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Hogan's Beach: Theme-park vibe adds to beach-party atmosphere

Hogan’s Beach’s has earned its share of restaurant criticism, but as a tiki bar and party destination? Not bad!

Luis Santana/tbt*

Hogan’s Beach’s has earned its share of restaurant criticism, but as a tiki bar and party destination? Not bad!

As a kid growing up in California in the '80s, it's not surprising that I went through a wrestling phase. I spent many weekends watching VHS rentals of old WWF Wrestlemania events with my friends, and countless more hours playing the Nintendo game of the same name.

Although Andre the Giant was my favorite wrestler, and thus my default character choice, I would sometimes play as Hulk Hogan, the game's ostensible hero. Upon taking the lead in the match, I'd hear a tinny, 8-bit reproduction of his infamous Real American theme song; it was impossible not to get pumped. I may have been an Andre the Giant diehard, but there was no escaping Hulkamania.

I haven't paid attention to professional wrestling in 20 years, but when I heard that Hulk Hogan had opened a bar and restaurant in his hometown, I knew I would have to check it out.

Opened on the site of a former Crabby Bill's, Hogan's Beach is part-hotel restaurant (it's attached to a Best Western), part-beach bar and part-Hulk Hogan museum. Before you get inside, you pass through a hallway filled with memorabilia, from movie posters and framed photographs to a case of licensed merchandise that proliferated in the '80s. Above that case is Hulk's director's chair from the film Mr. Nanny. Opposite, another case, this one filled with championship belts, more of which line the walls of the restaurant. And, naturally, there's a life-sized statue of the Hulkster himself at the entrance.

Would you be surprised, then, that the color scheme of the interior is red and yellow? Unless you're a real Hulkamaniac, you'll probably need a little more than that. Nostalgia's not enough to sustain any place, much less a place as massive as this. It's a huge complex, spanning a large interior dining area with bar, an outdoor covered patio with another bar, a beachside dining area with its own tiki bar, and a sand-covered volleyball court, flanked by a large stage area and adjoining VIP lounge seating.

I'll admit, my expectations were a little low. Since its opening, Hogan's Beach has racked up its fair share of lukewarm reviews — complaints about slow and inattentive service seemed especially common, while others wrote it off as just another "­breastaurant." But I was pleasantly surprised with what I found. The service was quick and attentive — our server checked on us at least four times in a 30-minute period — and our food and drinks were out in a matter of a few minutes. The co-ed staff were dressed in plain red T-shirts and shorts. Pleasant enough, and no major problems to be found.

But with heavily themed places like these, atmosphere is key. Hogan's Beach has a definite theme-park vibe, complete with a mechanical shark ride on the weekends. But it's also a relaxing spot for a tropical drink on a breezy afternoon. Combined with beach access and other activities, like volleyball, Jet Ski rental, and regular DJ events and beach parties, it's got quite a bit of fun potential.

And hey, the drinks aren't half bad, either. I sampled the Hogan's Punch, which is a blend of about every tropical-fruit flavor you can fit into a cocktail. Most of these kind of drinks are pure gimmicks, with just enough alcohol to be able to label them "cocktails," but this one actually had a little bit of a punch to it, if you'll excuse the pun. There are also a good number of beer options, as well as a handful of top-shelf spirits, such as 17- and 18-year old Scotches from Balvenie and ­Glenfiddich, as well as aged ports and ­eiswein for dessert.

If you show up on the right day, you might even run into the Hulkster — he's made more than a few appearances since Hogan's Beach opened. Heck, I visited on a Monday and saw Hulk's old manager, Jimmy Hart, mulling around. If you've got any wrestling nostalgia in you, you'll really get a kick out of it; if not, just ignore the tacky color scheme and mountains of memorabilia and enjoy a nice day on the beach with a cool cocktail. Not a thing wrong with that.

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Hogan's Beach

7700 W Courtney Campbell Parkway, Tampa; (813) 281-8900,

The vibe: A sprawling beach bar co-owned by wrestling icon Hulk Hogan.

Food: Appetizers, soups, and salads, $5-$11; entrées, $8.50-$38; desserts, $5.50.

Booze: Beer, $3-$6; wine, $6$18; liquor, $6-$24. Happy-hour specials change daily but usually feature $2 beers and $5 specialty cocktails. Call ahead for details.

Specialty: Most of Hogan's Beach is positioned along an actual beach, so it's no surprise that the menu is made up primarily of sunny, colorful, fruit-based cocktails. For example, the house drink. Hogan's Punch, is a mixture of berry, coconut and peach-flavored Circo vodkas, blended with cranberry, orange and lime juices. Hogan's Beach also serves a wide variety of after-dinner cocktails, ranging from rich coffee drinks to chocolate and fruit Martini-style drinks, as well as several high-end Scotches and dessert wines. And of course, there's plenty of beer — nearly 30 on draft, including several craft-beer options from Goose Island, Cigar City, and Magic Hat.

Hours: 7 a.m. to midnight Sunday-Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday-Saturday.

Hogan's Beach: Theme-park vibe adds to beach-party atmosphere 05/09/13 [Last modified: Thursday, May 9, 2013 7:27am]
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