Thursday, January 18, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Nolan's Pub: Safety Harbor's friendly getaway

There's a small chalkboard sign outside Nolan's Pub that says something to the effect of "Fun + Beer, this way; Real Life, that way," with arrows pointing to the bar's entrance and to the street outside, respectively.

There are myriad reasons to stop into the local bar, but they're all based roughly on the same premise: to take a temporary break from the real world while enjoying an adult beverage. There are many ways to offer this experience, but some bars, like Nolan's, just focus on that basic premise — to give guests a nice place to get away for a little while.

Nolan's Pub is the result of owner Craig Davide's longtime dream of owning a neighborhood pub. When Davide and his wife, Kristy, had a son named Nolan in 2011, he finally took the plunge and opened up shop in downtown Safety Harbor, a quaint waterfront with a wealth of neighborhood bars, restaurants and shops.

This pub is tiny, filling the space of a single unit along Main Street. There's an L-shaped bar that takes up roughly a third of the interior, with round tables and stacked empty beer kegs occupying the rest. There are a few TVs, a dartboard, jukebox and a popcorn machine in the corner. On weekends, the tables near the popcorn machine are moved outside to make room for open-mic nights and live music.

The theme is pretty typical Irish: a St. Patrick's Day countdown clock; Smithwicks, Harp and Guinness on draft; Irish folk music playing softly in the background; and a loyalty program called the McGillicuddy Wheel — a circular draft-beer punch card, awarding guests who complete it a Nolan's Pub T-shirt for the first wheel completed, their name on the wall for the second and a metal plaque with their name on the bar for the 10th. There are about a dozen plaques on the bar.

Nolan's is known for being a particularly friendly spot, with Davide often working the bar himself, and a personable staff that is on a first-name basis with the regulars who stop by after work for a cold one or a few glasses of wine. A friendly neighborhood pub like this will inevitably be compared to the bar from Cheers; here, a box set of the show's first season is displayed above the cooler.

Although I'm no regular, I felt pretty good immediately upon entering. It was well-lit, cluttered but clean (like any good local joint), smelled of fresh popcorn, and had music playing at low-enough volume to encourage conversation. The draft list had a handful of good options, including seasonals like Widmer's BrrrBon, a barrel-aged winter warmer flavored with vanilla; and Sam Adams Cold Snap, a crisp witbier flavored with orange peel, coriander and plum. Nothing too fancy, but enough to keep me interested, and a cozy vibe to go with it.

Downtown Safety Harbor is one of the more pleasant places to grab a drink in the bay area, and Nolan's Pub fits right in. Take a walk along the waterfront, grab a bite to eat at one of the neighboring restaurants, and pop in for a beer or two. There's live music on the weekends, trivia on Tuesdays and even a Cards Against Humanity night on Monday. If you come in a stranger on that night, rest assured you won't feel like one after.

If nothing else, Nolan's is a fine place to take a break from real life for a little bit. And that's the whole point, isn't it?

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