By Justin Grant
Gasparilla is Saturday, and despite what you might think, you can't drink just anywhere in Tampa. Police will be watching, so stay in the approved areas, people.
One foolproof zone: the bars. If you want to grab a drink before and/or after the parade, there are many options within stumbling distance. (Plus they have restrooms for paying customers.) Where you end up will be a function of just how in the middle of everything you want to be.
Hattricks Tavern is somewhat of a downtown Tampa institution, housed in a historic, early 20th century brick building on Franklin Street. Although the name says hockey, the little shamrock dotting the "i" says Irish pub. Inside, it's a little bit of both, featuring a classic brick and polished, dark wood look reminiscent of what you'd find up North, like in Pennsylvania.
Although Hattricks is an all-around sports bar, the emphasis is definitely on hockey, which is appropriate considering how close it is to the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Lightning jerseys and other NHL memorabilia line the walls, and, echoing the Canadian hockey vibe, Labatt Blue is served on draft.
Big crowds are standard, even on weeknights, so during Gasparilla expect it to be wall-to-wall. A huge sign on the exterior proclaims it as "Gasparilla Headquarters," and that's probably pretty accurate. Hattricks is all but guaranteed to capture a huge chunk of those who stray from the parade route in search of cold beer or shots of liquor.
Hattricks specializes in cold drafts and simple mixed drinks, although a cocktail menu of 10 signature drinks is available. During Gasparilla, Hattricks will be opening an hour early (at 10 a.m.) and will charge a $5 cover, which includes live music inside and a DJ in the parking lot, which will be an extension of the bar. If you're in full-on party mode and want to be in the biggest crowd possible, Hattricks is a good bet.
Suppose you're not looking for the wildest party around. The newish Bit Bar, off the corner of Franklin and Twiggs, might be up your alley, providing a variety of craft beers on draft and in bottles, as well as a televised broadcast of the Gasparilla parade on a 12-foot screen directly behind the bar.
Bit Bar is fairly small, with modern wood floors and a cool, handmade red oak bar top, but the high ceilings and exposed ducts make it seem quite roomy. On one side is a long bar backed by the aforementioned TV — clearly the focal point — and on the opposite side is a row of computers doubling as mock slot machines.
For Gasparilla, employees dressed in pirate garb will be serving drinks on the front patio as well as inside, giving a little bit of extra room for guests to move around. If you don't get a chance to swing by on Saturday, you can always come back on a Friday, when Bit Bar hosts weekly live music.
The good news is, there's no need to even pick one spot and stay there. Part of the fun of Gasparilla is wandering around Tampa amid the pirate festivities. These two bars are within short walking distance of both the parade route and each other, so you'll find no shortage of law-abiding drinks.