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Gin and tonics: At Tampa bars, variations on a classic abound

I'll drink just about anything with gin. But if I'm in a hurry, and I don't trust the bartender with a gimlet, rickey, Collins or French 75, my go-to order is the plain ol' gin and tonic.

Not that the gin and tonic is either plain or old. To the contrary: These days it's downright hip. The New York Times and Slate have both written as much this year, with the latter calling the G&T "the summer blockbuster of mixed drinks."

All this hoopla over a drink with just two ingredients — three if you add a wedge of lime? How different can one gin and tonic really be from the next?

You'd be surprised, as I was when I went on a hunt for Tampa Bay's best gin and tonic. Even more surprising? Three of the best come from chains.

At WestShore Plaza, Maggiano's Little Italy offers a "Perfect G+T," blending Hendricks, Fever-Tree tonic and cucumber. The cuke is certainly nontraditional, but it's also not unwelcome, as it gives the drink a fresh nose and clean finish. Best of all, it's served with a single, magnificent, 2-square-inch ice cube. It's potent and extremely well-chilled.

Nearby at P.F. Chang's, you can order the "Bert's Gin & Tonic," named for the chain's former CEO, Bert Vivian. If you name a drink after your ex-CEO, it'd better deliver, and this one does: Your choice of gin (Tanqueray, Plymouth or Bombay Sapphire) with fresh citrus, star anise and Fever-Tree tonic. As at Maggiano's, this one is served with a single giant block — or sphere, actually — of ice. So crucial is the sphere to the recipe that when I tried to order one in Tampa a few weeks ago, the bartender apologized and said they were out of spheres, so the drink wouldn't be precise. Very attentive touch.

Over at International Plaza, The Pub offers a unique, and formidable, take on the gin and tonic by serving $12 gin flights. You get an ounce apiece of three gins, selected from a menu of six, served with a little pitcher of tonic and three tumblers of ice. Then it's up to you to play mixologist and decide which you like the best. (I recommend the Tanqueray Rangpur.) The experience of experimentation is worth it. (If gin's not your thing, they also sell flights of scotch, bourbon and beer.)

Does all that sound like a bit much? We understand. If all you want is one simple G&T, no fuss, no muss, head to Fuma Bella, one of Tampa Bay's finest and most under-appreciated cocktail holes. It's tiny and unpretentious, yet you'll always bump into some interesting local musicians, artists and muckety-mucks, and no matter what you order, it's bound to be made to precision. They frequently offer new and experimental cocktails — on our recent visit, the special was a Stabby McKnife, with Four Roses bourbon, ginger liqueur, sweet vermouth and crystallized ginger — so be sure to check the chalkboard above the bar.

As for me? I'm good with my gin and tonic, thanks.

— Who do you think makes Tampa Bay's best gin and tonic? Tell us at tbteditors@tampabay.com or tweet at @tbtnewspaper with the hashtag #tampabaydrinks.

Fuma Bella

1318 E Eighth Ave., Ybor City; (813) 248-6130.

P.F. Chang's

219 WestShore Plaza, Tampa; and 27001 U.S. 19 N, Suite 1150, Clearwater (Westfield Countryside). pfchangs.com.

The Pub

2223 N West Shore Blvd., Tampa. (813) 443-5642,

experiencethepub.com.

Maggiano's Little Italy

203 WestShore Plaza, Tampa. (813) 288-9000, maggianos.com.

Scan this page with your Layar app to watch a video of our visit to The Pub for their gin and tonic flight. Need help? See Page 26.

Gin and tonics: At Tampa bars, variations on a classic abound 08/20/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 12:10pm]

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