Cocktail culture has seen a revival so thorough and so ubiquitous that it seems impossible to add anything to the conversation.
First, it was Prohibition-era aesthetics being embraced, with drinks made popular during the times of sinister-tasting bathtub gin. Then cocktail enthusiasts branched out, repopularizing cocktails that enjoyed their heyday in the tiki bars of the 1950s and '60s.
Eager to add, rather than derive, some cocktail bars began playing with ingredients, bringing elements of modernist cuisine — think molecular gastronomy — to the cocktail game. Where is there to go from here?
It turns out that one of the more recent additions to the Tampa cocktail scene has something new to offer, and it's brilliant in its simplicity.
Simply named Hotel Bar, the concept is to serve cocktails originally made famous by bartenders at various international hotels. Many familiar cocktails created at hotel bars — the Sidecar, the Vieux Carre, the Sazarac — are already well-established in modern cocktail culture, but this Hotel Bar has done its homework, bringing a handful of less-familiar concoctions to the menu.
One option is the Bamboo cocktail, which was created by German expat bartender Louis Eppinger during his tenure at Japan's Grand Hotel (now the New Grand) in Yokohama during the turn of the 20th century. Hotel Bar's rendition contains Lustau Fino sherry, Dolin dry vermouth and bitters.
Then there's the Moonwalk, created in 1969 by Joe Gilmore of the Savoy Hotel's American Bar in London to commemorate the moon landing. It's purported to be the first cocktail enjoyed by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin upon returning to Earth. Hotel Bar uses Grand Marnier, grapefruit juice and rose water like the original, adding Bouvet Rosé in the Champagne spot.
So the bar is literally called Hotel Bar, and it features cocktails hailing from various international hotels. It follows a similar visual theme, bringing black ceiling tiles, floral wallpaper, an ornate chandelier and low-key candlelight together in a scene that seems pulled directly out of the downstairs bar of a swank hotel.
The look is clean — almost stark — and modern, upscale but not uptight. It's a scaled-down and spruced-up take on the vibe at sister bar Fly Bar, a bigger, somewhat more eclectic cocktail spot at the other end of downtown Tampa.
While the hotel-derived cocktails are obviously the focal point at Hotel Bar, there's also an extensive liquor selection, especially in the American whiskey department. The beer list is minimal yet reasonable, featuring a handful of bottled and canned selections, alongside three drafts: Guinness, Lagunitas Pils and Bell's Two Hearted. Of just over a dozen wines, three are Champagnes available only by the bottle.
I like this. To the point, and not trying to be everything to everyone. It's a cocktail bar with a fairly limited focus, but if you're not in the mood, you'll find a small but competent list of backups. Oh, and if you get hungry, Hotel Bar also has a kitchen, serving food until 2 a.m.
Hotel Bar offers a subtle new take on the craft cocktail theme. It's not groundbreaking, but it feels fresh with a clean, smart execution of a theme that — while only a little bit different than what we've become accustomed to in modern cocktail bars — hits the spot quite nicely.