Another year, another Gasparilla parade, which means throngs of costumed partiers parading through the streets of downtown Tampa in an annual commemoration of … pirates, I guess? Something about an invasion? I'm not really sure what it's all about, if I'm being honest, and in that spirit, let's just admit it: Gasparilla may be a fun, time-honored tradition here in Tampa Bay, but mostly it's our version of the classic, tradition-as-excuse-to-drink-in-public-all-day. And, hey, there's nothing wrong with that.
For those of you who really want to be front and center for this weekend's festivities, that means joining the crowd on Ashley Drive, which is where the parade route stops and the Gasparilla Pirate Fest is held at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. It's going to be packed.
Let's suppose for a moment that you don't really want to drink whatever cheap beer your friend snuck in — you want a proper cocktail. Well, as luck would have it, the Gasparilla route runs right past Anise Global Gastrobar, a newish restaurant and cocktail lounge specializing in exotic flavors and ingredients from around the world, with a cocktail program spearheaded by Ro Patel, the man originally behind the drink menu at Ciro's and an individual that many credit with bringing the bay area's craft cocktail culture to life.
Like Ciro's, the cocktails at Anise tend to fall into two categories: house takes on classics ("The Road Well Traveled") and unique house creations ("Off the Beaten Path"). These category names tie into a larger theme at Anise. The back wall behind the long bar is decorated with a giant photo collage depicting life and food in different parts of the world. The higher-end spirits are on bookshelves flanking this backdrop, accompanied by vintage photography equipment, hardcover books, framed photos, and other sundries, giving the impression of being in the library of a seasoned world traveler.
The drink menu, then, is not all that surprising, as it looks like it was put together by someone who has gone places. The wine list features selections from the United States, New Zealand, South America, Western Europe and even Hungary. The beer selection is almost entirely North American, but this is not really a beer bar (Taps, next door, is). The liquor selection is as international as they come, and the cocktails follow suit.
The Hibiscus Margarita was excellent, with clear-cut flavors and a sharp, herbal bite from the hibiscus, which also contributed a bright pink hue to the drink. For garnish: a lime wheel and dried hibiscus. The Rhum Tiki (a perfect choice for would-be pirates, by the way) was a potent concoction, with a blend of Caribbean rums balanced out with orange and pineapple juices, as well as vanilla sugar. It was served in a heavy glass goblet adorned with tiki god faces in relief. Next up was the Lychee Love Hotel, which combines Ty Ku liqueur with lychee juice, garnished with a whole lychee and mint leaves. It was light and refreshing, with a cool mint bite at the end.
Finally, The Smoke, which is served exclusively at Anise's new Thursday night party, Smoke+Mirrors. For this drink, Patel materialized behind the bar and started fiddling around with cedar wood chips and some strange machine that actually sprayed smoke into drinks. This one featured a Maestro Dobel tequila base, along with cedar-infused Ty Ku, ginger and lime. Solid stuff, in all.
Whether you're in the area for a pirate invasion or just another night in downtown Tampa, Anise is definitely the place to check out for top-quality cocktails with a global twist (the name's not just there for show). The classic cocktails are great, the house cocktails are unique and very well conceived, and the place has a cool, laid-back vibe that fits in perfectly in this up-and-coming part of Tampa.
Well, laid-back on any other weekend, that is.