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With great beer, cocktails, Tryst's bar is full of surprises

The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is back in town this weekend, billed as the "world's fastest Spring Break party." Although South Florida is usually the destination of choice for a week of sunshine and irresponsible partying, there's no question that St. Pete will be full of revelry and the sound of IndyCars screaming down the pavement.

After a few hours, many sane race fans may feel the need to shift gears and kick back in a more relaxed setting. I suspect a fair deal of foot traffic will end up at nearby Beach Drive's booming drinks and dining scene.

A new face on the strip is Tryst Gastro Lounge, which occupies a small space across the street from the Museum of Fine Arts. This area of downtown is known for its scenic waterfront, proximity to the Pier, and picturesque banyan trees. Lately, it's established a presence as a hip nightlife destination.

Everything from Tryst's monosyllabic name to its font points to yet another upscale ultra lounge, where Top 40 club music meets a flavored martini list and manufactured sophistication. The truth, however, is that Tryst is all class. Instead of Top 40 we get classic soul, and actual skilled bartenders take the place of talent hired on looks alone. As the full name indicates, Tryst is a gastro lounge, which means that the focus is equally on food as it is on craft beer, fine wines, and signature cocktails.

Outside, lounge chairs and sofas are arranged as a lounge — certain to be at capacity during this weekend's brunch hours — as well as an open bar front along the entrance where patrons can order directly from the bar without ever leaving the sidewalk.

Although the intended vibe of Tryst's interior space is pretty clearly spelled out by ornate wall coverings and ultra-opulent parlor sofas, everything goes together so well as to almost seem tasteful, possibly even understated — at least as far as a bar backed with gold-tinted mirror tiles can be. The sofas serve the function of the usual booth area, while the rest of the space between the wall and bar is occupied by café tables, each with a black tablecloth and arrangement of fresh flowers.

The bar itself is made of a translucent, red and brown granite surface, lit from underneath. Crystal lights hanging above complete the scene, only to be partially undermined by flat-screen TVs along the wall behind them broadcasting sporting events. It's understandable — you've got to go with what the public wants.

Honestly, the drinks were what sold me. The draft list is considerable, containing some beers (like Terrapin's Wake N' Bake) that I was surprised to see; the bottle list is even longer. The wine list is solid and, like beer, the options are surprisingly affordable given the surroundings.

The cocktails were great. I was told that the main bartenders work together to create the house cocktails, often involving seasonal ingredients, such as blood oranges or apple cider. These cover a range of tastes, from the sweet and refreshing signature Tryst cocktail to a Manhattan with an added touch of maple syrup and allspice. Most are drinks that you can imagine yourself sipping on the Beach Drive sidewalk, possibly with an accompanying pleasant aural landscape, like race cars traveling through city streets.

Tryst Gastro Lounge

240 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 821-4567; trystgastrolounge.com

The vibe: An upscale lounge and restaurant with signature cocktails, extensive beer and wine list.

Food: Sides, salads, and appetizers, $2-$20; entrées, $12-$35; desserts, $6-$7

Booze: Beer, $4-$10; wine, $7-$16 by the glass, $24-$110 by the bottle; liquor, $6-$14, though some super-premiums like Don Julio 1942 run as high as $30. Happy hour is 4 p.m. Monday-Friday with half-price wells.

Specialty: Cocktails change seasonally and includes bartender-sourced creations, so ask yours which one is theirs and give it a shot. Some drinks to look out for in a week or two are the Chartrickey (a gin rickey made with Chartreuse) and the Berlin 75, a spin on the French 75 using hefeweizen instead of Champagne.

Hours: 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. (breakfast) and 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday-Sunday. To accommodate the Grand Prix, Tryst will open at 11 a.m. Friday-Sunday.

With great beer, cocktails, Tryst's bar is full of surprises 03/22/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 22, 2012 2:40pm]

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