I'm known for a few different things (some of them even good!), but a keen fashion sense is not one of them. It's not that I don't get fashion, it's just that I generally don't care much about it. As a result, I often find myself underdressed.
For example, last week I visited the original Carrollwood location of Grille One Sixteen (the other is farther south down Dale Mabry) and walked through the tall door of its conspicuously ambiguous entrance and right into an impossibly chic scene that seemed to have originated in Miami, or maybe New York City — certainly not Tampa.
This didn't seem like a T-shirt and hoodie kind of place, but since no bouncers materialized to throw me out in dramatic fashion, I took a seat at the bar. Despite being as nondescript as possible on the outside, the interior is extremely impressive, decked out in plush upholstery. An entire wall near the entrance was formed from wine cellar racks, large stone facades, ultramodern cylindrical light fixtures. On the day that I visited, bright red rose petals were strewn across the tabletops from the night prior's Valentine's Day festivities.
On opposing corners of the dining area are two large, circular private dining rooms, even featuring curtains, should that level of privacy be needed. Chilled-out, loungy house music played in the background, and the bartenders were busy at work slicing oranges and pulling bottles of premium liquors off of the shelves. It all screamed VIP, and while I didn't have the clothes to prove it, I knew a thing or two about quality drinks. And the attractive, backlit two-page cocktail menu promised drinks that matched the setting.
This menu loudly and in bold letters pronounces, "We serve culinary crafted cocktails prepared [with] fresh squeezed juices, fresh produce & customized ice." To be honest, I'm not sure what customized ice is, although the rest of the claims were true.
I sampled the Shiso Elderflower Smash, followed by a few sips of the Mint Ginger Vodka. The Smash was nice and floral (owing to the Japanese shiso nettles mixed with St. Germain elderflower liqueur), but it was just a bit too tart. The Mint Ginger was much more subtle and nuanced, with a great balance between the tangy ginger beer, grassy vodka, and sweet mint.
After this first round, I tried to grill the bartender about the cocktails and beer selection but was initially unable to get definitive answers to most of my questions. No one behind the bar seemed to have any idea about the beer selection — it was only by catching a glimpse of some Widmer Citra Summer Blonde bottles when the cooler was opened that I was able to learn about the existence of craft beer here. Apparently, they don't get many beer orders, probably due to the vast wine selection and quality cocktail menu, but I think the bartenders should sell it harder if people ask. There are a half-dozen beers on tap, however, including Tampa-brewed Florida Avenue Ale.
I inquired about the Cilantro Cranberry Gin, an intriguing mix of Beefeater 24, fresh cilantro, and cranberry juice, but the bartender suggested ordering something different; in her opinion, the cilantro was overwhelmed by the cranberry, and while it wasn't necessarily what I expected, I appreciated her candor and passion for quality. She highly recommended the Maple Old Fashioned instead, a variation on the classic with subtle maple syrup undertones, garnished with orange zest and a plump blueberry. It was very good and very much worth ordering. These drinks are on point.
Grille One Sixteen seems like a great place for an upscale business lunch or fancy date, but it's also an entirely reasonable choice for a few nice cocktails at the bar. The scenery and ambiance is hard to beat, the drinks are darn good, and although early impressions had me worried about the service, it ended up being very attentive, friendly, and helpful. And even though it doesn't look like much from the outside, you might still want to dress up a bit—you'll probably blend in a heck of a lot better than I did.