Cork N Brew Bistro: Wine, beer offer a sleek twist on the usual Clearwater Beach bar

Cork N Brew features a more intimate, relaxed beach approach.

Will Vragovic/tbt*

Cork N Brew features a more intimate, relaxed beach approach.

Clearwater Beach is an interesting destination for drinking and dining. There are many hugely popular beach bars, like Palm Pavilion and Frenchy's, that bring out large crowds nightly to watch the sunset, drink fruity cocktails and listen to live bands.

Then there are places like Cork N Brew Bistro.

From the outside, you might think that Cork N Brew is actually located in SoHo, Hyde Park or any other trendy bay-area neighborhood that's more slacks and dresses than trunks and bikinis. From the sleek signage up top to the large, stretched out lounge out front, Cork N Brew — which celebrates its first anniversary next month — is clearly courting a different crowd from most of its neighbors.

It's a smart approach in an area thick with sunny beach bars. This spot is more relaxed and intimate — where you might take a date, where the ambient volume level is low and the vibe subdued.

The sidewalk lounge, decorated with long couches, café seating, and attractively lit shrubbery, comprises nearly half of the seating area at Cork N Brew. The interior has an open-air feel, with a cutaway between the bar and outdoor lounge allowing the cool beach breeze to flow freely throughout. There's a small dining area in the corner, where live musicians perform on the weekends; a long, winding bar stretching the length of the tiny interior; and plush booth seating along the opposite wall.

Everything is very tidy and smartly put together, giving Cork N Brew an upscale feel. A long tap wall is backed by cool, rectangular glass tiles in cool hues of white and blue, and the whole thing is surrounded by wine coolers, stocked with an impressive array of bottles from around the world.

Wine, which represents half of Cork N Brew's titular repertoire, is available by the glass or bottle, as would be expected; but there are a few twists that make it stand out from most typical wine bars. For one, there's a small cocktail list that offers creative concoctions made with a sake base (there are beertails, too), ranging from fruity (citrus and berries) to savory (a sake-based Bloody Mary garnished with cucumber).

For another, Cork N Brew has an extremely cool Napa Technology wine-tasting machine, which gives guests a chance to sample a number of different wines. Guests purchase a minimum of $20 in credit on a card that's used at the wine pouring station where they have a choice of eight wines, served in their choice of 1-, 3-, or 5-ounce pours. There's an additional — but extremely valuable — benefit: the wines are kept in an oxygen-free environment, which keeps open bottles tasting fresh.

Don't mistake Cork N Brew as exclusively a wine-lover's destination. There are 22 beers on tap and another dozen or so in the bottle, so the selection is far from overwhelming, but there's no lack of quality options, including some unusual options not seen in many other places, such as Victory's Hop Devil served on nitrogen, New Belgium's Accumulation seasonal white IPA, and Cold Storage's Betchy Brown ale. The electronic tap list includes Beer Advocate and Rate Beer scores for each beer; growlers, in both 32-ounce and 128-ounce sizes, are available in case you'd like your beer to go.

To round things out, Cork N Brew has a full food menu, from small, tapas-style plates and grilled flatbreads, to lava rock entrées, which feature a blazing hot rock on which guests can cook their meal. For after dinner, a well-stocked cigar humidor is on hand; Cork N Brew even offers the option to have your cigar dipped in cognac before you take it out to the patio lounge.

While Clearwater Beach's major draw will always be its sprawling, sandy beach bars, it's nice to have other options in the immediate vicinity when a change of pace is needed. And even better is how well Cork N Brew lives up to its name, offering a carefully curated selection that gives serious wine enthusiasts and beer lovers alike something to get excited about.

Cork N Brew Bistro

524 Mandalay Avenue, Clearwater Beach; (727) 483-5990, corknbrew.com

The vibe: A tiny, romantic lounge and bistro offering an alternative to the beach bar scene.

Food: Small plates and salads, $2.95-$14.95; entrées, $7.95-$26.95; desserts, $4.95-$14.95.

Booze: Beer, $3-$8; wine, $5.50-$9.50 by the glass and $19-$125 by the bottle. Happy hour is 4 to 7 p.m. daily, featuring $2 Bud Light and Miller Lite drafts, and $4 house wines and sangria.

Specialty: With a logo depicting a corkscrew plunging into foamy pint of beer, Cork N Brew makes its duel focus clear right away. Twenty-two beers on draft reflect a diverse range of choices, from premium imports like Radeberger Pilsner, to seasonal craft options like New Belgium's Accumulation White IPA and Southern Tier Pumking, to local brews from Rapp, Cigar City, and Cold Storage. Beers are available in growlers, too. The wine list is excellent, featuring everything from classic Cabs and Zins, all the way to high-end Champagne, Port, and even sake. Speaking of the latter, try one of the specialty sake cocktails, like the Sake 'Nana, which features TyKu Coconut sake blended with banana syrup and pineapple juice.

Hours: Open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily, but the bar sometimes closes early on slow nights, so call ahead if you're arriving late.

Cork N Brew Bistro: Wine, beer offer a sleek twist on the usual Clearwater Beach bar 11/07/13 [Last modified: Thursday, November 7, 2013 2:14pm]

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