Monday, January 22, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Bars at the Birchwood are high on cocktails, ambience

It's been a while since I've had a really good cocktail. There's been so much going on in the beer scene that I can scarcely find the time to work cocktails into the mix, which is a shame because there are some great bartenders doing really nice work.

For a good, classic cocktail, I used to enjoy popping into Packard's, the downstairs bar at the old Grayl's Hotel in St. Pete. When I stopped in for a farewell drink on the night it closed for good, the bartender told me of the elaborate plans the new owner had for the place, which involved rebuilding the entire hotel from the ground up, modeled after its original 1924 dimensions, only a little taller.

The plans included a fancy restaurant and wine cellar, as well as a rooftop bar with sweeping views of Beach Drive and the Pier. It all seemed pretty ambitious — and I've learned from experience that ambitious plans rarely live up to the eventual reality — but I made a mental note to check out this new place, the Birchwood, when it opened.

It actually did open this year, and as soon as I reached the front sidewalk, I could tell that it may have pulled off its ambitious plans after all. The Birchwood is divided into two bar-and-restaurant combos. On the second floor, with sidewalk café seating outdoors, is Birch and Vine, an upscale restaurant with a full bar and extensive wine list. The main dining room is dark, polished and very attractive, with oversized, plush booths and hundreds of bottles of wine on display in the glass-doored cellar that lines the wall.

It's certainly a nice spot for a fancy dinner or a special night out. But the Birchwood has another bar and restaurant upstairs, and this is possibly its biggest draw, as well as most unique attribute. Past Birch and Vine is an elevator that will take you up to the fifth-floor rooftop bar called the Canopy. It shares a cocktail and wine list with Birch and Vine, but instead of the more elaborate, sit-down dining offered downstairs, the Canopy's menu is focused on spruced-up pub fare.

And while Birch and Vine is tough to beat, aesthetically, The Canopy has an extra wow factor, by way of panoramic views of Beach Drive, the holiday decorations in North Straub Park, and the Pier. The open-air bar features a canopied bar in the back, private cab­anas on the side, and a long lounge area stretching between the bar and balcony facing Beach Drive.

The lounge area is made up of artificial turf — a surprisingly cool touch — long rows of sofas, and fire pits in the middle. Honestly, this is one of the most interesting environments I've enjoyed a cocktail in lately.

Speaking of which, the cocktails are indeed excellent. The beer list is decent, featuring 10 drafts and another dozen or two in the bottle, and the wine list is spectacular, featuring 20 wines by the glass and a few hundred more by the bottle. But the cocktails — man, they're good.

I tried the Lavender Dream, which features Stoli Blueberry, house-made vanilla syrup, lavender water, lemon juice, fresh blueberries, and a lavender-vanilla sugar rim; as well as the Crown Jewel, a mix of Crown Royal, Frangelico, Rhubarb liqueur, and Luxardo cherry juice. Absolutely fantastic. The prices are on the high end, as you might expect, but for a special occasion, the selection, quality and environment are hard to beat.

Comments
Taste test: New cereals

Taste test: New cereals

The cereal aisle is one of our favorites at the grocery store. Every week, it seems new options are rolled out, each with even more sugar, chocolate or some twist on an old favorite. January seems a particularly popular month for new cereal promotion...
Updated: 9 hours ago

From the food editor: Mastering the frittata, with help from a lot of mozzarella cheese

Let’s talk about frittatas. Specifically, how I can never seem to make one that actually tastes good. They are described in blogs and cookbooks as an easy, breezy dish suitable for using up leftovers lingering in your fridge. Like a quiche, but low-c...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Bar review: Florida spirits and brews at the newest Local Draught House in Tampa

Bar review: Florida spirits and brews at the newest Local Draught House in Tampa

I don’t consider myself "old" — though I have gotten into a bad habit of informing door people insistent on checking my ID that I’m halfway to 70. But I’m frequently made aware of how far removed my lifestyle is from that of my 20s.So when I walked i...
Published: 01/18/18
Local craft beer of the week: Electric Wizard IPA from 7venth Sun Brewery

Local craft beer of the week: Electric Wizard IPA from 7venth Sun Brewery

The past six months have been kind to Dunedin’s 7venth Sun Brewery. In August, the brewery’s long-awaited Tampa expansion finally happened, with its much larger Seminole Heights facility and tasting room opening in a town eager to try its range of ul...
Published: 01/18/18
Shake Shack, Momofuku and more: Please come to Tampa Bay

Shake Shack, Momofuku and more: Please come to Tampa Bay

Fabio is coming! Not the Fabio on your romance novel, with the billowing hair and large quantities of artificial butter. This Fabio, in all likelihood, uses real butter. And olive oil. Fabio Viviani, the charming Top Chef alum known for appearances...
Published: 01/17/18
Time to carbo load: Three new bakeries include an Australian bakery, second La Segunda

Time to carbo load: Three new bakeries include an Australian bakery, second La Segunda

LA SEGUNDAA Tampa Bay giant has stirred and is on the move. La Segunda Central Bakery, a family-owned Ybor City institution for nearly 103 years (they celebrated that birthday Jan. 15) and the largest producer of Cuban bread in the world, will open a...
Published: 01/17/18
Shake Shack inches closer to Tampa Bay with new Florida restaurant

Shake Shack inches closer to Tampa Bay with new Florida restaurant

Beloved burger restaurant Shake Shack, which once inspired hungry diners to wait in hours-long lines at New York's Madison Square Park before expanding with dozens of locations across the U.S., is inching closer to Tampa Bay. A lease agreement  with...
Published: 01/17/18
Healthful eating is just a one-pan fish dish away

Healthful eating is just a one-pan fish dish away

By Ellie KriegerI recoil at the repentant food chatter that crops up this time of year, dominated by words such as "cleanse" and "detox," which, from what I can tell, are just modern code for "extreme diet." But part of cultivating a healthy, balanc...
Published: 01/17/18
We tried eating the recommended serving of fruit and vegetables for a week, and it was harder than we thought

We tried eating the recommended serving of fruit and vegetables for a week, and it was harder than we thought

I sat at my desk eating chunked pineapple straight out of the can, reading about how much fruit and vegetables we should all be eating every day: 1 1/2 to two cups of fruit, 2 1/2 to three cups of vegetables, at a minimum, per the United States Depar...
Published: 01/17/18
Taste test: pot stickers

Taste test: pot stickers

Whenever I order meals at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant I always look for pot stickers on the menu. The tasty Asian dumplings are filled with pork or chicken and veggies and cooked with a perfect balance of steaming and frying. The reason I order ...
Published: 01/16/18