Thursday, April 26, 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
Bar review: Danny’s Sports Pub in Palm Harbor

Bar review: Danny’s Sports Pub in Palm Harbor

Every town has that institution, the reliable neighborhood dive: enduring for decades, with the nicotine stains and scuffed furniture to prove it. The appeal of these places is that they never really change; they’re largely the same as they were in t...
Published: 04/26/18
Local craft beer of the week: Skaterboarders, drink up this After Sesh Lager from Cigar City

Local craft beer of the week: Skaterboarders, drink up this After Sesh Lager from Cigar City

Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing has been in the collaboration game longer than most, working with breweries across the world, as well as musicians, artists and local businesses to produce a growing list of partnered brews, most of which are one-time relea...
Published: 04/26/18
Why does Yelp think Asian restaurants serve cat and dog meat?

Why does Yelp think Asian restaurants serve cat and dog meat?

A strange thing happened when typing "dog menu" into the restaurant ratings website and app Yelp. It automatically generated suggested searches. There were dog massage, hot dogs, pet groomers. Also: "dog meat." But it got more disturbing. Take Yelp...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Tex-Mex chain Chuy’s opens first Tampa restaurant, Nebraska Mini-Mart grab-and-go coming soon

Tex-Mex chain Chuy’s opens first Tampa restaurant, Nebraska Mini-Mart grab-and-go coming soon

NOW OPEN: TEX-MEX CHAIN CHUY’SThe Austin, Texas-based Tex-Mex chain Chuy’s opened its first Tampa restaurant on Tuesday, giving away free Chuy’s for two for a year to the first 50 customers. I know, we missed it, it’s a bummer, but we can still visit...
Published: 04/25/18
We tried the new restaurants at Tampa International Airport, and we're full

We tried the new restaurants at Tampa International Airport, and we're full

When Tampa International Airport debuted in 1971, each terminal had a newsstand and a snack bar, called something kicky like Snack Bar.
Published: 04/25/18
The best airports around the country for food and drink

The best airports around the country for food and drink

It was a revolutionary idea: Have travelers’ experience of a city begin when they land at the airport. Instead of McDonald’s and Panda Express, why not have restaurants that reflect the culture and breadth of a city’s offerings? San Francisco Interna...
Published: 04/25/18
Seared tuna salad is quite a catch

Seared tuna salad is quite a catch

A satisfying salad of tuna and beans is a Mediterranean favorite, often served as a meal in warm weather. In my favorite version, the main ingredients — rich tuna and creamy beans — are accented with red wine vinegar, tomato and onion, finished with ...
Published: 04/25/18
Top places to bring your dog in Tampa Bay, from breweries to baseball games

Top places to bring your dog in Tampa Bay, from breweries to baseball games

Dozens of places to take your dog in Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg and the entire region.
Updated: 10 hours ago
Drunk in love with banana bread

Drunk in love with banana bread

I have a thing about bananas. They have to be perfectly yellow, with a light hint of green. And they absolutely cannot have a spot of brown on them. At all. Brown bananas make me gag. My window of tasty opportunity is small, so I love to bake with ov...
Published: 04/24/18
Cooking Challenge: Making a stovetop steak for the first time

Cooking Challenge: Making a stovetop steak for the first time

Raw meat terrifies me. Growing up, I was the kid who avoided cookie dough because it could give me salmonella poisoning. Just imagine how I feel about a slab of bloody steak. So for my latest cooking challenge, I’m diving into the deep end and making...
Published: 04/24/18