Thursday, May 24, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Watch out for ghosts at the Front Porch Grill and Bar in Seminole Heights

Over the past several years, Seminole Heights has gone from a quiet, Tampa neighborhood to one of the hippest areas in town, packed with top-rated restaurants, craft-beer bars and even a local brewery.

Seminole Heights is also a historic neighborhood, largely populated by turn-of-the-century — 19th century — bungalow homes. One Victorian house on Florida Avenue is particularly noteworthy; it's been standing since 1898, and inside is one of the neighborhood's older establishments, the Front Porch Grill and Bar, opened more than a decade ago.

Like the name says, Front Porch is mainly just that. A short flight of stairs leads to a raised deck that wraps around the front and side of the house, while a lower-level courtyard sits on the other side. The view of Florida Avenue isn't particularly scenic unless you have a thing for used-car lots, but it's a great spot to relax with a drink and a bite to eat when the weather's nice. There are no rocking chairs, but there are plenty of wooden café tables to sit at on the spacious front porch.

Through the front door is a small corridor, with stairs to the left and a large parlor to the right, where a full bar and restaurant have been installed. It really feels like a home, from the knick-knacks and antique sundries displayed on a small bookshelf at the entrance to the wood floors that are probably not original but definitely very old. The ceiling is covered in dark, wooden panels, and the walls are decorated with a variety of old, black-and-white framed portraits of the house's former residents, dating back to the very early 20th century. Other pictures include photos of the house in decades past, as well as classic photos of Tampa.

Given the old portraits and advanced age of the house, it didn't take long for the conversation between the bartender and my girlfriend to turn to ghosts. Now, I certainly don't believe in ghosts, but the Front Porch Grill, given its age, is a natural home to such stories. These all seem to revolve around the apparition of a small boy, from a little girl who once ran down the stairs (which are not open to the public) complaining that she didn't "want to play with that boy any more," to a chef who heard children screaming at night.

Our bartender told us about a first-time visitor who stopped in for a drink one evening. She later found him standing near the staircase, staring up to the floor above. When asked if he needed anything, he explained that he was a medium, and that there was a boy at the top of the stairs.

Despite such chilling tales, Front Porch is somewhat of a sunny place. It's more Key West than Amityville, and guests are more likely to stop by in search of lunch specials and half-off happy hour drinks than they are g-g-g-ghosts. On the weekends, the main sound is not the screams of ghost children but live music in the courtyard, which features its own full bar, with a dozen beers on draft.

Yes, this place also serves drinks — lots of 'em. The cocktails are strong, with a 2-ounce pour as the standard, and there are more than 30 beers available by the bottle, with another 17 on draft. More than 20 wines, including sangria, are available by the glass or bottle, and the liquor selection covers all the bases. The Scotch selection here is pretty nice, too, with some higher-end single malt selections like Dalmore 12-year, Laphroaig 10-year, and Ardmore Traditional Cask whisky.

Ghosts or no ghosts, Front Porch Grill offers a unique experience as a long-running Seminole Heights business located in a very cool, very old house. The rustic, homey atmosphere makes it a great spot to unwind and enjoy the (hopefully) mild upcoming fall weather. Stop in for a home-style meal and a cocktail, but if you have a fear of phantom children, then consider a daytime visit. It's almost Halloween, after all.

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