Of the various bar themes I expect to run into in the wild, "old-timey service station" is not one of them. But it seems to be working quite well for the Ford's Garage chain, which has just opened in Brandon, its fourth Florida location.
If you didn't know otherwise, you'd think the place had been open for years, at least in terms of turnout. On a recent Tuesday night, my group of four couldn't get a table or a spot at the bar, which was just fine, as the large outdoor patio deck was more than pleasant enough.
If you're having trouble imagining a service station-themed bar and restaurant, just think about all the things you might find in such a station hailing from the early part of the last century: Classic Model A's and Model T's (Ford's Garage is actually licensed by Ford Motor Co.), tires, gas pumps, and even a road sensor connected to a bell near the entrance. During the day, you might even confuse it with an actual mechanic's garage.
The interior is composed of old brick, two-toned wooden tables and a hammered copper bar. The bar is decorated with another antique Ford, this one right above the center island of bottles, wheels slowly spinning. The kitchen is labeled "assembly line," and the sink basins in the bathrooms are embedded in car tires, with gas pump nozzles in place of traditional water faucets, controlled by three-way ball valves. There are even old car engines (presumably Fords) as sculptures near the entrance. The attention to detail is commendable.
Why Ford? It's part unexplored niche, part nod to Henry Ford's old winter residence in Fort Myers, where the Florida chain started. As such, the drink menu has been constructed around Florida flavors, while keeping the classic Ford theme close.
One sly reference to Ford's history is the Bootlegger cocktail, a classic bourbon-sweet tea concoction, spiced with a touch of fresh basil. During Prohibition, moonshine runners modified their cars for speed as well as for the capacity to carry mason jars and jugs of good ol' white lightning.
What kind of cars did these bootleggers use? Fords, of course! The Model T was the classic Prohibition-era booze carrier, while post-Prohibition versions — used to evade liquor taxes — included the iconic Ford V-8 and the 1951 Ford Pickup. These tricked-out Fords regularly sped through winding mountain roads to avoid police interference, which produced scores of highly skilled drivers. The result? NASCAR.
Ford's Garage has a great cocktail list, but the brightly lit sign out front says "CRAFT BEER," and that's no joke. The regularly rotating draft list features a variety of Florida and other domestic craft beers, including frequent tap takeovers, such as a recent one by Georgia's Terrapin Beer Co. The bottle list is voluminous, with selections broken down by style, and covers an impressively wide variety. Education is included, too: there's a six-page (!) glossary of beer styles in the back of the bottle list, so you know exactly what you're ordering.
I'm no car guy, but I really got a kick out of Ford's Garage. It's nice to see a bar go all the way with its theme, and even better when the theme is as seemingly inexplicable as this one. Add to that quality cocktails and a nearly comprehensive beer list, and I can see why Brandon has taken such a liking to Ford's Garage in the short time it has been open. [email protected]