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Bar review: Level 11 rooftop lounge takes it to new heights

Later this month, I'll have family in town from a state that's a good distance removed from Florida, both geographically and, well, in pretty much every other way you can think of: Alaska.

When entertaining travelers from the Last Frontier, it's nothing short of mandatory to spend some time at the beach. Treasure Island and Madeira Beach are great tourist spots, as is the area on and around Corey Avenue in St. Pete Beach. A new place, however, has made itself a priority on my list: the Level 11 Rooftop Lounge at the Grand Plaza Hotel Beachfront Resort & Conference Center.

You may already be familiar with the Grand Plaza, as it's the home of Spinners, the 12th-floor revolving restaurant that offers dramatic, panoramic views of St. Pete Beach and the Gulf of Mexico. While the idea of an 11th-floor "rooftop" lounge may seem strange when a restaurant is located one floor above it, it's actually quite simple.

Here's how: the Level 11 Rooftop Lounge extends outward on the 11th floor, acting as a sort of sunken balcony to the restaurant below. You're 11 floors up, with the open air above and the white sand beaches below.

Now look, I'm well aware that much of the St. Pete Beach drinking and dining scene is aimed at tourists and can thus be a bit tacky. The novelty of your average beach bar may be enough to please Alaskan travelers, thoroughly unused to the combination of beach and winter existing in the same space simultaneously, but I'd personally like to offer something a bit different, more exciting.

That's where Level 11 comes in. Beautiful, sweeping views; modern, sleek design; casual small plates and bistro fare (Thai chili and roasted beet hummus? Sold.); smart, handmade cocktails. There's nary a Jimmy Buffet tune to be heard.

I don't mean to suggest that Level 11 has no precedent. In fact, I can think of a number of similar open-air hotel lounges on Miami Beach. But in St. Pete? Not so much.

If you know the kind of place I'm talking about, you've got a good idea of what to expect at Level 11. It's open, breezy and super laid-back, despite its high-end, modern look. White curtains wrap around the building's center, with Spinners perched atop. There are white-umbrella'd wicker tables arranged around the circular balcony, punctuated by azalea and gardenia bushes, as well as two-seater mini-lounges facing out to sea. At night, the place is lit by bright red and blue LEDs and the cool night wind is mitigated by flame heaters (my favorite outdoor bar accessory — I'm easy to please).

There's a small beer selection, including some locals from 3 Daughters, Big Storm, Coppertail and St. Pete Brewing. There are lots of wines comprising a nice variety. Don't be scared by the price range listed, as that $275 bottle is Dom, the typical price outlier.

Of course, you'll want to check out the house cocktails, served in attractive, tall glasses. I know that seems like a minor detail, but it really works well with the beach lounge aesthetic. There are a variety of spins on the classics (a Blood Orange Margarita; a Rum Fizz made with coconut water), some prosecco cocktails, frozen drinks (naturally), Martini-style cocktails, and — like Level 11's upstairs neighbor, with whom it shares this portion of the drink menu — a surprising range of spiked coffees.

Level 11's polished, rooftop lounge wouldn't seem at all out of place on South Beach, but it stands out as a refreshing change of pace in St. Pete Beach, where drinking establishments substantially less-salty than the ubiquitous beach dive are often lacking. Out-of-town visitors likely will appreciate the full spectrum of what the beach scene has to offer, but Level 11 is the rare place you'll return to, even after the company's gone home.

Contact: jg@saintbeat.com; @WordsWithJG.

Level 11

Rooftop Lounge

5250 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach 33706. (727)360-1811 grandplazaflorida.com/dining/level11

The vibe: A slick, Miami-style rooftop lounge serving craft cocktails and unbeatable views.

Food: Appetizers, salads, and shared plates, $11–$17; desserts, $8.

Booze: Beer, wine, and liquor. Beer, $4.50–$7; wine, $8–$14 by the glass and $31–$275 by the bottle; liquor, $5–$12.

Specialty: Level 11 serves a variety of cocktail styles. I liked the Strawberry Fields, which blends New Amsterdam vodka with Aperol, muddled strawberries, rose water and soda, garnished with a strawberry nestled in a lemon twist. The Spiced Mango Margarita offers an escape from typical frozen beach drinks, served as a frozen blend of Milagro, agave, sour, mango, and ginger purée. Finish with a spiked coffee, like the French Coffee, which rounds the brew out with Hennessy and dark crème de cacao.

Hours: Open daily, 3 p.m.–2 a.m.

Bar review: Level 11 rooftop lounge takes it to new heights 12/09/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 9, 2015 6:21pm]
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