Thursday, January 18, 2018
Bars & Spirits

The Outpost: A Tampa college bar with a can-do attitude

The Outpost Tap House + Tavern, a sports bar of sorts on the outskirts of downtown Tampa, is unquestionably a college bar. There's Ohio State paraphernalia on the walls, flat screens broadcasting college hoops and, well, it's located right next door to the University of Tampa, the college once attended by its owners.

I usually don't have high expectations for such bars. I'm not in college anymore, and even when I was, I didn't care about watching sports or drinking flavorless light beer. But I've got an open mind, so I checked out The Outpost to see what — if anything — it had to offer downtown Tampa, both for sports-loving college students and too-cool-for-school geezers like myself.

It turns out that I might like it more than the college kids I assumed made up its clientele.

Late on a Thursday night, The Outpost was almost empty, which was unexpected, considering select beers were on sale for $6 from 9 p.m. to closing. Apparently, The Outpost does most of its business during the day, when the restaurant end of the operation is the main draw. Judging by online reviews and input from my bartender, the culprit for the occasional late-night slump might be that The Outpost serves only beer and wine. People want their shots.

That seems a little ridiculous to me. I like a stiff drink as much as the next person, but The Outpost strikes me as a place so expertly designed as a beer-and-wine spot that I couldn't imagine ordering a cocktail there, even if that was an option — as it will be soon, I'm told.

The owners have clearly put a lot of thought into The Outpost, using limitation as a selling point, and doing it in a convincing manner. Instead of offering a lazy and boring beer selection, The Outpost offers 40 beers on draft and about that many in the can. Yes, in the can.

With the exception of KCCO lager (a schwarzbier from Texas that's bottle-only) and Miller High Life — which, hil­ariously, is served in 32-ounce form, accompanied by champagne flutes ("the champagne of beers") — everything is draft- and can-only. The idea is to serve fresher beer that's also more eco-friendly. That's a thoughtful approach that I didn't expect from what I assumed was a typical college bar.

While there are no liquor cocktails, there are "sak-tails," which use sake as a base. Most of these are twists on classic cocktails, but it makes for a nice change of pace if you're not in the mood for beer or cider. If you do want beer or cider but just aren't sure what to try, flights are available for $8, which feature four servings of 6 ounces each, which is half a pint more than a typical beer flight.

The thought put into the drink menu was nice, but the interior of The Outpost is what sold me. If using the term "neo-rustic" won't completely destroy my credibility, then that's what I'll call it. The bar is wrapped in repurposed 100-year-old barn wood from Chicago, accented by custom-welded metal footrests. The ceiling features exposed duct work and wood slats, and the rest of the decor incorporates a mix of shiny metal and dark, polished wood. The overall square footage is not huge, but it's roomy and seems capable of holding large crowds.

It really does feel like an outpost from the nearby downtown, SoHo, and Hyde Park areas — a sleek, smartly decorated sports bar that promises an alternative to the "predictability of SoHo."

The Outpost may still be finding its footing outside of daytime dining hours, and this may involve adding liquor to the menu. But it's a great place to visit now. It's a clean, highly appealing bar with a current selection of beers, wines, and ciders, all for a reasonable price and with plenty of daily specials and events to keep things interesting.

If I were a UT student, there's no doubt it would be my regular bar. But even a cynic like myself can find plenty to enjoy here.

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