I don't make it there very often, but downtown Clearwater seems like a nice place to take a stroll. It's right on the water, scenic and the site of several new businesses, in addition to an exciting renovation of the historic Capitol Theatre.
The Capitol is almost like the Tampa Theatre of Clearwater; it's an early 20th-century theater that hosted all sorts of popular entertainment in its heyday, and after a renovation effort spearheaded by Ruth Eckerd Hall and the City of Clearwater that's planned for completion in October, the Capitol will once again be the site of live music and movies on the big screen. I imagine it will be a boon to downtown tourism.
Ditto for several new businesses that have been filling the previously empty storefronts in the heart of downtown. On Cleveland Street, one of these businesses is the Capitol Beer House, which sits across the street from the theater. The "Capitol" in Capitol Beer House even uses the same typeface as the theater itself, a nod to a building that will no doubt send plenty of business over after shows.
Capitol Beer House is a little different than your standard craft-beer bar. It feels more like a coffee shop or small concert venue, with its plush sofas, stage-facing seating and café-style tables outside on the sidewalk. In terms of décor, there are as many framed Clearwater Jazz Festival posters on the walls as there are beer signs.
I visited during its Monday Night Jazz series, which features live jazz every third Monday of the month. On Wednesdays, the Capitol also hosts Rock on Cleveland, featuring live bands. The velvet curtains above the stage mimic the larger curtains at the theater across the street, while a large projection screen adjacent to the stage is a smaller-scale version of that theater's other primary function.
The crowd was mostly middle-aged, and though many of the folks were sampling beers from the Capitol's 32 taps and concise but diverse bottle selection from around the world, I did still see quite a few Bud Lights and PBRs going out. Call it an entry-level beer bar, which is in no way a bad thing; Capitol Beer House is both un-intimidating to craft-beer novices, while still offering plenty to diehards like myself.
The selection (both wine and beer) is decidedly international, but local brews play a big role in the tap list, with selections from Dunedin Brewery, Cigar City, Barley Mow and Tampa Bay Brewing Company. One beer — Dunedin's Squeet, a wheat ale dry-hopped with Amarillo hops — was a new find for me, a perfect sipping beer for warm nights and live jazz.
If there's no music on, or if you're in search of a different form of amusement, the Capitol also offers a mini-arcade in the back, with pool tables, dart boards, golf and bowling video games, a punching machine and a racing game.
There are several signs inside Capitol Beer House advertising the pizza joint next door, Tony's Pizzeria & Ristorante, along with its full liquor bar. It's owned by the same guy, so grab some pizza and cocktails next door, then stay for beer, wine, and live music at the Capitol after. Seems reasonable.
Downtown Clearwater needed a good beer bar, and Capitol Beer House is it. Catering to a wide crowd — as opposed to strictly craft beer nerds — makes good business sense, especially in an area still in the midst of a revitalization.
The reopening of the Capitol Theatre should be a boon to the beer bar that shares its name, but even if it doesn't, the cool, casual atmosphere and diverse, quality beer and wine selection probably will.