Of all the implausible locations Iíve visited for a night at the bar, a hockey rink in Wesley Chapel is one of the most unique.
A few months back, I caught wind of a new sports barís grand opening, located in the upper deck of Florida Hospital Center Ice. I quickly learned this is no ordinary ice rink: Florida Hospital Center Ice is the largest facility of its kind in the Southeast, featuring three NHL-sized rinks, an Olympic rink and a junior rink, plus a fitness center, pro shop and concession stand.
The downstairs concession stand is an extension of the kitchen upstairs at the Top Shelf Sports Lounge, a full-service bar and restaurant catering to players, skaters and fans alike, as well as casuals like me checking out the unlikely setup.
On its own, Top Shelf is a reasonable sports bar. Itís clean and simple, with adequate TV coverage and plenty of booze and food. Thereís bar trivia on Wednesdays, happy hour specials on weekdays and late-night happy hour specials every day of the week. Lightning games trigger even more specials.
The best, by far, is Flipping Friday. From 9 p.m. to close (which is 11:30 p.m. at the earliest) on Fridays, you can flip a coin for a chance to win 50 percent off your drink tab. A double of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Top Shelfís top shelf, is $45. Iíll leave the math up to you.
The coolest twist is the fact that Top Shelf overlooks three ice rinks, which are often active well into the evening with ice skating, figure skating or hockey. Floor-to-ceiling windows lend the effect of being in a large suite in a small arena, with great views of the action below, right from your table.
Top Shelf has become popular for its food menu, but itís a full bar in its own right, with 20 beers and four wines on tap, along with a respectable bottle and can selection. Thereís a full liquor selection, too, ranging from well vodka to Balvenie DoubleWood.
Top Shelf shares a co-owner with Tampaís 81Bay Brew Co. in Keelan Cottle, who has assembled the loungeís Tampa Bay-centric beer list. Five of the barís 20 taps are 81Bay brews, including a house-labeled version of its Coriander Orange Wheat and flagships Coffee Porter, Sun Viking IPA and Reel Slo Irish Red. The fifth is the breweryís hockey-themed Lightning Lager, a sub-4 percent pounder that seems right at home above the ice.
Speaking of the rinks, itís obviously cold in the bar. Unless youíre coming off the ice for some post-game booze and food, you might want to reconsider a shorts-and-T-shirt combo.
Many of the patrons are actually fresh off the ice. Thereís a fun "shift change" that happens toward the end of the night, as the hockey games finish and players leave the locker rooms. What better time for the daily late-night happy hour?
Even if youíve never laced up a pair of skates, youíll have little trouble seeing why Top Shelf has become a hit in Wesley Chapel. It has all the chops of a good sports bar, with some bonus spectacle courtesy of the ice rinks. Hockey season is imminent, and hereís a place to watch both the Bolts on TV and an amateur league downstairs. Canít say that about too many places.
ó Contact Justin Grant at [email protected] Follow @WordsWithJG.
If you go
Top Shelf Sports Lounge3173 Cypress Ridge Blvd., Wesley Chapel, 33544. (813) 953-1032; topshelftampa.comThe vibe: A modern sports bar overlooking a pair of hockey rinks.
Food: Sides, appetizers and salads, $3.45-$13.95; entrees, $9.95-$16.95.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $4.75-$6.50; wine, $7-$16; liquor, $4-$12, with ultra-premiums up to $37. Happy hour: 4 to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, $4 domestic drafts, $2 off house wines and $4 premium wells.
Specialty: Youíll notice several 81Bay Brew Co. beers on draft ó Top Shelf co-owner Keelan Cottle is also a co-owner of that brewery. Check out the Top Shelf Orange Wheat, a relabeling of 81Bayís Coriander Orange Wheat, or go for the Lightning Lager, an all-malt light lager.
Hours: 4-11:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 11 a.m-10:30 p.m. Sunday.