For this year's tbt* Ultimate Bar Guide, we tallied up more than 100 reasons we love going to bars in Tampa Bay. Here are six bars with deals and specials that make us want to get out and drink.
Happy Hour: Bernini
They say it's Tampa's best Happy Hour, and it's hard to disagree. "Home of the $2 Finlandia Martini" may as well be Bernini's motto, given how popular the restaurant's bar is from 11:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. — especially from 4 to 7, when select pastas and entrees are also half off. If martinis aren't your thing, get a vodka cranberry or vodka and soda — same price. Bernini is suitable for a nice date night, but even the $2 drinks are pretty stiff. One for the night might do you, in which case your wallet will barely feel a thing. 1702 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City. (813) 248-0099, italiancuisinetampa.com.
Ladies' night: Cheap
It's a difficult endeavor to find a place advertising a ladies' night that isn't swamped with vulture-like men waiting for an acceptably attractive group of women to enter before they strike. So it can come as a big surprise to visit Cheap on a Wednesday night and find clusters of free-range women enjoying half-off specials and the space to move around without being hassled. Going unnoticed in the heart of SoHo is dicey at any time of day, but the Wednesday-night crowd at Cheap's interior bar is slight and welcoming, On a recent visit, the laughter of women didn't draw the crowd of men it that it usually does, and bartenders were appropriately attentive. It was almost like they actually understood the point of ladies' night: A time for women to get out and see one another, not meet their next ex. 309 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 258-5878, cheapinsoho.com.
Hospitality night: Hyde Park Cafe
Want to party like it's Friday on a Tuesday? The Hyde Park Cafe's weekly SIN party attracts all comers, with no cover and free drinks from 9 p.m. until midnight for service industry workers. Result: weekday debauchery with your favorite waitress practically doing cartwheels through the courtyard by 11 p.m. The crowd's pretty young, and the music is pretty fresh. It isn't stifling; there's definitely room to bust a move or pick a spot for some primo people watching. This is the weekend for people who work weekends, and they are determined to let it all hang loose. Just don't piss anyone off, okay? You don't know where they work and what they can do to get back at you. 1806 W Platt St., Tampa. (813) 254-2233, thehydeparkcafe.com.
Lobster Mondays: James Joyce Irish Pub
Lobster is decidedly not bar food, and nobody came back from Ireland and thought, "Man I sure love those Irish lobsters." Yet the James Joyce Irish Pub has become the home of cheap lobster specials so ridiculous even Red Lobster might scoff. On Mondays from 5 to 9 p.m., a fancy person with a frugal budget can order two drinks and a $10.99 live Maine lobster. Non-drinkers have the option of ordering an appetizer and getting the same seafood deal. The James Joyce is a traditional Irish pub in every other respect, from its draft list to its long wooden bar, making slurping down rich, buttery lobster a unique experience, to be sure. Come hungry after beginning your work week and leave knowing that you probably made out better than you would have eating at a chain restaurant. 1724 E Eighth Ave., Ybor City. (813) 247-1896, jamesjoyceybor.com.
Dollar drink night: CJ's on the Island
Why visit a karaoke bar on one of its few non-karaoke nights? Cheap booze. At CJ's on the Island in Treasure Island, Monday is dollar drink night, with $1 wells, $1.50 drafts and $2 fireballs from 9 p.m. to close. And when we visited on a recent Monday, cheap gin and tonic in our glass, the regulars were in fine spirits, with a fat black lab by the pool table, a hot popcorn machine in the corner and folks dancing to Van Halen and Keith Urban. CJ's has a concert-quality karaoke lounge, and they recently kicked off live-band karaoke on Wednesday nights, but if you'd rather pick up a cheap drink than a microphone, Monday is a great time to go. 115 107th Ave., Treasure Island, (727) 360-1760, cjsonti.com.
We're cheapskates: Tequilas
Reborn from its nightclub past, Tequilas isn't ashamed of marketing to the short-on-funds/long-on-hunger set. Every day before 7 p.m., the restaurant serves all-you-can-eat steak or chicken fajitas for $9.95. Nothing on the menu is expensive, since empanadas run in the $4 range and a heaping plate of beef nachos will set you back less than $8. And if you're planning on drinking, on top of the Ybor standard $2 martini special, Tequila's also offers $2 frozen sangrias mixed with frozen margaritas, which are given the cheerful portmanteau "sangrita." With more than 100 tequila varieties and some creative spins on the classic such as the delicious Apple Pie martini, Tequilas uses its heart-of-Ybor location, 1613 E Seventh Ave., to great effect. (813) 241-9555, tequilasybor.com.