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Ultimate Bar Guide: 14 sports bars for cheering, bar games and (maybe) meeting athletes

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 14 of our favorite Tampa Bay sports bars, from places to cheer on local pro and college teams to bars where you can play a few games yourself.

Soccer is religion: MacDinton's Irish Pub

All Tampa English Premier League fans respect the truism that most good soccer happens far away. Important games begin anywhere from early morning to 3 p.m., which can put hooligans at the real disadvantage of having to eat breakfast, drink and cheer all at the same time. MacDinton's Irish Pub understands that you need a beer with your game and has adjusted its schedule accordingly, to accommodate even this Saturday's Manchester United versus Swansea match at 7:45 a.m. MacDinton's always has a beer special or two to accompany a particular match, and the bar's big screen is such a great way to witness the beautiful game that almost every EPL supporters' club can be counted on to bring a few bodies in during the season. You don't even have to travel across the bridge since there are two locations: 242 First Ave. N, St. Pete; and 405 S Howard Ave., Tampa.

The Rays: Ferg's Sports Bar

Maybe Mark Ferguson is hedging his bets by opening an outpost of Ferg's Sports Bar in Tampa's Channel District. Ferg's is the undisputed king of pre- and post-game Rays bars, due to its breezy and inviting interior and its location right across the street from Tropicana Field, and if the Rays ever move to Tampa, it'd be good to have a home there, too. Renderings of the still-in-development Tampa Ferg's show a sleeker, more streamlined bar — a marked contrast to the ramshackle compound that stands in St. Pete — but if it scores with Lightning fans like the current Ferg's does with Rays fans, it'll be a grand slam. 1320 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 822-4562,

The Bucs: Bilmar Station

Isn't every Tampa sports bar a Bucs bar? Yeah, pretty much. But Bilmar Station is different. It's been around for years, and has at various times been the home for far-flung fan clubs (local Philadelphia Eagles fans used to meet here); its ceiling is still festooned with the flags of various pro and college teams. Bilmar Station seems ripe for a red-and-black revival, though. There's a solid craft beer selection (last time we visited, they had three taps dedicated to Clearwater's Pair O'Dice Brewing), plus fun games like Sopranos pinball and a Skee-ball-like game called "Beer Ball." There's a Wall of Foam full of plaques honoring dedicated drinkers. This place may not have 100 giant flat-screens or an army of servers in tight-fitting referee tops, but it's got a ton of lived-in character. It's the sort of sports bar you'd be proud to call your own. 8501 W Hillsborough Ave., Tampa; (813) 496-8898.

The Lightning: Hattricks

Logically, Hattricks should not be downtown Tampa's best hockey bar. Someplace in Channelside should have claimed the mantle by now, or perhaps the revolving-door sports bar across the street from the Forum (Beef 'O' Brady's, Andreychuck's, Hot Tuna, the Luxury Box and, coming soon, Ferg's). But for 17 years, Hattricks, which sits tucked away farther up on Franklin, has been Tampa's go-to place for pre- and post-game drinks such as the Lightning Lemonade (hey, at least it's blue). The walls are lined with framed sweaters of Lightning greats (Lecavalier, St. Louis, Stamkos, Richards) and there are two tabletop shuffleboard courts in case you feel like scoring on a slippery surface of your own. And, of course, there are TVs everywhere, just as you'd expect at every great sports bar. 107 S Franklin St., Tampa; (813) 225-4288,

The Rowdies: Crowley's

World Cup watchers know soccer bars are on the rise in Tampa Bay, but only one sits in the shadow of Al Lang Stadium, home to the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Crowley's doesn't advertise itself as a Rowdies bar, but it doesn't need to, considering it's the 'Burg's most convenient location for a pre- or post-game pint. The menu is full of traditional old-country fare, from scotch eggs and bangers to, um, Blarney's Boneless Wings (well, this is a sports bar, after all). There are plenty of beers on tap (as well as a side menu of Guinness blends), but the drink menu is heavy on shots and cocktails with silly names like the Dublin Donkey and Lucky Charm. We say keep things Irish and stick to Guinness and pub fries. It'll go great with your Rowdie green. 269 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 821-1111,

The Bulls: Peabody's Billiards

Not every great sports bar is a great college bar, and not every great college bar is a great sports bar. Peabody's Billiards happens to be both. Located a hop and a skip from USF's main Tampa campus, it's a killer spot to watch any game, with 70-plus TVs (including 10-foot screens) always tuned to some sort of action. There are plenty of pool and foosball tables, plus weekly darts, pool, beer pong and poker tournaments. DJs and live music make the place come alive on weekends. But it's the specials that keep college kids coming back. From food discounts like $1 Taco Tuesdays to all-you-can-drink deals on Sunday and Friday, it's the perfect place for a penniless Bulls backer to set up shop. Want to watch a Bulls game there? Saturday specials include $2.75 wells and drafts, $4.50 bombs and $10.99 Coors Light and Miller Lite Buckets. 15333 Amberly Drive, Tampa; (813) 972-1725,

Our tee time got rained out: Golfer's Grail

Don't tell the staff members cruising the course on golf carts, but everyone knows that golf and cold adult beverages go together very well — that's why your club bag has an insulated pocket. Unfortunately, it's pretty rainy out in the summer, so you may need a backup plan. Or maybe you're just learning, or practicing, or hate sunlight. Whatever the reason, Golfer's Grail is the place for a new type of golf: Big-screen golf simulators that allow you to play on more than 60 virtual courses from around the world. You use real clubs and hit real balls — the software captures your ball trajectory, speed, club face angle and other useful bits of data that help you play the game as well as analyze it. The 19th hole bar is just steps away, featuring custom house shandies, a handful of beers and wines, and a BYOW policy for a $15 corkage fee. For extra fun, switch to practice mode, where you get to smash the windows out of virtual houses as you work on your drinks. Try that at a traditional golf course! 10019 N Dale Mabry Highway, #100, Tampa. (813) 969-2100,

We need a pit stop on the Pinellas Trail: Tarpon Tavern

The 42-mile Pinellas Trail cuts through some of Pinellas County's best 'burgs, including the downtowns of St. Petersburg, Dunedin and Clearwater. Eagle-eyed joggers and bikers will no doubt spot several pubs and cafes along the trail, and one of the best is the Tarpon Tavern, located just off the trail in the heart of Tarpon Springs. The lunchtime offerings are plentiful, as are your craft-beer options, which always feature local favorites like Tarpon Springs' own Saint Somewhere Brewing Company. If you're nearing the end of your trek, this is a great place to throw down your kickstand or kick up your New Balances. 20 N Safford Ave., Tarpon Springs; (727) 945-1000,

We need to get in shape: Irish 31

Dashing around the streets of Hyde Park on a summer Wednesday night becomes much easier when you know a complimentary buffet and $2 beer specials await you at the end. The Irish 31 Running Club has been motivating people to get off their duffs for years with its weekly specials, team spirit and free carb-loaded after run food. Smartly, dinner is served at the bar's beautiful outdoor patio, so you won't have to be self-conscious about stinking up the place with your gallons of sweat. Cool accoutrements like a string-lit courtyard tee and live music help the truly out-of-shape forget the killer knee pain for a few minutes at a time. Irish 31 bartenders are super-supportive, encouraging you to not pass out and keep coming back. If you make it out 10 times, you get a free Irish 31 Running Club shirt. Runners need only bring themselves to 1611 W Swann Ave., Tampa., a little before 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays to set out on a journey to future sexiness.

Nintendo is a religion: The Amsterdam

Bato Ijacic and Matthew Barker travel bars spreading the gospel of Mario with their First United Church of Nintendo. The Amsterdam joined the ranks of the hippest hangouts by hosting the church every other Wednesday with old-school tube TVs and classic Nintendo consoles, from the original up to a newly donated Wii. Interested nostalgians can arrive after 7 p.m., check the library of 400 games and fire up any open consoles. Bar owners run draft and house wine specials to loosen up your digits and help you regain your sense memory. Ijacic and Barker also award prizes to winners and high scorers. 1049 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 623-4950,

We love bar games: Drifters Sports Pub

Let's face it — bar games are the only exercise some of us can expect to get. For this group, Drifters Sports Pub might as well be a gym, with its impressive array of bar games and other indoor amusements. For wrist workouts, try the Megatouch console or arcade-style claw game. Upper body needs some work? Lots of options: Darts, pool, video golf and even table shuffleboard. Looking for something more athletic? Drifters has indoor cornhole (no, I didn't know that existed, either) and even table tennis! Recent studies have shown beer to be an excellent post-workout drink, so there you go. 1717 Drew St., Clearwater. (727) 442-5642,

We especially love Skee-Ball: Eddie's Bar and Grill

What kind of bar has kids running around at all hours of the night? Eddie's Bar and Grill, for one. Adults may come for the 50-tap beer list or the new, adjacent wine nook Pam's Grape Room, but kids (and kids at heart) come to Eddie's for the Chuck E. Cheese vibe of its game room. There you'll find games of every stripe — bar standards like darts, pool, foosball and Big Buck Hunter, but also arcade favorites like air hockey, Hoop Fever basketball and even Skee-Ball. How is it possible more bars don't have Skee-Ball? It's the perfect way to play your buddies for the next round. Just keep an eye out for the Little Leaguers down the bar. They look like ringers. 1283 Bayshore Blvd., Dunedin; (727) 734-2300,

We're coming around on Duckpin bowling: Ducky's Sports Lounge

With its clublike music and snazzy South Tampa clientele, Ducky's Sports Lounge doesn't have much of a sports-bar feel, except for two things: (1.) It's co-owned by the Rays' Evan Longoria, and (2.) it's got duckpin bowling. The traditional New England pastime is like bowling, with smaller pins and hole-free balls, and Ducky's is the first place in Tampa to offer it. For $5 apiece, you and your pals can set up shop at one of four lanes for 10 frames of craft cocktails, mini pretzel dogs and pulled-pork sliders. Maybe if you ask nicely, they'll even turn up the Rays game while you bowl. 1719 Kennedy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 254-6160,

We might meet Derek Jeter: Anchor Bar

Derek Jeter's sprawling waterfront home sits less than a mile from Davis Islands' main restaurant row. With the Yankee great about to call it a career, he might spend more time popping into a few of his neighborhood haunts. A couple of years ago, the Associated Press reported that Jeter had been spotted at the Anchor Bar, a narrow outpost for darts, craft beer, pub grub and beachy drinks. It is, ironically, one of Davis Islands' only bars with an actual island theme, which may be what led Jeets there in the first place. With the sun setting on his career, the Captain could probably use a nice Rum Punch or South of the Border Mojito now and then. 304 E Davis Blvd., Tampa; (813) 483-4573,



Ultimate Bar Guide: 14 sports bars for cheering, bar games and (maybe) meeting athletes 08/14/14 [Last modified: Friday, August 15, 2014 12:19pm]
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