Make us your home page
Instagram

Bar review: A whisky cheer to the Lion's Den cigar bar in Ybor City

The Lion’s Den in Ybor City is a cigar bar, so the selection is very whisky-centric. But you’ll find no shortage of other premium spirits. And although it’s on busy Seventh Avenue, it’s upstairs, just far enough away.

Luis Santana/tbt*

The Lion’s Den in Ybor City is a cigar bar, so the selection is very whisky-centric. But you’ll find no shortage of other premium spirits. And although it’s on busy Seventh Avenue, it’s upstairs, just far enough away.

I racked my brain for a premise from which to start this article that wasn't based on finding an "escape" from Ybor City. I'm aware that my Ybor City coverage very frequently leans in this direction, and I hate to be repetitive.

However, the reason the Lion's Den appealed to me in the first place was very much because it offered an escape of sorts from Ybor. It's only removed from the main drag of Tampa's infamous party district by a flight of stairs, but if you're an old grouch like me, the change of pace created by that small degree of separation is quite welcome.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with Ybor nightlife. Sometimes it's exactly what I'm in the mood for. But even then, it's pretty nice to have a place to take a reliable breather — even if it is, ironically, in a cigar bar — when you tire of the crowds and the noise.

If you remember the James Joyce before it moved into the old Mema's Alaskan Tacos (RIP) space, you'll recognize the Lion's Den. It's a bit more dressed up now, with an overhaul that transformed the space into a laid-back lounge and cigar bar, where you can watch the game, enjoy some very premium spirits (more on that shortly) and have a chat with the truly friendly staff and patrons.

Being a more relaxed spot in the thick of Ybor gives the Lion's Den a bit of a clubhouse feel. This is no doubt helped by the Lion's Den crew, which really make guests feel at home.

This was my first visit, and I wasn't in the bar for more than 20 minutes before owner Brian Willingham struck up a conversation, which evolved into multiple, wide-ranging discussions involving other patrons and the bartenders. To someone who just stepped in off the street, we may as well have all been longtime regulars.

While the service is on point, I think the real story is the spirit selection. There are some decent beer selections in the cooler, and a token variety of wine is served, but man — if you want a lineup of premium, ultra-premium and lesser-seen spirits in Ybor City, I'm not sure you'll find any place to beat the Lion's Den.

It's a cigar bar, so naturally, the selection is very whisky-centric. Single malts and premium blends, American whiskeys of several varieties, and a solid pick of Japanese whiskies make up the vast bulk of the booze list at the Lion's Den.

But you'll find no shortage of brandies and Cognac, cordials, tequila, rum, boutique gin and even some high-end vodka. Although there are typically a couple of featured cocktails up on the board — currently, I'd recommend the Nightlife Paradise — there's no cocktail list. Instead, you'll have to chat with your bartender, which is more fun.

After enjoying a glass of the sublime Nikka Coffey Malt whisky, I went this route and ultimately settled on a rye manhattan, featuring Carpano Bianco (a floral, white vermouth usually paired with gin) in place of sweet vermouth. I would never have thought to order that on my own, and it was excellent.

Oh, and the Lion's Den is also home to the Cigar City Barbershop, which bills itself as a "speakeasy barbershop." I can't vouch for the services, but the concept is intriguing. A barber shop hidden in a cigar bar?

In a way, the Lion's Den is hidden within Ybor City. It's right there on Seventh, only a short flight of stairs (or elevator, if you've had a few too many) away from the expected hustle and bustle, but it's quite a different experience than you'll find at most places in town. It's a chilled-out spot in a decidedly un-chilled part of town, and I'm glad that I found it.

jg@saintbeat.com; @WordsWithJG.

Lion's den

1704 ½ E Seventh Ave., Ybor City; (813) 248-0700

The vibe: A friendly haven one flight of stairs above the chaos of Seventh Avenue.

Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $3.75 to $7; wine, $7.50; liquor, $7 and up, with several ultra-premiums stretching well into the double digits.

Specialty: Check the board for the current cocktail specials, such as the Nightlife Paradise (Hennessy, blood orange, sour and vanilla), or have a look at the voluminous spirit selection. Lion's Den stocks what could be the most comprehensive list of high-end spirits in Ybor City, with a staggering range of brands available, including loads of high-end whiskies. My personal pick: Nikka Coffey Malt, a tremendously rich and smooth blended malt whisky.

Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily.

Bar review: A whisky cheer to the Lion's Den cigar bar in Ybor City 11/24/16 [Last modified: Thursday, November 24, 2016 1:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Glen Campbell's wife Kim discusses challenges, guilt caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, others face

    Life Times

    If there's one thing Kim Campbell would change about caregiving for Alzheimer's patients, it's the attitude so many of us have toward transferring a loved one from home to a long-term care facility. According to Campbell, it's often the most kind, loving decision you can make. It's not a sign of failure, but one of …

    Kim Campbell, wife of country music legend Glen Campbell, is acknowledged by those attending the free event where she shared the story of her personal journey with Alzheimer???‚??„?s disease and the struggles she faced caring for her husband on Friday (5/26/17) at the Suncoast Hospice's Empath Health Service Center in Clearwater. Empath Choices for Care, a member of Empath Health, and Arden Courts Memory Care hosted the free event where Kim shared her story to help others understand the early stages, how the disease changes lives, the challenges families face and the role of caregiver.
  2. What happened when I took my dad to a Pitbull concert

    Music & Concerts

    TAMPA — "So, you know how you like Pitbull?" I asked my dad. "We can see him."

    Selfie of Divya Kumar and Anand Kumar at Pitbull/Enrique Iglesias concert.
  3. Tampa City Council votes to accept travel invitation from Cuban ambassador

    Blogs

    The invitation came to Tampa City Council chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin in a June 9 letter from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.

    The Tampa City Council voted 6-0, with Frank Reddick out of the room, to respond to a travel invitation from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 25

    Events

    St. Pete Pride Festival: The daytime festival covers Central Avenue's Grand Central District with more than 350 vendors, multiple stages, live music, art and food. 9 a.m., Grand Central District, 2429 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Free. (727) 342-0084.

    Kristen Whalen poses for a photo before the start of the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg last year. It's that time of year again, so check with us for your planning purposes. [LUIS SANTANA  |   Times (2016)]
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24

    Events

    St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride's popular parade moves to downtown St. Petersburg's scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at 7 p.m. with fireworks at 9:45 p.m. 2 p.m., North Straub Park, Fifth …

    Thousands line the streets of Central Ave. during the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg.  [Saturday, June 25, 2016] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]