Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: Nikko Mussolini dog bar and boutique in St. Pete Beach

St. Pete Beach bars always seem to be a little higher on the quirkiness scale compared with the inland, and, by the name on the sign alone, Nikko Mussolini Dog Barrrrr — that's five R's — and Boutique is no exception.

As you might guess, Nikko Mussolini is a dog-friendly bar that also sells a variety of dog treats and accessories. It's loosely Italian-themed, features a gallery of framed dog pictures (the "dog mafia"), has a lot of futuristic, light-up plastic furniture and sells Dom Pérignon alongside fruit wine-based imitation liquors. Sure, it's a bit out of the ordinary, but that's St. Pete Beach for you.

You won't have trouble finding it — just look for the glowing plastic furniture out front, lit in the green, white and red of the Italian flag. Inside to the right, marble, stone and tile, more glowing furniture, and a lit plastic tree, like some sort of vaporwave/Clockwork Orange mashup.

On the other side, there's a pretty typical bar setup, including a bartop embedded with various trinkets and knickknacks, including, inexplicably, a guitar pick from seminal Los Angeles grindcore band Terrorizer.

In other words, Nikko Mussolini is every bit as eclectic as its name might suggest. Speaking of the name: the bar is named after owner Tony Campetti's beloved rescue dog, whose portrait sits at the top of the aforementioned gallery. The staff refers to him as the Dogfather.

While this is very much a bar for dogs and their humans, there's quite a bit for the latter group to enjoy. Beer-wise, there are a handful of drafts, including some local brews like Tampa Bay Brewing Co.'s Reef Donkey pale ale. More local stuff is in cans (Big Storm, 3 Daughters), as well as a few decent craft options, like Victory's Golden Monkey tripel. Of course, there's also Peroni.

The wine and sake lists are the real highlights. In the wine category, you'll find a nice selection of Old World and South American wines at a variety of price points, as well as high-end Champagne from Veuve Clicquot, Perrier-Jouët and Dom Pérignon. There are also a couple of house-branded wines: a pinot noir and chardonnay, both produced by France's Pierre Brune winery.

For sake, there are well more than a dozen options, ranging from T Ku, Hana, Hakushika and Fuki fruit-flavored sakes, to premium nigori (unfiltered) varieties from Momokawa, Rock and Moonstone. Sake is available in small pours for $3, as well as in flights of six for $15. I opted for a glass of Moonstone's Coconut Lemongrass nigori, a delicious flavored sake that drinks like a miniature cocktail.

And then there are the faux liquors — fruit-based, high-gravity wines (usually around 24 percent alcohol by volume) flavored to taste like whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, tequila and even pisco. I know people don't take these seriously, but they're not a bad option to have when a full liquor license is not available.

Nikko Mussolini goes the extra mile with these ingredients, building a cocktail menu that uses the wines in a convincing manner, as well as sourcing higher-quality versions of each than I've seen elsewhere.

The Salty Dog margarita, for example, uses Corelena, which is made from agave. The Sit-Stay-Rollover uses Rob Stein, a faux gin that's made from grapes rather than oranges, giving it a more neutral base to build the gin flavor.

It's not connoisseur stuff, but it's not bad in a colorful, fruity cocktail. And at $4 a drink, who can complain?

In proper beach bar fashion, Nikko Mussolini also has a custom Bloody Mary and mimosa bar on Sundays, including a pretty impressive all-you-can-drink special from 11 to 2. Grab a Bloody Mary made with a mix from Gulfport's Red Hot Tiki and check out the newly opened back patio, which looks out onto the adjacent marina.

Overall, Nikko Mussolini is a fun little find. It's friendly, colorful and a near-guaranteed change of pace. If you're a dog person looking for a spot on the beach to take your buddy while you have a few drinks, I'd give Nikko Mussolini an easy recommendation. But even if you've only got humans in your group, don't worry — a place as quirky as this is hard not to like.

Contact Justin Grant at [email protected] beat.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.

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