Just a few blocks from downtown Tampa lies a mostly barren section of the Tampa Heights neighborhood, where a few popular businesses reside, such as Café Hey and Oceanic Market, bordered by shuttered old buildings and dirt lots.
A couple of weeks ago, a mural appeared on the side of Café Hey's building, boldly proclaiming its place in Tampa Heights. The mural was in response to the Department of Transportation's plans to expand Interstate 275, which would doom the businesses surrounding the existing overpass. But it's more than a protest; it's an expression of pride in a neighborhood and community that many see as on the rise.
Indeed, there are plans for a nearby retail and condo complex. In January, the Tampa Heights Civic Association held its Franklin Street Better Block Project, an event that brought the Tampa Heights community together in an effort to revitalize Yellow Brick Row, as the distressed stretch of Franklin that lies west of the interstate is affectionately known by locals. A new monthly market — Tampa Indie Flea — is now being held in the old Rialto Theater building.
Two new business have opened on Yellow Brick Row in as many months: Tampa Muay Thai, and the long-awaited Hidden Springs Ale Works. I don't know much about Muay Thai, but I know a fair amount about beer, so I paid a visit to Hidden Springs.
Like most brewery tasting rooms these days, the look is minimal and vaguely industrial. An unadorned metal bartop is lit by Edison bulbs, hanging in front of exposed ductwork. The long, communal tables that populate the balance of the interior are crafted from unstained, lightly lacquered wood.
There's a lone flat screen above the bar, next to a display of cards and board games. There's some interesting artwork on display, such as the colorful oil paintings by local artist David Kramer, depicting small scenes of Tampa life. The decor is sparse, but it feels clean and modern, rather than unfinished.
Despite the minimalist look, Hidden Springs' tasting room is quite welcoming. If Tampa Heights grows in the way that many are hoping, then Hidden Springs is well-positioned to be the local watering hole, an analog to Seminole Heights' Angry Chair. It's the spot where residents of the soon-to-be condos will grab a pint after work, or visitors from downtown will wander to after a matinee at the Tampa Theatre.
Let's talk about the beer.
Hidden Springs has 20 taps that feature a selection of the brewery's core beers, along with rotating one-offs and seasonal releases, as well as several guest brews from fellow bay area breweries, such as Cigar City Cider & Mead, Coppertail, Angry Chair, Six Ten and Mad Beach.
Of the core beers, the Hidden Springs IPA and Tropic Thunder Floridaweisse really stand out. The IPA is expertly balanced, with a smooth bitterness to round out bright notes of melon, orange and papaya. It's the most dangerously-drinkable IPA in town, and a new favorite of mine, right behind Coppertail's Free Dive. Tropic Thunder is a crisp, tart Berliner flavored with pineapple, strawberry and mango. The fruit jumps out immediately, followed by a wheaty, cereal-like finish. These, and the other core offerings, are surprisingly well-executed for a brewery that has only been open for two months.
The rotating non-core taps are winners, too. For example, there's Tater Pie: an English-style barleywine flavored with sweet potato, vanilla, maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg. It sounds like it would be cloyingly sweet, but it's actually extremely balanced and drinkable, not to mention perfect for the season. Upcoming brews include a gingerbread stout and a raspberry-lemon gose.
Hidden Springs Ale Works may be taking a chance on its location, but I think it's a wise one. There's good reason to believe that this part of town is on its way up, and Hidden Springs' opening is part of that reason. It's yet another sign of life on Yellow Brick Row, and that's something that both bay area beer fans and Tampa Heights locals can be proud of.
— [email protected]; @WordsWithJG.