Thursday, December 14, 2017
Bars & Spirits

Rooftop bars serve up sweet drinks, great sunset views in Tampa, St. Petersburg and beyond

We have a little more than a month before the end of Daylight Savings Time, which means you have a few more weeks to revel in the Gulf Coast's spectacular sunsets during proper Happy Hour hours.

There are plenty of good rooftop bars in Tampa Bay — Fly Bar, Prana and Push Ultra Lounge come to mind — but only a handful offer elevated, waterfront views that can take your breath away at sunset.

The newest, and splashiest, example is the Canopy at the Birchwood Hotel. Since opening this summer, the fifth-floor rooftop lounge has quickly become St. Pete's most chic spot for happy hour martinis and mojitos. While it doesn't sit on the water, per se, it does overlook Tampa Bay, the Pier and Beach Drive.

But as cool as the view can be, the focus here is on spectacular cocktails. Some are sophisticated, some are frozen, some are modern takes on classics — but almost all rely on fresh, fragrant fruit. The Jamaican Mai Tai (aged rum, dry curacao, creme de banana liqueur, cherry and pineapple juices and a dash of chocolate bitters) is a tremendous take on a classic. The frozen Cucumber Honeydew Freeze (mandarin vodka, honey, lemon and lime juices, fresh honeydew and cucumber) is like drinking a fruit salad. And the Salvador Sipper (pisco, limoncello, rose water, lychee juice, simple syrup, egg whites and a rose-petal garnish) is a delightfully surreal nod to the Dali Museum down the road.

For something that hews closer to a traditional Gulf Coast lifestyle, try the Hurricane. Opened in 1977, this local landmark offers 360-degree views of Pass-a-Grille and beyond from its third-floor deck. It's everything you'd want from a beach bar — laid-back live music, a massive menu of rummy concoctions and seafood from the restaurant below. The specialty is anything with grouper in it — grouper sandwiches, grouper tacos, grouper po' boys, grouper oscar, fried grouper alfredo, you name it. There are shaded areas to keep you from boiling in the sun, and conveniently, the restaurant prints flyers listing each day's exact sunset time, down to the minute. Happy hour ($4 house wines, $2.50 wells and $1.99 domestic drafts) ends at 6 p.m., which is before sunset, but during the winter months, it's close enough.

J's in Gulfport hasn't been around nearly as long as the Hurricane, having opened in June (it had previously existed as Aqua Bella, Roman Gardens and many others). The food is mostly standard beach cuisine, and the drinks are low-profile; there's no cocktail menu to speak of. But scale the spiral staircase to find a laid-back open-air bar that overlooks the Gulfport Casino and Boca Ciega Bay. It's simple but effective, with cheap specials ($1 drafts at happy hour) and friendly bartenders willing to whip you up just about anything you like.

Not fancy enough? Try Armani's, the 14th-floor luxury dining destination at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay. Armani's is one of the area's priciest restaurants, in part because of that oh-so-rare (and oh-so-breathtaking) panorama of the waters off the Courtney Campbell Causeway. But if you're not in the mood for a triple-digit check, you can simply swing by Armani's Lounge, inside the restaurant. The lounge's floor-to-ceiling windows offer a skyline that stretches to downtown St. Pete and beyond — but to really make the most of it, you should stake out a seat on the recently renovated open-air terrace, which might be Tampa's most gorgeous setting for a wedding proposal.

The cocktail menu is heavy on the martinis — we enjoyed the tart, chilled Tom Collins Royal, made with Hendrick's gin, limoncello, lime juice and prosecco — but there's also an array of wines from Italy and other locales, plus ports, scotches, brandies and even cigars and cigarettes. (Seriously — the pristinely bound cocktail menu offers Marlboro Lights for $12. Where else are you gonna see that?) You should still expect to pay Armani's prices, but in Tampa, at least, there's not another view like it.

Armani's closest parallel on the Gulf beaches is probably Spinners, the revolving restaurant and bar that sits high atop the Grand Plaza Hotel in St. Pete Beach. Once you make your way to the 12th floor, you can gawk in awe at the stunning 360-degree vistas of the Gulf of Mexico, Boca Ciega Bay and countless points of interest beyond, from downtown St. Pete to the Sunshine Skyway. The bar itself is stationary and enclosed, and it and faces inland — still a great view — but if you're dining, or you arrive late, you can grab a seat near the window and watch the world spin by.

But perhaps your best bet to catch sunset on the beach is Jimmy's Crow's Nest, the new open-air bar high atop Pier House 60 Marina Hotel in Clearwater Beach. Aside from a small sign on Coronado Drive, you might not know it's there — that is, unless you visit at night, in which case you'll no doubt notice the colorful lights and music emanating from the 10th floor.

Get there by sunset and you can get a free sunset shot and enter their nightly contest for the best sunset photo. But no matter what time of day you visit, you can't beat the view. Jimmy's Crow's Nest overlooks Clearwater Beach's powdery white sand and Pier 60, and straight up the Mandalay Avenue strip, so once the sun goes down, you're still perched high above a mini-cityscape of twinkling lights.

Order one of Jimmy's signature beach drinks, like the Tidal Wave Tea — Sailor Jerry, Malibu mango rum, peach schnapps, orange juice, sour, grenadine and a dark rum floater — and you'll wish sunset would never end.

— Have a food, drink, object or experience you'd like us to find? Suggest a Quest at [email protected]

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