A number of factors can affect success in the bar and restaurant business, but I can think of few as important as location. A mediocre business in a great location can sometimes stand a much better chance of making it than a great business in an awful location.
The best-of-both-worlds approach is generally reserved for heavily funded, elaborate concepts. But there's another approach, and that involves introducing a modest-but-smart concept to an underserved market. If I were to go into business, this would be my kind of place.
Take Oldsmar, for example. I do a lot of online research to try and find interesting watering holes in parts of the bay area that I don't often find myself. Oldsmar has disproportionately few good bars for the size of the town. You could probably toss any old cocktail bar in there somewhere and it would do fine, but if you could inject a little finesse in there, it might look like Craft Street Kitchen.
Craft Street Kitchen originally comes from Trinity, where its first location opened in summer 2014, finding enough success to warrant a second in Oldsmar last December. Trinity and Oldsmar — well played.
But there's a good reason why both locations of Craft Street Kitchen are doing well, and only part of it has to do with the fact that there aren't a lot of solid bar and restaurant combos in those areas. The Oldsmar spot has already become a highly popular local hangout, with a full bar and bustling dining room up until closing hours. It's not hard to see why that is.
For one, it's very smartly designed. The bar zeitgeist right now involves bricks, dark wood with natural finishes, Edison bulbs and industrial fixtures, and you'd better believe that's what you'll find at Craft Street Kitchen. But rather than coming across as forced, the industrial-rustic decor fits the space. Ceilings are high and the floor plan is open, with sparse room dividers and an open kitchen.
Handsome design is one thing, but the menu is also a treat. The phrase "seriously fun food" is painted onto the bricks at the back of the kitchen; sure enough, the menu is built around creative twists on simple comfort foods, made by people who clearly love playing with their food. For example, even the token "boring" appetizer — a hummus plate — seems remarkably fresh, served with avocado, corn relish, oranges and pumpkin seeds.
This menu approach is extended to the beverage side, which is what brought me to Oldsmar. First, there are 34 beers on tap, with 12 in constant rotation. There are a variety of wines available by the glass and bottle, as well as wine on tap. The liquor selection is on point, but it's especially noteworthy for its handful of premium Japanese whiskies, a category that still hasn't fully gained traction outside of serious whisky bars.
The cocktail list is built around old standbys, but of course there are twists. A simple blueberry cooler (made with Hangar One Blueberry, lime, simple syrup and Capt'n Eli's Ginger Beer) is given an interesting aromatic swerve with the addition of freshly grated nutmeg. The Old Fashioned is made with Bulleit, demerara sugar, and walnut bitters (instead of Angostura), but not before the glass is placed over a smoldering slice of cedarwood, infusing the cocktail with a savory smokiness.
And, although it doesn't perfectly fit the theme of this column, I have to highly recommend the non-alcoholic house drinks. There are blueberry-mint and orange-rosemary house sodas, as well as a refreshing basil-mint lemonade, and my favorite: a pineapple-mint iced tea that's sweetened with a splash of creamy vanilla. The cocktails are great here; if I'm recommending the house sodas, you'll have to trust that there's a reason for it.
Oldsmar may be a slightly softer market than, say, Beach Drive or SoHo, but Craft Street Kitchen's the kind of place that would make it anywhere.
— [email protected]; @WordsWithJG