ST. PETERSBURG — They were lined up outside waiting for the doors to open and the first beer to finally pour at the Ale and the Witch. Two weeks later, the beer hasn't stopped flowing at this little American craft beer oasis tucked in the courtyard of the Plaza Tower & Courtyard Shops.
Inside you'll find 32 taps drawn from a constantly changing lineup of American craft beers.
Owner Brett Andress says he has always been a beer lover, and honed his taste during backpacking tours of Europe, especially Belgium and Prague.
But you won't find any of those beers at the Witch and the Ale. No imports, no Americanized lagers — just stuff drawn from the best of America's burgeoning microbrew scene. There's Cigar City in Tampa, Southern Tier in New York, Starr Hill in Virginia, Oskar Blues in Colorado.
It's hard to say exactly what you'll find on tap. "When one keg blows another takes its place,'' he says. He tries to keep a wide variety, drawing from 18 or so styles.
He keeps a running list on the bar's Facebook page, but it's hard to keep up in real time.
There's music on the weekends, drawn from a decidedly American point of view: jazz, blues, folk, Americana (a jazz jam every Sunday night led by the Shiny Shoes Band). They recently added food, bringing in wraps and dips from the nearby Central Cafe & Organics.
The name, Andress said, is a throwback to the days when the literacy rate among taverngoers was not that high, so pubs used recognizable symbols — the fox and the hound, say. The ale part is obvious, and witches make brew (and make for cool logos).
Andress, 43, draws not only from his love of beer but his 23 years in the restaurant and hospitality industry, the past six with the Lee Roy Selmon chain. And his degree in urban planning. The latter helped draw him to the location.
"I knew I wanted to be downtown, in the triangle of BayWalk, Beach Drive and Jannus, and have an outside area, so I just walked up and down the streets since October of '09'' until he found this spot.
The location is where two restaurants failed. "I knew a restaurant wouldn't succeed here,'' he says. "Something has to draw people into this courtyard.'' And that something, he hopes, is beer, music and art (for sale on the walls).
So far, so good, he says. "We've blown through 25 kegs in 12 days,'' he says. "I'm very happy.''
Cool beans: Taco Bus to open
ST. PETERSBURG — The moment St. Petersburg foodies have been waiting for is almost here: The Taco Bus opens Monday.
Delayed for months, the first St. Petersburg outlet of the popular Tampa taqueria announced on its Facebook page Thursday that it passed its final inspection and will open at 11 a.m. Monday at 2324 Central Ave.
"Thanks to all our wonderful customers for your patience!'' wrote Taco Bus owner Rene Valenzuela.
Valentine's Day seems appropriate, since so many people love the bus. Like the original location, all the food will be prepared in a bus (though the St. Pete version looks more like a panel truck). But unlike the Tampa location, the new restaurant will have ample parking.
The new restaurant, on a former used car lot in the Grand Central District, eventually will be open 24 hours, but not initially, Valenzuela said. It will be open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday.
Valenzuela said he was disappointed with the delay but encouraged by the response. "It's the first time in my entire life that before I open, people are so excited and waiting for us,'' he said last month.