Sunday, February 25, 2018

Aloft, Le Meridien hotel lounges become stylish downtown Tampa hangouts

For weeks, Twitter has been lighting up with pictures of two new additions to downtown Tampa's happy hour scene. Bars aren't new to the burgeoning area, but these two are hotel bars — once the domain of ladies who lunch — aiming for a younger crowd.

Both Bizou Brasserie and W XYZ Bar cater to the young, urban set with painstakingly detailed interiors, themed menus and knack for creating Internet buzz. Diners compulsively Instagramed photos of Bizou's artfully plated meals, and loungers could not get enough get enough of the view.

The web presence signals a significantly younger patronage has taken a shine to Tampa's newest nightlife offerings.

Developers turned an old courthouse into Le Meridien Hotel on Florida Avenue and capped it off with Bizou Brasserie, a combo restaurant/bar/bakery which features Prohibition-era cocktails to compliment the French cuisine appetizers and an antique Beaux Arts-style building.

Already Tampans have made the spot a go-to for special events. Birthday parties gather on couches and around the long tables made of salvaged wood from around the courtrooms. Friends stand around the lobby-style long bar and two-seat high tops separated from the restaurant by a floor-to-ceiling wooden bookcase.

Bizou is about atmosphere, with low lighting, high-end seating and the courthouse's original marble walls. The cocktails have old-timey names like Cat's Meow (St. George Botanivore gin, yellow chartreuse, Benedictine, fresh squeezed lemon juice) and Jean Harlow (St. Germain, Kappa pisco, Salers apertif and Carpano Bianco vermouth).

On the other side of the spectrum, Aloft Hotel's W XYZ Bar, which opened last week in the repurposed IBM building on W Kennedy Boulevard, uses clean lines, large windows and bright colors to complement its sleek, New Florida look and Tampa-specific cocktail creations.

The pool table, fire pit, infinity pool deck seating and view of the Hillsborough River and the University of Tampa's minarets make full use of the prime location.

"Most hotel bars, by 10 p.m., they are dead," said Crystal Rivera, director of sales for Aloft Tampa.

"We're open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and we've gotten a great response to that. Depending on ­capacity, some nights we might stay open even later."

The name came with the Aloft chain, a piece of Starwood Hotels and little sister to the upscale brand W Hotels, Rivera said. But in the confines of the chain's framework, owners Liberty Group and Convergent Capital Partners, decided to keep other aspects very local.

"Our entire specialty cocktail menu was named and taste-tested by our ownership," Rivera said. Thee names range from classics like the Old Tampa (Bulliet bourbon, sweet vermouth, brown sugar, Florida orange peel and maraschino cherry) to the downtown-specific, like the Riverwalk (Nolet's gin, fresh grapefruit, ginger beer and a Bulliet rye floater). Near the pool table, which is free to play and opens at 4 p.m. with the bar, local artists' work hangs for display.

"We have people approach us all the time about showing their work," Rivera said.

"Ultimately the managers determine what goes up and any profit from sale goes to the artist."

W XYZ has a capacity of around 175, including the pool deck and lounge area, and has already started booking special events, including company Christmas parties and networking group mixers.

Rivera said the bar also will have DJs spinning chillwave music Thursday nights and live musicians on Fridays after 7 p.m.

Only time will tell if Bizou and W XYZ can continue the trend of downtown Tampa's night-time revitalization.

"We want to bring life into this area," Rivera said. "It has so much potential."

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