Thursday, February 22, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Three great reasons to toast to the Pier: Columbia, Jonny Reno's and Cha Cha Coconuts

It's time to say goodbye to the Pier.

St. Petersburg's most iconic landmark is closing at the end of this month, so if you haven't been in a while, there's still time to check it out before everyone's favorite inverted pyramid disappears forever.

In Las Vegas, there used to be a peculiar culture regarding the passing of former landmarks. When a once-famous casino was set for demolition, residents would line the sidewalks of Las Vegas Boulevard to watch the implosion and cheer — a sort of celebration of a good run. For the Pier, something similar is happening on Saturday.

Raise a Toast to the Pier is a celebration of the Pier's 40-year history, featuring live music, face painting, waterski shows, circus acts, local art displays and a cocktail competition between bartenders from Pier residents Jonny Reno's and Cha Cha Coconuts, as well as their neighbor at the end of the block, Fresco's Waterfront Bistro. Admission to the event, which takes place from noon to sundown, is free, but a $10 VIP ticket to the cocktail competition gets you a sample of each cocktail, a commemorative plastic Pier cocktail glass, a poster, a voting ticket and dessert.

The Raise a Toast event promises to be a great sendoff, but if you can't make it out, there's still almost two weeks to enjoy the Pier's particular brand of touristy charm before it closes on May 31. Buy a corny T-shirt at half off, have your fortune predicted by either Zoltar or Elvis, drop $2 for a hurricane simulation (you can fit at least two people in there, if you're a cheapskate) or smash a penny into a commemorative coin with images of the Pier, pelicans or dolphins.

You can also do a mini bar crawl. There are three places at the Pier to quench your thirst, all open right up until the very end: Jonny Reno's Waterfront Restaurant & Watering Hole, the Columbia Restaurant and Cha Cha Coconuts Tropical Bar and Grill. Let's start on the ground floor and work our way up.

At the far end of the ground floor is Jonny Reno's. There's an indoor dining area and bar decked out with surfboards and other beach-bar decor, but you'll certainly want to head outside at some point to enjoy a drink right on the water. The expansive outdoor patio wraps all the way around the end of the Pier, so it's a perfect spot to watch the pelicans, gulls and occasional dolphins come and go.

Tropical drinks are the name of the game here, and they're served reasonably strong. If you want to start out a bit lighter, take a look at the beer selection. There are several quality brews on draft and a pretty nice bottle selection comprised of many imports and quite a few American craft beers.

After having a drink or several at Jonny Reno's, head up to the fourth floor and get some food. The Columbia Restaurant is an old-school, casual-upscale place specializing in Cuban and Spanish dishes, and it has a cocktail and wine menu to match. Alongside a variety of Spanish wines and three signature house sangrias, you'll find several interesting twists on classic cocktails, such as a Bloody Mary made from gazpacho and a Manhattan infused with guava juice. The Columbia is also famous for its classic mojito, which can be purchased by the glass or in a full pitcher.

This is also a good chance to cool off for a minute before heading upstairs, as the Columbia's dining area is all indoors. However, large, picture windows around the perimeter offer panoramic views of the bay, so you won't be missing out on the scenery.

Finally, take the elevator up just one more flight and visit Cha Cha Coconuts. This indoor/outdoor restaurant has a definite Caribbean vibe, from the colorful decor to the reggae music that's usually playing over the sound system. The drinks here are very fruity, very tropical and perfect for kicking back and watching the sunset from the top level observation deck or the large outdoor dining area. The view's impossible to beat, and it won't be there much longer.

Most of us will miss the colorful, instantly recognizable Pier as part of the downtown landscape once it's gone, and in the very near future, that thing's coming down. The official farewell party is Saturday, but there's still time to pay one last visit after that. My advice is simple: enjoy it while it's still there. — [email protected]

 
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