When I mentioned to a friend that I was doing an article about beer bars in Tarpon Springs, his response was simple: "What beer bars in Tarpon Springs?"
And that's precisely the point.
Tarpon Springs is known for its large Greek community and the rustic charm of its sponge docks, but it's not the first place to come to mind when you think of craft beer.
This reputation is due for an update, as there are several new destinations for craft beer right in the heart of the city: Tarpon Tavern, 701 Taphouse and Anclote Brew.
Tarpon Tavern is nearly invisible from the main road, located a block off Tarpon Avenue. Opened last July, it has already made quite a name for itself, landing a spot in urbanspoon.com's top 200 bars and restaurants in the nation, as well as the No. 1 spot on tripadvisor.com's list of 74 restaurants in Tarpon Springs.
The place itself is modest. The interior of the pub is small, dimly lit and quite intimate. The decor is nautically themed, a nod to Tarpon Springs' heritage. Outside is a patio at least as large as the entire bar interior.
The beer selection at Tarpon Tavern is solid, with 30 beers on tap, of which a dozen or so rotate regularly. Others, such as St. Bernardus Abt 12 and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, are in such high demand from the regular customers that they stay on draft permanently.
Down the road a few blocks is another new arrival for local beer lovers. 701 Taphouse offers more than 40 beers and ciders on draft, as well as a selection of wine and a full liquor bar. Opened at the beginning of this year, 701 is popular both with the late crowd as well as folks looking for a nice lunch. The roomy interior features two separate dining areas, as well as a long bar.
The look at 701 is very polished. Lots of dark-wood surfaces, upscale lounge seating in the rear dining area (complete with a faux fireplace), a cool wooden ceiling and creative lighting behind and in front of the bar lend the place a slick, high-end vibe. There are also large patios in both the front and back, giving patrons a chance to get some fresh air with their drink.
Of course, no trip to Tarpon Springs is complete without paying the sponge docks a visit, and there happens to be a great beer bar right in the middle of it all: Anclote Brew, a tiny taproom in the center of the Sponge Exchange plaza.
Like Tarpon Tavern, Anclote Brew hit the scene last summer, but the approach here is decidedly more minimalist than both Tarpon Tavern and 701 Taphouse. At Anclote Brew, guests will find a rotating list of 10 draft beers and five wines. Anclote Brew doubles as a coffee shop, serving coffee drinks alongside the booze. The beer selection focuses on local beers, so you'll always be able to find something from Dunedin Brewery, 7venth Sun, Barley Mow and, occasionally, Tarpon Springs' own Saint Somewhere.
As I said, Anclote Brew is tiny — a small, copper bar occupies the majority of the interior space, which is decorated with old photos from Tarpon Springs' past. Although there's not much room to mull around inside, Anclote Brew has a small cafe seating area out front, which can't be beat for cooling off after a warm day spent strolling along the sponge docks. It's animal-friendly too, so guests can bring their dog or — as one visitor did — their pig.
There are other good beer options in Tarpon Springs, but Tarpon Tavern, 701 Taphouse and Anclote Brew represent a major development for craft beer lovers in North Pinellas. You no longer have to be satisfied with a token craft beer or two on the local restaurant menu; you have options now — plenty of them.