Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: Old-timey vibe in c.1949 in Tampa's Lowry Park

Sometimes it seems like Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood gets all the love, with an ever-growing selection of hip restaurants, breweries and bars making it one of the best places for food and drinks in the city.

Right around the corner is the Lowry Park neighborhood, which has a few noteworthy recent entries into the local drinking and dining scene. One of these is c.1949, a low-key beer and wine bar that opened quietly late last year and has been quickly finding favor with the locals, both of the Lowry Park and Seminole Heights variety.

The name refers to the building the bar is housed in, which opened in 1943 as a grocery store and became a bar in 1949 — and has continuously operated as one since. Most recently, the bar was the Dugout Tavern, a classic neighborhood dive of the cold beer and indoor smoking variety.

While the Dugout was generally well-regarded (especially after new ownership took over and spruced the place up a couple of years ago), c.1949 has made vast improvements.

For one, there's no smoking inside — or any indication that there ever was. It's amazing what a few fresh coats of paint can do. Second, the underutilized dirt lot out back has been converted into a spacious courtyard, lined with a variety of tropical foliage. For a pretty straightforward renovation — the whole thing took about two months — the c.1949 crew has really made the most of the space.

Inside, there's a sunken game room area — pool and darts — with a few seats and an old church pew. There are numerous TVs along the walls, extending into the adjacent bar area. The walls are made of reclaimed wood from an old barn in Kentucky — which, amusingly, makes the restrooms look like indoor outhouses — and the low ceiling is covered in aluminum siding.

The look is purposely ramshackle, which is kind of the thing these days, but the execution at c.1949 feels a little different than the typical faux-rustic vibe that I've become so accustomed to over the past couple of years. It feels more like an actual shack somewhere in the Florida woods — albeit a very cozy and welcoming one.

Though the bar is beer and wine only, the difference is made up by a somewhat staggering collection of 180-odd beers, wines, ciders and hard sodas. This is a double-edged sword.

On the upside, the selection is downright killer, all but ensuring that there truly is something for everyone. On the downside, having so many beers available means that adequate turnover can become a concern. Stale beer is definitely bad for business.

To that end, I'm glad to report that c.1949 is approaching the issue smartly. Whether by design or sheer coincidence, the draft list is almost entirely Floridian, meaning the kegs are generally fresher and, thus, will have a little extra shelf life. There are also very good specials on beers that are on their way out, encouraging visitors to help polish off the last few pints to keep the selection fresh. If you're going to have a big tap list, that's the way to do it.

It may seem like a small detail, but I especially love the menu at c.1949 — in particular, the beer tasting notes, which are both wonderfully descriptive and concise. Maybe it's owner Noel Cruz's menu experience as a restaurateur (he owns the wildly popular Ichicoro Ramen down the road), but the tasting notes are done remarkably well.

Example: "mango, spruce, citrus" (MIA Neon Citra); "bitter lemon, hay, bread" (Motorworks Cruiser); "coffee, pipe tobacco, bittersweet chocolate" (Swamp Head Midnight Oil). Brief, accurate and tantalizing.

When I visited, the bartenders were actively educating themselves in the specific beers and overall styles that they were offering, which is the kind of thing I like to see. The key to successfully offering a ton of beers is consistent turnover, and the key to consistent turnover is offering an experience that serious beer drinkers will go out of their way to partake in. Knowledgeable bartenders are an asset.

C.1949's got all the pieces in place to be a great neighborhood bar, but it also has ample chops in the serious beer bar department. As Lowry Park grows, I hope to see c.1949 become the neighborhood's go-to beer bar. After all, bartenders have poured beers at this address for nearly 70 years — c.1949 seems like a great candidate to add some more to that figure.

[email protected] @WordsWithJG

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