If you thought downtown St. Pete's craft beer scene was booming, you'd be right. In addition to three new breweries and popular existing beer bars, we have a whole new group to welcome to the neighborhood.
Three of the four beer bars announced this year — Yard of Ale, soon to open in the old Bishop Tavern space, is the fourth — have opened their doors just within the past two months, and I recently visited each of them to see what they bring to the beer scene.
The Flying Pig Taphouse, located on the bottom floor of the Fusion 1560 building on Central Avenue, is a roomy, attractively minimal bar with a breezy, open-air element due to the large open doors facing Central. The place is laid out sideways, with pool tables in a game room on one end and a wealth of seating stretching to the other, where a long bar sits in the back, featuring 50 beers on draft, and another 100 or so in the bottle. There are TVs above the bar, and music in the background, but the overall ambient volume is pleasantly low, making this a comfortable, low-key spot to grab a pint, although I imagine it may be somewhat more high-key once baseball season starts — it's just a couple of blocks from Tropicana Field.
Interestingly, one unique feature at the Flying Pig involves wine. Four wines are served from the keg, a first for the Tampa Bay area (the nearest bar with a wine keg system is in Orlando). While other bars have various wine draft systems utilizing nitrogen in a closed environment, these wines are served from sealed kegs, giving them a long shelf life and almost zero risk of oxidation. Guests can sample a wine before they buy it without risking the bottle's longevity.
The beer list is solid, with surprisingly competitive prices. Most beers are in the $5-$6 range, but when a keg is on its way out (like Stone's Enjoy By 12.13.13, which I was lucky enough to catch two days before its "expiration"), $4 will take it. Flying Pig also offers a small menu, so you don't have to go hungry while making your way through the extensive tap list.
Just a few blocks down Central is the Amsterdam, which feels like a reincarnation of St. Pete's original craft beer bar, the Independent. Even the layout is nearly identical, with plush, padded half-booths, a huge farm table in the center and a bar in the back serving a variety of classic imports, as well as quality domestic fare. Where the Flying Pig is aesthetically modern, the Amsterdam is rustic, with a copper bar top, hand-carved tables and a chalkboard beer menu.
The genuinely old white brick walls are decorated with beer flags and a deconstructed piano, of all things, and there's a vague nautical theme throughout, from the port hole in the cooler door to the rope trim around the beer list to Edison-bulbed light fixtures suspended from an actual WWII sailboat mast. To complete the vibe, an outdoor biergarten will be added by February.
The other new kid on the block has a familiar name: The Brass Tap. This upscale, polished spin on the craft beer chain concept has over 30 locations across the country, making it a direct competitor with the similarly styled World of Beer, which also has a downtown St. Pete location. Like its sister locations, the St. Pete Brass Tap is slick and professional, with an attractive, classy interior and a voluminous and up-to-date beer selection. The big feature here (aside from an astonishing 60 beers on draft) is the seamless division of floor space between an indoor lounge and deck patio, the latter heated with those cool upright, open flame heaters.
The Brass Tap is definitely a place to try beer on tap, but it also maintains an extensive bottle selection, organized by style. The menu includes detailed style descriptions, specs for each beer, and even full paragraphs for each of the 10 wines available, so it's a great place if you're in the market for a crash course.
All three bars have something unique, but what they mainly bring to downtown St. Pete is lots of great beer — and who can argue with that? I'd be proud to take visitors from out of town to any of these places; they further solidify St. Pete's reputation as a seriously up-and-coming craft beer destination. — firstname.lastname@example.org