We are fully prepared for you to hate this list. No, let me rephrase that. Hate's not a strong enough word.
You will despise this list. You will think it's the worst thing to be published about drinking since the Eighteenth Amendment. You will send us angry letters, perhaps scrawled in lipstick on bourbon-stained cocktail napkins, and leave us slurred, belligerent voice mails in the middle of the night, telling us exactly where we may shove this list, and for how long.
Because few bonds are stronger than the one between a drinker and his bar. A drinker thinks: My bar is the only bar that matters, the only bar in the world that gets what I'm sayin'. All other bars can piss off.
By daring not only to list Tampa Bay's 100 best bars and nightclubs, but to rank them, from No. 1 to No. 100, we acknowledge that we risk alienating all the inveterate lushes (a key demographic in today's global economy) who read our fair publication. We have no doubt that some of you will scream bloody murder that the Hub wasn't No. 1. Or the Dallas Bull. Or the Swigwam. Or, hell, Eddie's Bar and Grill, which ended up at No. 100.
And still, we did it. We ranked 'em. Here are Tampa Bay's 100 Ultimate Drinking Destinations, conveniently ranked for your quaffing pleasure.
Not that it matters — we already know you'll hate this list — but our criteria were as follows:
• Bars, nightclubs, dives, tiki huts, brewpubs, wine bistros — basically, any place designed for someone to hang out and drink — were eligible.
• No restaurants and no chains. The definitions are a little murky, but we think you can pretty much tell the difference between a bar and a restaurant when you step inside. And we wanted our list to have as much local flavor as possible. (Of course, we ended up making exceptions to both of these rules. Just some fuel for the fire when you besiege to our offices with torches and pitchforks.)
After several beers and hours of internal debate, we went with a South Tampa classic, Hyde Park Cafe, as Tampa Bay's Ultimate Drinking Destination. We've partied there (many times, on many Tuesdays), and we believe it exemplifies everything you could want in a high-gloss nightclub. Our Ultimate Bartender for 2009, Rafael Martinez works there, and we swear we didn't plan it that way. His win was a total coincidence. If you've never been inside the HPC, even once, we think you're missing out on the Tampa nightlife.
In the end, that's really what this list is about. You may love your favorite bar for reasons only you can explain — maybe it's across the street from your office, or it's where you set a personal best on Golden Tee, or it's where you were sitting that magical night in 1998 when you first looked deep into your future wife's eyes and told her you loved Scott Brosius.
But the 100 bars and nightclubs we visited are places we truly think any drinker would enjoy. They're worth driving out of your way to see, to experience and, in some cases, to smell.
But you're not reading, are you? You're already planning your protests. Look, just take this issue to your nearest watering hole. We think our list will make for a fun barroom debate.
If you see us there, drowning our tender feelings in a pint of Guinness, please say hello.