Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: Sip and smoke at Blue Torch

Well, the bad news is that Blue Torch Cigars & Winery is not actually a winery. That combination seemed too ambitious to fly under my radar, as Blue Torch had since its opening this year, and that ended up being true.

While it’s a curious name for what is ultimately a cigar lounge and wine bar, Blue Torch can be excused. In a short time, it’s gained a loyal following among Tampa’s Oak Grove residents, none of whom seem to be concerned with the lack of grapes fermenting on site.

I’d heard good things about Blue Torch, so I decided to swing by. At first, I was surprised by the size. Cigar lounges often are small, low-key affairs, but this one was extremely spacious, separated into several connected areas, each with their own vibe.

Near the entrance, there’s a sunlit space with plush sofas, lounge chairs and a few two-seaters, one hosting a game of chess. There’s a long bar opposite, backed with a row of flat screens displaying sports. In the middle, round granite surfaces sit atop old oak barrels, surrounded by upcycled industrial stools. Farther back are two large nooks outfitted with sofas and tables; one has a massive TV of its own.

Nearby, there’s a boardroom table, suitable for cracking open a laptop and getting some work done, or simply meeting with a large group. Antique muskets hang overhead and filtered sunlight creeps in via an ornate stained-glass window panel.

Between the two rear lounge areas sits a floor-to-ceiling row of humidor lockers available for members to store their cigars. These lockers, of course, are attached to a walk-in humidor, featuring a wide range of cigars, including the house brand, LTT, which offers a range of cigars made from tobacco from the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil and Mexico’s booming San Andrés region.

Amazingly, there’s yet another seating area outside. A long row of tables, umbrellas and space heaters — it’s hard to imagine now, but those heaters will be great in eight months or so — skirt the length of the building in a narrow enclosed patio, anchored at the end by a small pond and stone-backed waterfall. This is a major upgrade from the average cigar lounge.

Another surprise: a diverse clientele. You may have preconceived notions about the cigar-lounge crowd, and I’ll admit to the same, but the crowd at Blue Torch ranged from 20-something professional women to burly bikers, all of various backgrounds and ethnicities.

We’ve already established that there’s no house brand of wine, but that does not imply a shortage. To the contrary, Blue Torch pours over a dozen wines by the glass, from regions as varied as Spain, Washington state and New Zealand. The wines are kept under pressure using a nitrogen system that ensures a fresh glass every time.

Of course, there’s also a variety of port, the classic cigar accompaniment. These are generally bottle-only, but I was able to snag a pour from an open bottle of Sandeman Founder’s Reserve, a rich, fruit-forward wine that can hang with the best of them.

There’s also quite a bit of beer, including an almost exclusively local draft list — 3 Daughters, Cigar City, Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Cycle, Big Storm, Florida Avenue — and a range of bottles from across the state, including Funky Buddha, Barrel of Monks and Florida Beer Company.

Barring wines and beer, there’s also a full coffee bar, serving everything from a hot cup to Cuban-style espresso drinks. And for food, there are a handful of hot sandwiches and personal pizzas, each of which come with a bag of chips and a fountain drink. It’s a full service stop.

It’s not hard to see why Blue Torch has found its footing so quickly. With a smart interior, a great patio, plenty of space and a wealth of food, drink and cigar options, there’s little that you could be missing. Sure, there’s no liquor, but that issue seems minor, given how well Blue Torch handles the rest of it. (Even then, cans of Jim Beam pre-mixed cocktails are available).

Indeed, Blue Torch Cigars & Winery fails to deliver on the last promise of its name, but the misnomer is easily forgiven when considering how many things it does right. While it certainly won’t appeal to everyone, this is a place with something for nearly everyone. If you don’t believe me, swing by and check out the crowd.

— Contact Justin Grant at
[email protected]

Follow @WordsWithJG.

     
       
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