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Fresh concepts brewing in downtown Tampa

BY MICHAEL VAN SICKLER | Times Staff Writer

James DeVito is staking his claim that Tampa's downtown is on the verge of momentous change. ¶ By mid April, DeVito plans to open Taps Wine and Beer Merchants in 1,800 square feet on the ground floor of the SkyPoint condo tower. ¶ He says it's a $500,000 gamble and is betting downtown will become a nighttime destination for Tampa Bay residents. ¶ Judging from all that's about to take place, it may not be a bad bet.

Across Ashley, the city plans to build a new art museum and park. Riverwalk, Mayor Pam Iorio's 2.2-mile linear park, is already under way. A second condo tower, Element, is being built nearby on Tampa Street and promising to bring more residents to the area.

"I really think the downtown is coming to life," DeVito said. "We're early, but we think it's a good risk to take."

DeVito, 37, wasn't familiar with Tampa when he moved to Florida after several years working on Wall Street for Deutsche Bank. His interest was in restaurants, and he enrolled in culinary school at the Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale. After scouting for possible locations, he settled on Tampa about six months ago.

He fell in love with the SkyPoint site, which opened last year. He felt that SkyPoint's developers, Novare Group of Atlanta and the Intown Group locally, shared his vision for downtown: making it an urban playground for professionals who want to live near the amenities of a big city.

DeVito's concept for Taps is new for the Tampa Bay area.

On one side will be a wine bar with 56 wines from around the world on tap. All told, there will be more than 100 wines by the bottle. This section will have a lounge vibe, with jazz playing in the background, sofas, community tables and carpeting.

The other side will be a boutique beer tavern, with 30 beers from around the world on tap and a total of more than 300 beers. DeVito said he won't have brands like Bud, but he might have, say, Corona. The decor will be more masculine: flat screen TVs, leather benches, a two-story beer cooler towering above the bar.

While separate, the two sides will be unified by color and atmosphere. "No one has ever put these two concepts together before," DeVito said.

Taps should fit in nicely with the area's development plans, said Paul Ayres, the director of marketing for the Tampa Downtown Partnership. It's the latest nightspot, restaurant or coffee shop to open or plan to open in the area in the past two years, joining the swank Fly Bar and Restaurant, Paninoteca Mediterranean Cafe, Malio's Prime Steak House, Bamboozle (Vietnamese fusion), Moxie's and Indigo Coffee.

"We're now seeing the places match up with the type of people moving into downtown," Ayres said. "Taps will go a step further. It will attract not just the resident, but the visitor from greater Tampa Bay.

"We are talking a major shift that's going on in the downtown, and it's happening right now."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3402.

Fresh concepts brewing in downtown Tampa 03/06/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 6, 2008 5:01am]
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