Saturday, November 18, 2017
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: District Tavern a hip spot in Tampa's Channel District

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The phrase "neighborhood bar" tends to evoke scenes from a smoky dive populated by beer-swigging old-timers, or a Cheers-style pub, the central social hub for both the staff and clientele.

District Tavern is unquestionably a neighborhood bar, but it's far removed from the images most often associated with the genre. Located at the base of SkyHouse Channelside, a new 23-story high-rise in Tampa's Channel District, District Tavern is far sleeker and more modern than the classic neighborhood bar. It caters to a different kind of local regular — the young, urban professional — and the look and feel of the place is tailored to suit: hip, modern, maybe just a little upscale.

The Channel District has been in a rapid state of growth, largely thanks to the ongoing redevelopment plans of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. Despite the hustle and bustle of the nearby port, arena and shopping plaza, SkyHouse's and thus, District Tavern's part of the area is quiet, almost sleepy. It reminds me of some of the residential areas near South Beach in Miami: cool, casual and laid-back.

Inside, District Tavern is open and breezy, with large picture windows overlooking the local dog park. The interior is relatively low-lit, creating an interesting contrast with the sunlight openly pouring in during daytime hours. Above the bar, a black wave made of wood slats flows across the ceiling.

I visited District Tavern because I heard it was a popular brunch spot. In addition to the special brunch menu, there's also a brunch-specific cocktail list, as well as a DIY mimosa bar, featuring mixers and fresh fruit. Certainly not a bad way to spend a weekend afternoon.

On Sundays — Stereo Sundays, more specifically — resident DJs Alen P and ZacHunter set up right in the middle of the dining area, further reinforcing the Miami vibe. It's just the right kind of setup for brunch: chill, low-key house music played quiet enough for people on the other side of the bar to have a conversation, but loud enough to keep heads bobbing throughout.

District Tavern bills itself as a gastropub, and the menu agrees, offering a range of creative dishes and shared plates that are several cuts above basic pub grub. The drink menu is similarly well thought-out, with rotating beer and wine selections, a wide range of premium spirits, and seasonal cocktail lists that include a variety of fresh juices, house-infused bitters and syrups and creative garnishes, such as Thai chili-soaked celery in the DT Bloody and candied pineapple in the Old St. Pete Daiquiri.

For beer, you'll find 16 taps, which are overwhelmingly local, including less-common seasonal selections, like Tampa Bay Brewing Company's Kumquat Blonde, and another from the brewery that my server could only identify as "Blueberry." I suspect it's actually Hint of Blue, an excellent seasonal pale wheat that — as the name suggests — features just a hint of blueberry.

Many of the cocktails on the list are made with Woodford Reserve bourbon that's been house-aged for 45 days in a small oak barrel. During brunch, this appears in the AM Fashion, which is an old-fashioned made with orange bitters instead of Angostura and aged maple syrup instead of a sugar cube.

Wine drinkers will find a rotating selection available by the glass and bottle, but it's probably not a bad idea to swing by on Tuesday nights, when bottles are half-off. If you come for weekend brunch eyeballing the mimosas, you have three options (which are not mutually exclusive): bottomless mimosas from 11 a.m. to noon for $10; DIY Korbel Organic mimosas for $7 a glass, featuring a variety of juices and fresh fruits; and a flight of bubbly-enhancing liqueur and spirit accoutrements such as Disaronno, Chambord, Bols elderflower, and Boodles mulberry gin for an additional $10.

Under the District Tavern logo on the brick wall of the dining room reads the phrase "drink, eat, gather." While District Tavern's approach is a bit more detailed than the simple instructions provided, the phrase is a reasonable description of what District Tavern is all about. It's the gathering place for residents of a growing community, where the options for eating and drinking keep getting better.

[email protected]; @WordsWithJG

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