Being a child of the '90s, I pictured my 20s like the cast of MTV's The Real World: hot clubs, dancing, fancy drinks, beautiful young people. • The reality of life in greater Brandon has shown me that my own Real World, and that of everyone here in his and her 20s, consists of something very different: Drinks are expensive, any place in Tampa is at least 30 minutes away, and it's usually old men reliving their prime who approach young women. • Do most of us make the drive to Hyde Park when we want to go out? Yes, but that's not as realistic during the week for those of us who graduated and now hold down "grownup" jobs. And those of us without adult jobs are on a even tighter budget. • While Applebee's or the Brandon Ale House may not be the reality we pictured when we sneaked into another room as kids to watch the Real World: Vegas, they do serve as alternatives to trekking to Tampa. • So before you buy a one-way ticket to New York and live off ramen in search of a nightlife, here's a sampling of SouthShore and Brandon area establishments frequented by us 20-somethings.
6108 Winthrop Town Center Ave.
Specials: Every day from 3 to 7 p.m. drinks are 2-for-1. Margaritas and sangria are 2-for-1 all day every day.
Ambience: Lots of loud live Greek music. The servers dance in a line around the restaurant, napkins are thrown in the air, plates break, and, on the weekends, a belly dancer makes her way around the restaurant. There is always a good mix of families, couples on dates, and groups of women looking for a fun girls' night out.
Age Requirement: No restrictions for entrance.
Et Cetera: Acropolis is a fun atmosphere any night of the week, but for a weekend dinner, this is a great place to eat and have a good time with friends. "This isn't where I come if I am trying to get a date, but I love coming here when I want to have sangria and hang out with my friends," said Amanda Tyler, a 23-year-old local.
Brandon Ale House
1817 W Brandon Blvd.
Specials: Every day all day there are $6 pitchers of beer and $5 doubles of Captain Morgan and Smirnoff. They also have a 1.25- pound full rack of baby back ribs on Monday and 1.15-pound live lobster for $14.95.
Ambience: Casual sports bar atmosphere with televisions on each wall. This is where you go to have a beer and watch a game. There are pool tables in the middle of the restaurant so you can eat, watch the game and shoot some pool.
Age Requirement: No restrictions for entrance.
Et Cetera: Ale House is the place to go when you need a laid-back night out in jeans with friends. The crowd is usually people in their 20s, and it usually draws a larger crowd during football season or when there is a fight on. If you are trying to meet someone in a suit who's drinking a dry gin martini, this may not be the place to go, but if you're looking to meet people in a laid-back environment, this a place worth checking out.
6264 Winthrop Town Center
Specials: Mondays are $5 burgers, Wednesday night is dollar drink night ($1.25 well drinks, Bud and Bud Light drafts) from 10 to close, and Saturday is Ladies' Night from 10 to close and ladies drink free until midnight.
Ambience: Casual bar atmosphere during the afternoon, but it has more of a club feel at night. "It's not too sporty; they always have music going and the food is good. It's a really good spot to pregame," said Rafael Ruelas, 29.
Age Requirement: No restrictions for entrance, except for certain nighttime events: men 21 and up, women 18 and up.
Et Cetera: Green Iguana draws a lot of people who are looking for the club vibe without the drive to Tampa. If you are from the area, you will most likely run into people from high school, but if you can manage a blank stare, it shouldn't distract you from a good time.
Park Square Cellar
16132 Churchview Drive
Specials: 2-for-1 on all draft beers, glasses of wine, and mixed drinks, and complimentary popcorn.
Ambience: Sophisticated with bar lighting, a few flat screens to watch a game, and live music on the weekend. This is where you go when you want to feel like a grownup. The crowd is all adult, but the environment is perfect for meeting someone for a drink after work.
Age Requirement: No restrictions for the dining room; for the bar it's 21 and over.
Et Cetera: Ladies are probably going to be chatted up by an older cat or two, but, if we're honest with ourselves, that's always a little ego boost.
829 Providence Road; 1905 SR 60 E; 10243 Big Bend Road; 1204 Townsgate Court (Plant City)
Specials: Half-price appetizers from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and after 10 p.m. Monday it's 39 cent wings all day. Girl's Night Out Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. includes a live DJ, drink and food specials. Happy hour includes 2-for-1 on select draft beers.
Ambience: After 10 p.m., Applebee's turns into "Club Applebee's." There's even a website: clubapplebees.com. On full moon nights, there's a Full Moon Party that includes black lights and music. Everyone wears white and the tables have glowing neon tequila bottles. The crowd is all local young adults.
Age Requirement: No restrictions until after 10 some nights, when it is 21 and over.
Et Cetera: Club Applebee's may seem like an oxymoron, but in an economy where young adults are on fixed budgets, this is a great place to go out and have fun without breaking the bank. Music, inexpensive food and a chill environment let you kick back when you don't feel like driving to Tampa and don't want to blow your paycheck on one drink.
1025 W Brandon Blvd.
Specials: Sunday hospitality gets half-off after 7 p.m. (bring your last paycheck stub to get a hospitality card), Monday is Crab Night, $14.95 2-pound orders of fresh crab legs with butter and corn on the cob, and $5 liters of beer, Tuesday is happy hour all night (typically it's 11 a.m. till 7 p.m.), and Wednesday is half-off specialty sushi rolls.
Ambience: Casual and chic. There are flat-screen TVs around different rooms for watching games, a billiard room with darts, a bar, and a sit-down sushi restaurant. The age requirement ensures that you're surrounded by other young adults.
Age Requirement: 21 and up.
Et Cetera: The Rack is great when you're with a diverse group of people: You can shoot pool, grab food, have a drink and hang out without missing the game. "I love their specials, and it makes me feel like I am going out without having to go very far," said Kersten Busche, a 23-year-old University of Central Florida graduate.
Best of the rest
AmberJack's Grill, 11238 Boyette Road, has a Wednesday karaoke night, ladies' night on Thursdays and a DJ on the weekends. You can check the weekly specials on the grill's Facebook page. Smokey Bones, 136 Brandon Town Center Drive, is open until 2 a.m. each night and offers 60-cent chicken fingers every Thursday after 9 p.m. Boomerangs, 2016 Town Center Drive, has martini specials, Filthy Electro Nights (Thursdays) and Latin Nights (Fridays). Tadpoles, 115 E Brandon Blvd., has $5 burgers every Tuesday. Catch more specials on the Facebook page. The Loft, 10315 Causeway Blvd., offers 2-for-1 drinks every day from 5 to 7 p.m., a DJ on Saturday nights, and the nightclub is open from 10 p.m. till 3 a.m.
Felicia Porzio can be reached at email@example.com.