Monday, July 23, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: Beer, beer, beer at the Wheelhouse

You could say that beer bars are in my wheelhouse. Especially ones that are a little off the beaten path, and even more so ones that offer an eclectic selection. By that, I don't just mean varied, I mean a selection with a handful of picks that you absolutely wouldn't expect to find at a typical 41-tap beer bar.

The Wheelhouse in St. Petersburg falls in this territory, offering a quirky beer list to match its quirky decor. There's a roller derby skater painted on the front window, and the interior is decked out — pun intended — in boldly colored skateboards covering the walls.

Order a beer flight (five 4-ounce pours for $10), and it rolls up to your spot at the bar in the form of a tiny skateboard with holes cut into it for the taster glasses. Don't worry, there's also a longboard option with spaces for 20 tasters if you're especially thirsty.

I was too busy perusing the 40 beers on tap — No. 41 is a house sangria — to notice the obvious play on words in the name. In fact, it didn't even occur to me until I sat down to write this review. That's got to be a good thing: I was too busy enjoying quality brews and chatting with the bartender to put much thought into the overt theme.

Having a bunch of taps is the norm with beer bars these days, but the Wheelhouse has a few wildcard options that I wouldn't have expected. For example, there are $3 pints of Rolling Rock, which is fairly uncommon to find on draft at any bar, as well as Asahi Super Dry, which I don't believe I've seen on draft outside of Japan. Sure, these selections are more geared toward the macro crowd, but this is much more interesting than just having bottles of Miller Lite in the cooler.

Then there are beers that are less surprising at a craft beer bar but still welcome sights, like North Coast's phenomenal Old Rasputin on nitro, or Dogfish Head's refreshing spin on a gose, Sea Quench. Naturally, there are some local options from various breweries like Two Henrys and Cycle, as well as options from other Florida breweries, like Hourglass and Orange Blossom.

Tap takeovers and pint nights bring in some more interesting picks — Wheelhouse has what I'm guessing must be the last remaining keg of Green Bench's delicious cacao-and-vanilla Integrated blonde ale — with breweries like Lagunitas and Bells sending out some limited-release stuff that's well worth stopping in for (I'm looking at you, Black Note stout).

And for the finishing touches, Wheelhouse has a beer infuser pumping out one-offs, like the current offering of Magic Hat #9 infused with toasted coconut, dried apricots and homemade salted caramel.

It's good that Wheelhouse offers a little something different, considering its somewhat out-of-the-way location. Not quite Tyrone, not quite Treasure Island; this space has been home to two other beer bars in the span of time that I've been writing Barfly. Westy Grille and Pub and Britannia Arms were solid beer bars, but Wheelhouse may have the right formula to stick around.

Part of that is the dual emphasis on food and beer. The Wheelhouse is an unpretentious eatery with a focused menu — shared plates, salads, pizzas and sandwiches — that's served late, generally until 10 p.m. or later, depending on the night. There are a lot of folks in the surrounding areas to enjoy a solid beer list and some simple eats.

For those neighborhood folks, Wheelhouse offers the comprehensive beer bar experience without having to head downtown. There's a definite westward spread along Central Avenue when it comes to downtown hot spots, but I think it'll take a while to reach past Pasadena.

That said, I'm optimistic about the Wheelhouse's future. It's not reinventing the wheel (sorry), but it has enough cool features and small surprises to inspire repeat business. Heck, I'll be back, and not just for the Asahi, either.

Contact Justin Grant at [email protected] Follow @WordsWithJG.

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