There's a newish bar in Clearwater that I decided to check out recently. It's a craft beer bar, vape lounge, sushi joint and game bar, and it's decked out in Prohibition-era murals and art deco decor. It's a veritable checklist of stuff the kids are into these days.
Boy, was I skeptical. It's as if it were run through a random concept generator, or picked via thrown darts. And of course, there's the vape lounge stigma, as well as the oft-overused "craft" in the name: The Craft Parlor.
Sometimes it pays to drop one's preconceptions and go into a situation with an open mind, though, and this is one of those cases. The Craft Parlor has taken a suspiciously multifaceted concept and executed it so well that it's honestly hard to find faults.
The location is inconspicuous, built into a small standalone space on U.S. 19 south of Countryside Boulevard. It looks a bit like an oversized trailer, and it's surrounded by a dirt lot.
Inside, the place is very attractive: brick floors, metal ceiling tiles, two granite-topped bars, a stone facade behind the tap wall and a small stage in the back with black and white theater curtains painted onto the recessed wall behind it. The black and white murals extend along the back, featuring crisply illustrated scenes from the '30s and '40s: show girls getting dolled up backstage, a jazz band in full swing, a shady backroom poker game and Humphrey Bogart mixing it up.
The island bar in the center is the vape bar, which was somewhat surprising in its unobtrusiveness. When I heard that the Craft Parlor was both a vape bar and a sushi joint, I imagined a nightmarish scenario involving thick, banana-maple-bubblegum clouds engulfing ornately plated sushi rolls. Not so — the bar area was very contained, allowing vapers to vape in peace, while the side bar (and adjacent dining area) remained undisturbed.
The vape bar is surrounded by a small but excellent selection of free games. There are some dart boards, table tennis and an Elite Supercade. That last one is an arcade game emulator featuring 621 arcade and console classics, including some quirky Japanese-only games, like Champion Wrestler from Taito.
At the other bar, there's a large aquarium that I could do without (what a depressing existence), followed by a row of some 40-odd tap handles and a lineup of Ty Ku sakes, with a few flat screens overhead. The beer selection covers a few bases, featuring plenty of local options, domestic craft brews, imports and even mass-appeal macros.
There are 15 wines, all by the glass and bottle, as well as four of the aforementioned Ty Ku varieties, available by the carafe or bottle. Oh, and the prices? Excellent: beers are all under $6, and even the top wines are under $40 a bottle.
When I visited, the vibe was very chill. There were people eating sushi, a table tennis match in progress, radio rock playing in the background and plentiful vaping at the center bar, yet everything was relaxed and pleasant. As incongruous as the setup might seem, it's remarkably streamlined and honestly works.
Although I try to keep an open mind, I can't deny that I went into the Craft Parlor expecting a conceptual mess. Instead, I found a very professional, smartly executed operation with a fine attention to detail.
Many bars struggle to execute a single concept as well as the Craft Parlor has with a handful of them. If you're in the area, give the Craft Parlor a shot — I bet you'll be pleasantly surprised.
— [email protected]; @WordsWithJG