Although I can't be sure, I suspect that one of St. Pete's newer cocktail lounges, Café Del Mar, was named after the café of the same name in Ibiza, Spain. That bar, opened in 1980, is famous for its music compilations of "chillout" m usic — mirroring the tunes heard at the café itself — and its panoramic sunset views. The name alone evokes images of relaxing at a beachside café, sipping cocktails and listening to a hip, loungy soundtrack.
The St. Pete Café Del Mar is a bit different, though I feel the name is more than coincidental. Opened last year in the spot formerly occupied by the quirky beer and wine bar Green, Café Del Mar is also a laid-back kind of lounge, where you might indeed sip a nice cocktail and listen to some chilledout music. But this is St. Pete, so it's just as likely that your trip to the local Café Del Mar will consist of craft beer drafts and live music, or DJs spinning club music.
Café Del Mar also has a look and feel tailored more for a nighttime crowd, with hours to match (on weekdays, it opens at 7 p.m.). In contrast to its verdant-hued predecessor, everything at Café Del Mar is a seductive red, from the light glowing behind the flat-screen TVs embedded into a long wooden panel on the wall opposite the bar, to the backlit bottles of liquor behind it, doubly illuminated by a large, red lantern.
The bar is situated in an open-air walkway between Mastry's and the mysteriously shuttered Central Café & Organics, which up until a few months ago was providing tapas and other light fare to customers at Café Del Mar. The interior is small and intimate, with brick floors and brick walls, a short bar and a few tables opposite. Ceiling fans overhead keep it breezy even on warm nights.
Most of the seating at Café Del Mar is on the sidewalk out front, in what I think is the largest outdoor patio on Central. This area is filled with café tables, wicker sofas and lounge chairs with plush orange cushions, and low tables situated between them. In my opinion, this is Café Del Mar's strongest asset — an area to chill out and watch the people go by that wouldn't seem out of place in Ibiza.
Of course, Café Del Mar does open early on the weekends — at 11 a.m. We've been having some awfully pleasant weather lately, and it almost seems criminal not to spend at least a portion of it sipping cocktails in an outdoor lounge on Central Avenue. Whereas Green only served beer and wine, Café Del Mar stocks a full liquor bar, so your afternoon bloody mary, mimosa or Americano requests can easily be fulfilled.
Speaking of cocktails, Café Del Mar also has another strong asset in bartender Jamie Lachenal, formerly of The Garden, two doors down on Central. Jamie works evenings three or four nights a week on average, but he's one of the more knowledgeable and experienced bartenders in downtown St. Pete. While you can easily get a nice cocktail any night of the week (or day, on weekends), it's worth stopping by to have Jamie recommend a drink for you.
The bar also stocks several good beers, including a rotating draft list of six beers that currently features Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale, Pensacola Bay Lighthouse Porter, Kona Coco Brown, Goose Island Honker's Ale and Woodchuck Amber Cider.
Whether you'd prefer a cool, hip place to hang out and listen to music on a weekday night or an afternoon chillout spot where you can chat with friends and sip a cool cocktail, Café Del Mar is worth a look. And while the sunsets may be obscured by downtown office buildings, I think this Café Del Mar shares some of the appeal of the Ibiza café and bar of the same name. — firstname.lastname@example.org