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Bar review: Don CeSar's Rowe Bar serves top cocktails

I was recently in Seattle and got a tip to visit the Slow Boat Tavern, a nearby neighborhood bar. I stood at the bar, staring at a small bottle selection, and the bartender pointed to a menu board. It listed 10 beers, a cider, a cabernet, a port and two cocktails (one of which being the woefully underutilized vermouth cocktail).

It was a bold list, given the proclivity of modern bars to attempt to be so many things at once. At Slow Boat, like many good restaurants, the menu is limited, and the items offered are made well. It's one of the best bar experiences I've had in recent memory.

I mention this because I just got a chance to check out Rowe Bar, the new beachfront restaurant and lounge at the Loews Don CeSar that comes as part of a $1.8 million renovation. It is surprisingly focused and simply executed, lacking the elaborate opulence that you might expect from the pink palace, with a no-nonsense, classic beach vibe in its stead.

Rowe Bar, named after historical Don CeSar developer Thomas Rowe, looks back to the simpler times of the hotel's 1928 opening for inspiration. It offers a one-page food menu and one-page beer and cocktail menu. The wine list is fairly extensive, but the cocktail list is wonderfully concise, with five signature drinks, three takes on the julep and four punch bowls. No fluff: a rare beach bar accomplishment.

Biologist/mixologist/author Eben Klemm was hired as a consultant to create the cocktail menu, which places emphasis on '20s-era techniques — don't expect frozen drink dispensers — and takes on cocktails that would have been popular with the well-to-do guests of the hotel's early days.

There's an aquavit-enhanced rickey that's sweetened with orange marmalade; a Collins given extra depth with dried apricot and sparkling wine; and three juleps, each featuring unique garnish and flavor additions to match its base of bourbon, gin or tequila. The four communal punch bowl drinks are named for their primary flavor characteristic: mint, peach, berry and tropical. The menu says that they serve two to four, but if you've got four drinkers working on one of these, expect to order another.

Although the Don CeSar is unquestionably a luxury property, the design of Rowe Bar isn't overtly upscale. Instead, it feels like a very spacious beach house, with wainscoting and bookshelves, and a large outdoor seating area lined with fire pits, sofas and palm trees, which looks out onto the gulf.

A small bar in the corner of the interior dining area is functionally decorated with buckets of citrus and glasses containing fresh herbs, both of which are featured prominently in the house cocktails. They also factor into a trio of house-made ades, which, despite being alcohol-free, are highly recommended. Choose from a lemon, lime or orange base, and then choose from a list of exotic flavor additions. I went with orangeade flavored with salted watermelon and hibiscus black pepper. I would make a return visit just for this drink.

You won't find neon-colored shots or fruit-loaded frozen drinks at Rowe Bar, but there's no shortage on the beaches if that's what you're in the mood for. If you're in the market for something a little more classic and cozy, Rowe Bar's a great place to start.

[email protected] | @WordsWithJG

Rowe Bar

3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-1881; therowebar.com

The vibe: The Loews Don CeSar's bright and sunny new beach bar, featuring 1920s-inspired cocktails.

Food: All items $11 to $26.

Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $5 to $8; wine, $10 to $25 by the glass and $36 to $109 by the bottle; liquor, $9 to $30.

Specialty: With the exception of a solid wine list featuring more than 50 options, the drink menu is pleasantly to-the-point. Several local brews are featured alongside a small collection of clever variations on classic drinks, like the Anytime Rickey, which boosts the classic gin-and-lime drink with an addition of aquavit and orange marmalade. For maximum beach vibes, bring a friend and order the Tropical punch bowl, which features Cape Coral's Wicked Dolphin rum, Mt. Gay Dark Rum and an assortment of local fruits and edible flowers.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday.

Bar review: Don CeSar's Rowe Bar serves top cocktails 07/20/16 [Last modified: Thursday, July 21, 2016 7:31pm]
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