Gill Dawg's: A hidden waterfront gem in Port Richey

Made in the shade: Gill Dawg's Tiki Bar & Grill is a sprawling and soon-to-be-expanding compound on the banks of the Cotee. Luis Santana /tbt*
Made in the shade: Gill Dawg's Tiki Bar & Grill is a sprawling and soon-to-be-expanding compound on the banks of the Cotee.Luis Santana /tbt*
Published May 1 2014

After a recent afternoon idly lounging in my back yard, I was reminded that Florida's a really nice place sometimes, provided you can find some shade. Kicking back in the yard with a nice drink is not a bad way to do Thursdays, that's for sure.

But the back yard is only so big, and my cat keeps trying to get in my lap. The nearby interstate traffic is somewhat distracting, too. I could move the whole operation to a bar, but then I'd lose most of that outdoor Florida charm and end up with a few new distractions in the process.

The solution: Gill Dawg's Tiki Bar & Grill, a sprawling marina compound on the banks of the Cotee River, way out in good ol' Port Richey.

It's a really unusual place. Opened in December, Gill Dawg is a compound that features a variety of activities: boat charters, kayak and watercraft rentals, a concert ground, a kitchen and two bars, separated by a winding courtyard filled with high Adirondack chairs, shaded with umbrellas and tree cover.

The whole thing is nestled into a quiet bayou-front property a few blocks off of U.S. 19, lush with trees, native shrubbery and dense mangrove growth in the water, giving it the appearance of an unspoiled, isolated part of the Florida wilderness, despite the fact that there are several businesses just a short walk down the road.

The concert ground, dubbed Wayne's World Event Center, is centered around a large, tilted boat (a real one) with a built-in stage. There's live music on Thursdays through Saturdays, but it's a huge area, making it also suitable for large concerts and festivals.

The main bar sits on the waterfront, with a surrounding deck and an adjacent dock lined with benches that have small planter boxes built into the back. It reminds me of going to a particularly scenic campground or park, like Fort De Soto, only with a full bar. And not only is it a full bar, it's one that features a wide variety of local, seasonal and imported craft beers. The beer selection would easily pass at a dedicated craft-beer bar, so the fact that it's part of a working marina is impressive.

There's a full liquor selection as well, dominated by flavored vodkas from 360, Absolut, and 3 Olives. The wine selection is minimal, but a wine and liquor expansion is under way.

An expansion for the whole property is under way. The second bar will feature indoor seating (everything is currently outdoors), as well as a selection of boutique wines, single-malt Scotch and cigars. The boardwalk along the water is being extended all the way out to the end of the property, with a third bar to be installed there. And why not another bar, while they're at it? A fourth bar will be placed in Wayne's World Event Center.

It's pretty ambitious. But judging from how busy the place was, it might be just what Port Richey needs. If all goes as planned, Gill Dawg will be a sort of playground-slash-paradise for folks who love being in the Florida outdoors but also have a taste for fine beverages.

About the festival: Gill Dawg is jumping straight into the fray and throwing a full-scale Bayou Beer Festival on Saturday, featuring unlimited tasting of more than 50 craft beers, many from local and other Florida breweries. If you're in the area, this seems like fine introduction to Gill Dawg.

My backyard's closer and slightly cheaper, but I'd absolutely consider again making the two-hour round trip to Gill Dawg's soon. It's a one-of-a-kind place, and the weather's just right for a day in the shade, surrounded by the beautiful Florida scenery that I often forget we have.