Monday, October 15, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Capital Grille bar serving retro cocktails to benefit Tampa landmarks

Alhambra is a word that I had to look up before writing this column. A press release from International Plaza's Capital Grille informed me that an upcoming cocktail series was modeled after "Tampa's Golden Age as the Alhambra of the South."

And so I learned that the Alhambra is a Spanish palace originally constructed in the ninth century; an iconic structure that has inspired architects around the world. The context, then, is the legacy of influential architecture in Tampa from the early 20th century that are the specific focus of a monthlong event dubbed the Cocktail Conservation Society.

The series, which began Sept. 9, is built around five cocktails typical of 1920s Tampa. We're deep into the classic cocktail revival now, so these should sound mostly familiar: The Moscow Mule, Pimm's Cup, Strawberry Mojito, Rye Old Fashioned and the Real Dill.

Each week through Oct. 6, a different Tampa landmark is honored, with a portion of profits from these cocktails donated to their preservation. The first is Tampa Theatre (Sept. 9-15). Then, Tampa Union Station (Sept. 16-22); the Cuban Club (Sept. 23-29) and the Italian Club (Sept. 30-Oct. 6).

I stopped by the lounge at the Capital Grille to preview a couple of the cocktails before the event launch. For those unfamiliar with it, the Capital Grille is an upscale steakhouse chain with locations scattered across the country. It's a high-end destination, the kind of place that most would reserve only for special occasions. It is, in a word, opulent.

If the menu prices suggest a certain degree of exclusivity, then that's also reflected in the environment. The Capital Grille feels like a high-society clubhouse, with high ceilings, white-clothed tables, dark, polished furniture, wooden vertical blinds, oil paintings and lots of stuffed animal heads (which I could do without), all complimented by a jazz and big band soundtrack.

The beer selection is minimal, made up of a handful of typical bottles. The wine selection is the complete opposite, with a list that dwarfs any I've seen. There are more than 30 available by the glass and more than 500 by the bottle, including several premium selections priced well into triple-digit territory. These are stored in an eye-grabbing, cellar column that extends from floor to ceiling in the center of the lounge.

The year-round cocktail menu consists of 11 smart takes on various classics, such as a Gin Rickey infused with sweet basil; an "adults only" Arnold Palmer made from iced tea, house-made crushed mint lemonade and Skyy citrus vodka; and a Grapefruit Buck, a mixture of Absolut Ruby Red vodka, elderflower liqueur, Campari, ginger beer, and lime juice. The list is fairly modern, but like most cocktail lists, it's built on a foundation of the early 20th century standards.

The Cocktail Conservation Society menu could have been lifted directly from a cocktail book from that era. Drinks like the Moscow Mule and Strawberry Mojito are as popular now as they ever were, and the versions served here are simple and classic. The Old Fashioned is given a slight twist here, substituting Old Overholt rye whiskey for the typical bourbon, which adds a dry spiciness to the cocktail, which is then balanced out by a splash of orange bitters.

The two I focused on were the Pimm's Cup and the Real Dill. The Pimm's Cup is a classic British refresher, and this version is one of the best I've had, with Lorina sparkling lemonade used in place of 7-Up, and a garnish of thick lemon wheels, a cucumber slice and a mint sprig so large it could double as a collard leaf. During the summer, this is simply the ultimate cooler.

The Real Dill is slightly more complex, balancing sweet, sour and savory through a mix of American Harvest organic vodka, lemon and lime juices, agave nectar, cucumber and dill. The garnish is a cucumber slice topped with fresh dill, which is a great visual, and aromatic, touch.

That sales of these throwback cocktails would benefit such classic Tampa structures as the Tampa Theatre, Union Station, Cuban Club and Italian Club seems appropriate enough, and the old-school opulence of the Capital Grille lounge — which itself wouldn't seem out of place in 1920s Tampa — is quite a fitting venue. — [email protected]

Comments
Taste test: Pumpkin spice cereal

Taste test: Pumpkin spice cereal

Our panelists spent a lot of time this season sampling pumpkin spice-flavored foods.
Updated: 0 minutes ago
After more than two decades, Davis Islands' 220 East still brings its A game

After more than two decades, Davis Islands' 220 East still brings its A game

220 East on Davis Islands is a rarity, a restaurant that has stood the test of time but still ably caters to local tastes.
Published: 10/15/18
Local craft beer of the week: Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale, Sea Dog Brewing Co.

Local craft beer of the week: Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale, Sea Dog Brewing Co.

October is the month where we stop complaining about seasonal creep and unapologetically enjoy the many pumpkin beers that have been on the shelves since late summer. Maine’s Shipyard Brewing Co. is one of the oldest players in that game, with...
Published: 10/11/18
Bar review: Platt Street Borough aims to be the go-to for SoHo-ites

Bar review: Platt Street Borough aims to be the go-to for SoHo-ites

As someone who has flirted with the idea of success for many years, it’s nice to see people who appear to be actively enjoying it. At least, that’s the vibe I get when I visit many of the bars and nightclubs in Tampa’s SoHo neigh...
Published: 10/11/18
No claws for concern? Hurricane Michael could be good news for stone crab season.

No claws for concern? Hurricane Michael could be good news for stone crab season.

Florida stone crabs just can’t catch a break. Last year, the season started strong but traps swiftly dried up, the season limping along with very low numbers and high prices. And this year, in anticipation of Monday’s season opening, we&...
Published: 10/10/18
Never made fresh pasta before? You donít know what youíre missing

Never made fresh pasta before? You donít know what youíre missing

This is usually how it goes on pasta night: You grab a box of Barilla from the pantry. You debate how much spaghetti to pour out, ultimately overestimate and drop a large handful of stick-straight noodles into a pot of boiling water. Maybe you spent ...
Published: 10/10/18
For a nutty, risotto-style dish, reach for the farro

For a nutty, risotto-style dish, reach for the farro

Italian farrotto is essentially a risotto-style dish made with farro in place of the usual Arborio rice. Although it is made with a similar method, farroís more robust, nutty flavor gives the dish new dimension. But because much of farroís starch is ...
Published: 10/10/18
We asked German people what they think of American Oktoberfest

We asked German people what they think of American Oktoberfest

For one, don’t wear fake lederhosen. For two, the celebration is way better in Germany, and caters to a younger crowd.
Published: 10/09/18
Here’s where to party for Oktoberfest in Tampa Bay

Here’s where to party for Oktoberfest in Tampa Bay

From steins to dancing to traditional foods, there’s no shortage of ways to celebrate the season.
Published: 10/09/18
From the food editor: Tahini brings new flavor to cooking

From the food editor: Tahini brings new flavor to cooking

Sometimes, you discover an ingredient and wonder, "How did I ever go so long without you in my life?"For me, that ingredient is tahini. Okay, I didnít really discover it; I discovered Molly Yeh, a blogger and cookbook author who Iíve written about be...
Published: 10/09/18