Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Bars & Spirits

Good food, small-batch brews make Treasure Island's R Bar a local favorite

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I write about bars every week, so it goes without saying that I visit a lot of them. I order elaborate cocktails in high-end clubs and lounges, drink cheap beer while shooting pool and darts at crusty neighborhood dives, and pretty much everything in between.

While I generally find at least something to like at any given watering hole — they serve booze, don't they? — I don't often find a place as instantly agreeable and comfortable as R Bar, a no-frills bar and grill located a short walk from the beach in Treasure Island.

This is odd, because R Bar doesn't really seem like my kind of place. I'm not big on beach bars, you're never going to see me ordering a plate of crab legs, and I tend to spend most of my time in bars after 11 p.m., which is when R Bar closes for the night. But when I visited on a lazy, Sunday afternoon, R Bar was about as ideal a place as I could imagine.

To be sure, this is not a late-night place. Half the menu is dedicated to breakfast, and the kitchen opens at 8 a.m. six days a week. Many of the regulars come for the food specials. But the bar is a major fixture there, both figuratively and literally. The bar itself — a long, L-shaped one that wraps around half of the interior — is hand-painted with kitschy, tropical scenes involving parrots, palm trees and probably a hammock somewhere.

Behind the bar, a full liquor selection, a hot pot of coffee — this place really seems like a cross between a roadside diner and a friendly neighborhood dive — and, surprisingly, a banner advertising the availability of house beers. These beers, brewed in a small, 10-gallon setup in the kitchen, are the creation of Eric Richardson, a cook at R Bar who now moonlights as its brewmaster once a week.

It's cool enough that this place serves its own beer, but the fact that the beer's actually good doesn't hurt a bit. There are only three house brews on at any given time, but since they come in 10-gallon batches (around 80 pints), the stock rotates frequently. However, while the kegs change regularly, the styles generally don't — Richardson always keeps an IPA on the first tap and a porter on the second. The third tap is the wild card, pouring whatever Richardson was in the mood to make that week.

That doesn't mean that you won't find variety — the IPA recipe might be a single-hopped Amarillo version one week and centered on Zythos hops the next, while a Bourbon barrel-aged, vanilla-infused version of the porter subbed in for the base version just a few weeks ago.

Fresh beer brewed on site is hard to beat, but it's not the only option, either. There are plenty of cheap, easy-drinking beers at the bar (like $2 cans of PBR), along with Cigar City's Jai Alai IPA and Maduro brown ale. And it's still a beach bar to some degree, as evidenced by the blender sitting on the bar — feel free to order a piña colada or frozen daiquiri if you need to cool down after a day out in the balmy summer heat.

There's music four nights a week from Mike Calzone, a one-man act featuring covers and original tunes every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. House beers and a house musician — why not?

Whether it was the friendly service, good vibe, or quality house beers — let's be honest, that last one is the clincher — R Bar is not only the kind of place I'd enjoy a drink in while killing some time; it's the kind of place I'd gladly go back to even if I weren't writing about it.

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