Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: Cool cocktails done right at Marlow's Tavern in Tampa

Boy, is my timing off lately. I heard that Marlow's Tavern — an Atlanta-based chain restaurant with a Carrollwood location — made some unique cocktails, but I visited only to learn that the cocktail menu is seasonal and will change to a new one next week.

That's okay, after trying selections from the soon-to-be-replaced fall/winter menu, it's a safe bet that the new stuff is worth a try, too.

Marlow's Tavern is a large-ish chain, with 17 locations in Georgia and five in Florida. It's a casual neighborhood spot that covers all the bases but doesn't stand out in any particular way: low-key lighting, brick walls, a few TVs inconspicuously scattered throughout and a cutaway at the back of the bar, looking out onto the back patio, which regularly features live music.

The service is extremely friendly. Our bartender introduced herself with a handshake and left a little name card on the bar so we could easily get her attention if we needed anything. I got the impression that this place has a lot of Carrollwood regulars, and I can see why.

Casual-concept chain restaurants typically follow the something-for-everyone model, so it's no surprise that the menu is highly varied. Marlow's throws in a little extra flair in this department, serving dishes that are familiar but clearly spruced up from the common versions.

For example, a guest at the bar ordered the hummus plate, which is usually a humble affair involving hummus, pita and maybe some carrot and celery sticks. This one came with sunflower and pumpkin seeds on top, with dipping vehicles ranging from the usual ingredients, as well as radishes and pickled okra. Pickled okra? You've got my attention.

Ditto for the drink list. There's a large beer selection — nearly 50. The eight draft selections are typical, but there are three rotating craft/local selections among them, supported by another 40 or so in cans and bottles. Some are brews that I don't see often around town, like Miami Brewing's excellent Big Rod coconut blonde ale.

Then there's the wine list, which divides a solid 30-odd wines into flavor categories such as "rich, creamy and voluptuous" and includes vintages for most options. All but one (Veuve Clicquot) is available by the glass, as well. Good prices, too.

On to that cocktail list. This is a really nice list of drinks, on par with what you'd find at a not-so-casual cocktail spot. The drinks themselves are generally familiar, but with ambitious twists to make them legitimate Marlow's originals.

For example, the Nice Pear… Manhattan starts with a High West Double Rye base, subbing Cardamaro (an Italian amaro flavored with cardoon, blessed thistle and other ingredients that I have never heard of) for vermouth before finishing with some St. George Spiced Pear liqueur and Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla bitters.

Then there's a Blood Orange Margarita, as well as a New Fashioned featuring Giffard banana liqueur, of all things, alongside its Belle Meade bourbon base. It's creative stuff, and the results are confirmed delicious.

Many of the cocktails are house creations, like the Three Hour Tour (cue the theme song), featuring Clément Select Barrel rhum agricole, Cooper's Craft bourbon, Velvet Falernum and fresh lime. The addition of bourbon is a unique spin for a tiki drink, but this one drinks as strong, tropical and exotically spiced as the best of them. Bonus points are awarded for the ceramic tiki mug, of which I'll never tire.

The upcoming spring/summer drink list include the Pom Collins, a blackberry mojito and an Old Forester-based Southern Charmer.

On cocktails alone, I think Marlow's is well worth a visit. These are real craft cocktails, and that's not just because the word "craft" is used on the menu. The fact that the food and beer/wine menus are also above-average is a bonus. If you're in the market for familiar-yet-unique, then you'll want to give Marlow's a shot.

[email protected]; follow @WordsWithJG

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