breakfast Cafe has recently opened the doors to its fourth Tampa location in South Tampa on June 18. The restaurant’s name Keke’s, originates from its owners Keith and Kevin Mahen who started the chain in 2...
Published: 07/12/18
Disney movie spent more than $134,000 while filming in Lakeland

Disney movie spent more than $134,000 while filming in Lakeland

When Walt Disney Studios filmed in Lakeland in June for its movie The One and Only Ivan, it brought actor Bryan Cranston to Polk County to star in the scenes.And the movie left behind an economic impact. In all, Disney spent $134,365 in Polk. Those n...
Published: 07/12/18