Reviews by tbt* staff
Photography from tbt* files
Developed by Josie Hollingsworth
The idea behind the 2015 tbt* Ultimate Bar Guide started from a selfish place. After meeting friends at Green Bench Brewing Co. in St. Pete with our baby in tow, I wondered: What other bars are set up so that I don't feel crazy for having the wee one with me? And a theme was born. Our writers have tackled 16 drinking topics and offer you geographically diverse options all around Tampa Bay. Got a boat? Want to dance? Crave a view? We're all over that. There are several more suggestions for kid-friendly bars where no one is likely to give you the "you've got a baby ... in a bar" side eye. And if you prefer to take your furry baby out on the town, we've got that covered, too. Fear not, fantasy baseball/football/whatever lovers: There are bars that cater to your needs. And we're not all fancy - we have a soliloquy to the venerable dive bar, not to mention a few classics to try out. Don't drink? Food critic Laura Reiley has rounded up the best snacks that bay area bars have to offer, from free to cheap.
Cheers! - Ellen E. Clarke, tbt* editor
Did we miss your favorite bar? Leave us a comment at the bottom of the page. Share pictures from your favorite places to go out in the Tampa Bay area with the tag #tampabaydrinks.
Green Bench Brewing Co.
1133 Baum Ave. N, St. Petersburg Get directions
The forecast wasn’t kind to Green Bench Brewing Co.’s second annual Get Low Fest on Aug. 1. The sky was slate, the rain at times nearly sideways, the clientele soaked to a sog.
And yet there in the center stood a giant multicolored inflatable water slide, with adults and children alike climbing up and splashing back down with glee.
“It kind of follows the traditional European model,” Green Bench co-owner Nathan Stonecipher said. “In Europe, there’s so many places that serve alcohol that are family-friendly. I just think there’s no reason why you can’t have both.”
Fine, there's no free lunch. But how about snacks? There have always been the free chips and salsa at Chili's, the peanuts at Five Guys and, I suppose, those sad purple suckers at the bank. But it is happy hour comestibles, those noshed while applying yourself diligently to discounted drinks, that bring a sparkle to the eye.
The term "happy hour" may or may not have been invented in the 1920s in the U.S. Navy as a description of slightly booze-addled on-ship performances. Or it may be a Prohibition by-product, referring to an illicit pre-dinner speakeasy foray. Either way, after a Saturday Evening Post article in 1959, the term became broadly used to describe post-work, bargain-priced food and drink specials at restaurants and bars. You know, two-for-one, all-you-can-eat and keep the peanut bowl filled. Here are some of the Tampa Bay area's best options, from totally gratis up through still-a-bargain $8ish.
Grab your friends, some comfy shoes and your cash - it's time for a bar crawl. One of the great things about downtown St. Petersburg is that you can walk almost everywhere, and a decent watering hole is usually a quick hop from any museum, restaurant or ball game. With so many options available, it's a good spot for a mini crawl. Start by focusing on one neighborhood. For this adventure, let's go west from Tampa Bay and check out a few spots beyond Beach Drive - we're heading down Central Avenue.
Rosie’s Tavern of Dunedin
730 Broadway, Dunedin FL 34698 Get directions
Rosie’s has earned a reputation as a dog-friendly establishment since its 2010 opening. Dogs are on the bar’s logo, decor and patio, and that’s exactly how owner Julie Brown and her customers like it. “I wanted to incorporate my love and passion for animals and the camaraderie of bringing people together with this place,” Brown said. “You walk in a stranger, but walk away knowing a lot of people. Being able to bring the dogs is just a part of that.”
Dogs of all sizes are allowed on the patio, where there’s a water bowl to cool off. Just like humans, though, they have to behave and play well with others in order to stay. The pooches who become regulars get their photo framed and hung on the wall inside the bar — a hall of fame of sorts for local four-legged barflies. The first photo was of Brown’s own beagle, Rosie, who lent her name to the place. Brown’s other dog, a hound named Walker, is represented in the bar’s logo and entrance sign. Her recently adopted puppy, Lucy, has yet to be well-mannered enough to visit.
Let's go to a dive bar,” your friend with the skinny jeans says. But you know what he really means.
He wants mason jars. He wants tattoo sleeves and Toms. He wants to feel ironic, because feeling ironic feels safe.
But real dive bars feel a little bit scary, a little uncharted, and that’s all part of the thrill. You want “local”? Try a “dive” with a small “d.”
They’re not those carefully packaged, ubiquitous hipster havens so ironically fun after a long day of data entry. No, these are last resorts, homes away from home for the masses who have put in an honest day’s work at some thankless job, looking to forget about a taskmaster boss or irritating life partner.
Giant Jenga has become a staple of many a Tampa Bay bar, but plenty of drinking establishments out there have moved past the tumbling tower and added a variety of games to entice crowds. Activities at a bar can make or break an evening. Sure, good drinks and an atmosphere are important, but the availability of corn hole or table tennis can elevate one’s drinking experience. We especially recommend these bars for dates, birthdays or bar crawls. A little competition never hurt anyone. Unless you’re the loser, then the next round’s on you.
Drinking and dancing are an age-old combo. For some, one is only possible with the other. For others, a night of dancing breaks up the tedium of visiting the same bars each weekend. We’ve scoped out some of our favorites in the Tampa Bay area and included a little bit of everything for you to tap your toes to: County, hip-hop, Latin, Top 40. Whatever tune you prefer, there’s a dance floor calling your name.
Wetting your whistle: It’s a timeless tradition steeped in history that binds generations of barflies. Tampa Bay is rich in antique establishments, from dirty dives to captivating classics. Take a ride in the wayback machine at these time-honored taverns.
The Sapphire Room at the Floridan Palace Hotel
905 N Florida Ave., Tampa Get directions
Surely you’ve passed it countless times, the opulent jewel tucked away in the heart of downtown Tampa. Save for one cobalt neon sign you might never know it’s there. But step inside the Sapphire Room at the Floridan Palace Hotel, and you’re met with the aura of those who came before you. You know the Floridan; it’s that unassuming, brick-and-granite structure that commands attention amid surrounding modernity. From 1927 to 1966, it stood as the tallest building in Tampa; the tallest in the state the year it opened. Towering, red letters beckon passersby.
After a long day on the water, nothing’s better than an ice-cold beer on tap and a cheeseburger smothered in sauteed onions and mushrooms. They say that food always tastes better when cooked over a campfire. The same holds true for burgers and beer when served on a deck overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. The Tampa Bay area has more than a dozen good boat bars, but getting around on the water takes time, so we had to limit this year’s list to five of my favorite establishments.
Any bar or restaurant can have a theme. But what makes some themed bars in the Tampa Bay area different is their dedication to authenticity. It’s not just about having some Irish dishes on the menu or a few Prohibition-style cocktails. Being an authentically themed bar is about the whole package — drinks, food and atmosphere.
The Drifters may have said it best. “When this old world starts getting me down, and people are just too much for me to face, I climb way up to the top of the stairs and all my cares just drift right into space.” The “air is fresh and sweet,” the stars are bright, and drink in hand? “Up on the roof, everything is all right.” Tampa Bay has a host of rooftop bars that take dreamy gulf coast nights to the next level.
910 Skipper Rd, Tampa Fl 33613 Get directions
If old-Florida ambience and an outdoor dance floor are more your style than trendy cocktails and a crowded club, Skipper’s Smokehouse is the jumpin’ joint for you. Skipper’s is a Tampa institution. Since the ’80s, it has been a top spot for an eclectic supply of live music, including rock and blues guitar, ukulele funk and reggae bass, as well as bongo-bumpin’ and harmonica-hoppin’ tunes. With its tin roof, wooden walkways and walls painted a cacophony of colors, the oyster bar-meets-music venue has a ramshackle appearance with hippie-haven appeal. For most of Skipper’s visitors, dancing and swaying to the beat is on the agenda, so be prepared to leave your worries behind and take a ride on the groove line.
330 1st Ave S, St Petersburg Get directions
Few traditions more consistently bring friends together than football on a Sunday afternoon. Between rooting interests, fantasy football interests and friendly (or not-so-friendly) trash talk, NFL Sunday is the perfect drama that requires the perfect stage. Enter the Avenue. With 25 TVs showing games from all over the country and an indoor-outdoor bar setup, the downtown St. Petersburg bar-restaurant offers the right combination of atmosphere, drinks and camaraderie for pigskin lovers in the Tampa Bay area. Fans of any team (even poor Bucs fans) can join their brethren to root on their favorite team in solidarity; pockets of fan bases can find each other to form like Voltron around their chosen game.
No tour of our bay area breweries is complete without stops at Cigar City, Dunedin, Green Bench, Rapp, or Coppertail. But what about the little guys? Although they keep a lower profile, there are several great small-batch breweries in the Tampa Bay area that you might miss if you aren’t looking. The advantages of a small brewery are many, but the one that savvy beer drinkers should care about the most are constant refinements and an ability to experiment. Brewing in small batches allows for frequent tweaks, and a wild experiment on occasion doesn’t carry much risk.
1401 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City Get directions
There’s no mistaking where you are when you enter Southern Nights, on the western end of Ybor City’s historic Seventh Avenue. The shield above the door is decked out in RoyGBiv, the doorman with the Thor hair is wearing a leather kilt and the lights bouncing off the disco balls bathe the white-curtained walls in more rainbows. Owner Rick Kowalczyk bought his way into the GaYbor District in the spring and finished renovations two weeks before St. Pete Pride at the end of June. Kowalczyk, who owns Southern Nights in Orlando, decided to hop into the Tampa market — a solid business decision when one considers that LogoTV, an LGBTQ-friendly cable network, has named Tampa among its top gay-friendly travel destinations.
Some people need extra motivation to start running: signing up for a 5K, having a “running buddy,” or finding the perfect route. When creating Running for Brews in St. Petersburg, founders Kevin Bupp and John McMahan covered all those bases and added a fourth major motivator: beer. Describing themselves as a social running club, Running for Brews gets up to 100 people together on designated weekdays to run various routes throughout the Tampa Bay area. The view is always scenic and safe and the finish line is always at a local bar stocked with craft beer for refreshment and merriment after the workout.
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