Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: Retro style at Hampton Station in Tampa

Due to not being born at the time, I didn't do much drinking in the '70s. But if biker and exploitation movies from the era have taught me anything, it's that gas stations were once a reasonable place to get a bite to eat and down a beer or two.

The reason I mention this is because it's what I had in mind during the entirety of my visit to Hampton Station, a gloriously to-the-point watering hole in Seminole Heights that's built into one of these old-style gas stations.

I had some help imagining this.The music: retro soul. The posters on the wall: classic exploitation flicks and B-movies, along with concert flyers from punk and new wave shows from the same era — Talking Heads, Nick Cave, Devo, Kraftwerk, the Stooges, Joy Division, and so on. The menu: a concise one-pager, featuring only soup, salad, pizza, calzones and wings for prices that seem conspicuously out of place in Seminole Heights (read: cheap).

If there's a less fancy or pretentious bar and restaurant in town that's not a crumbling hole-in-the-wall dive, I haven't been there.

Now, you may be aware that old filling stations have somewhat recently become desirable digs for hipster restaurants in big cities. This is not such a place. Hampton Station's nod to simpler times is on the nose, but it's also consistent with the actual vibe inside, which is remarkably basic. There are a couple of TVs — one playing classic movies and the others sports — and some low-volume music; other than that, amenities include beer, a few house wines, food and whatever company you bring with you.

Out front, there's a small patio bordered by tropical foliage rooted in long metal tubs. It's a nice enough touch, but it's also very utilitarian when it comes to blocking out the typically drab Nebraska Avenue surroundings. Hampton Station describes itself as being located "in the heart of historic Seminole Heights, nestled between used tire shops, seedy motels and beautiful historic bungalows." I could provide my own description, but I like this one much more.

The simplicity of the food matches the humble setting. I ordered a small veggie pizza, minus cheese, and a bowl of spicy black bean chili. The pizza was fine, but let me tell you about the chili. There's a lot to be said for simple ingredients and no-frills presentation. Chopped peppers and tomatoes lend a modest splash of color on top of a bowl of what nobody could mistake for gourmet fare. I'll bet there are six ingredients in the entire thing. It's my new favorite restaurant chili.

Admittedly, I'm no foodie — but I do enjoy a nice beer selection. Hampton Station's got a decent one. It's more extensive than you might expect, given the description of the place up to this point, but it's also not ambitious to the point of blowing the whole old-school vibe.

There are 10 beers on draft, including a couple from Seminole Heights neighbors Angry Chair, as well as a nice mix of domestic crafts and interesting imports. The 10 taps are used to showcase 10 styles, rather than overload patrons with a homogenous mix of three or four styles, a welcome attention to detail. Yes, there is a session IPA, IPA and double IPA, but there's currently also a porter, stout, fruit beer, radler, Euro lager, wheat, and an amber — more than enough to satisfy most palates.

Barring those draft beer and a small handful of house wines, Hampton Station keeps a pretty solid bottle list of about two dozen beers. Again, it's a great mix of modern fare and classics, with some underrepresented imports — Jever Pilsner and Schneider Weisse, for example — stocked alongside newer labels, like Anderson Valley's GT Gose, a gin and tonic-flavored tart wheat beer.

Hampton Station is perhaps best summarized by a wall clock behind the bar. It's a remake of the classic Colt 45 promotional clocks of the mid '80s, featuring Billy Dee Williams (Works Every Time!). Williams has reprised his role as Colt 45 spokesman, complete with new clocks featuring a 2016 Williams. It's new, but it's firmly rooted in the nostalgia of a not entirely distant past. Works for me.

[email protected]; @WordsWithJG.

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