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Salt brings premium tequila, craft beers to Shephard's Beach Resort in Clearwater Beach

Shephard's Beach Resort has been a Clearwater Beach hotspot for longer than many of its customers have been alive. It carries a lot of flags — beach resort, tiki bar, nightclub, boutique hotel — but, for the most part, it's known as a destination for 20-somethings looking to let loose in their swimsuits.

It's not really a place that you would put in the "something for everyone" category. At least, not until the recent completion of a yearlong expansion and renovation that has added four more levels to the hotel, a new 7,000-square foot pool and poolside bar, a cafeteria-style restaurant with an interactive kitchen, and — oh, yes — a bar specializing exclusively in craft beer and premium tequila.

The concisely named Salt features 24 rotating draft beers, a handful of bottles and a monstrous selection of more than 90 tequilas. It's unusual to find such an extensive menu on the beach; it's even more unusual that these two categories make up the entire drink selection at Salt.

It's actually quite clever. For frozen drinks, tropical cocktails, buckets of beer, and big-name domestic drafts, the tiki bar is the place. It's been a central fixture of Shephard's since way before the expansion.

For fine wines, scotch and classic cocktails, check out Ocean Flame, the indoor restaurant. Bomb drinks and bottle service? You need to visit the Wave nightclub. Craft beer and tequila? Salt's your spot. With each bar featuring a different specialty, Shephard's visitors can bar hop without ever leaving the resort. Relative to the size of the resort, Salt is tiny. You'll pass it as you go through the walkway separating the tiki bar from the night club. The outer wall is open, allowing Salt to stay cool and shaded but also breezy inside. It also gives a sense of connectedness to the rest of the resort — guests can casually stroll in and out of the bar just as easily as they would the adjacent tiki bar.

Inside, Salt features a long bar, backed by more tequila bottles than you'll find in an average liquor store. There's a row of beer taps, which includes local options from breweries such as St. Pete Brewing, Cigar City and Saint Somewhere. A few booths are wedged between cabinets designed to hold even more tequila bottles, and seating on the far end offers a view of the water.

The tequila list is extensive, breaking down selections by age. Looking for a quick drink? Try a $5 shot of Lunazul Blanc. Want to savor something more complex? Some of the añejo extra varieties, such as Don Julio Real and Gran Patron Burdeos, will challenge your palate and wallet alike.

Salt has a few more projects in the works, to debut at official grand opening of Shephard's new expansion on Aug. 1. These include a short list of tequila cocktails, including variations on the margarita and paloma, as well as a line of tequilas aged in-house. One of these is a smoked tequila, which will no doubt pique the interest of scotch drinkers.

In name and selection, Salt is simple. But as we often say, less is more. In the case of Salt, this is certainly true. By adding a bar that serves only beer and tequila, Shephard's has rounded out its resort experience. It's only a small part of an ambitious expansion, but Salt really does make Shephard's a much more interesting destination.

— jg@saintbeat.com

Salt at Shephard's Beach Resort

619 S Gulfview Blvd., Clearwater Beach. (727) 442-5107, shephards.com.

The vibe: A beer and tequila lover's oasis in the middle of a newly expanded and hugely popular Clearwater Beach resort.

Food: Appetizers, sandwiches and salads, $5-$12.

Booze: Beer, $4.75-$6.75; tequila, $4.50-$65.

Specialty: The full name is Salt Tequila Bar & Tap Room, and rarely has a bar been so comprehensively explained in a name. Salt serves beer and tequila only: 24 drafts, a half-dozen or so bottles and nearly 100 different tequilas. The draft list covers a wide range, from rotating local drafts to Euro imports Paulaner and Blanche de Bruxelles. Tequilas are similarly wide-ranging, from cheap-and-quick blanco varieties (best as a shot, or in a classic margarita), to the whiskey-like reposados and complex, rich añejo and añejo extra varieties. The bar will soon serve a small list of tequila cocktails, as well as several tequilas aged in-house, both of which will be ready for the Aug. 1 grand opening. I'm looking forward to the house-smoked tequila, personally.

Hours: 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday-Friday, 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday-Sunday. The bar often stays open late — up to 3 a.m. — on weekends.

Salt brings premium tequila, craft beers to Shephard's Beach Resort in Clearwater Beach 07/10/14 [Last modified: Thursday, July 10, 2014 12:32pm]

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