Visit Clearwater Beach's Brown Boxer on a Friday afternoon, and you might grab a burger, play some darts, talk a little Rays and Phillies with the locals.
Visit again a few hours later, and you might end up doing shots, dancing to live music and hollering over the joyous din — that is, when you're not trying to wedge through the mix of regulars, tourists and conventioneers engulfing its two bars.
That versatility is the biggest reason business has been booming since the Brown Boxer opened in 2010. Owner Jay Thomas says revenue is up 18 percent this year, and that's following a 21 percent increase from 2011. "We have not slowed down," he says. "At all."
When tbt* asked our Facebook fans to nominate their favorite bar in Tampa Bay as part of this year's Ultimate Bar Guide, we got 4,723 votes in response. The Brown Boxer was the runaway winner.
The bar's popularity is no surprise. It's already spawned two sister locations, one in Madeira Beach and another near Countryside Mall, and Thomas is scouting locations for a third —maybe St. Petersburg, maybe St. Pete Beach, maybe Orlando or Sarasota. "I'm gonna do a store a year, and if they continue to grow and do well, I'll keep going."
Thomas, a former Hooters executive, moved from Philadelphia to Tampa Bay in 2007 and spent two years searching for the perfect place to open a new bar.
"I didn't want to do the same thing that was on the beach," he says. "When I came down, there was no sports bar; there was no place to go after the beach when you showered and you and your wife, your girlfriend, went out to dinner and then wanted to get a drink. There was nowhere like that here. Everything was a beach bar."
It took a little while for the bar to establish that after-hours foothold, but now, Thomas said the bar does up to 70 percent of its business from 9 p.m. to close. On Saturdays, he says the bar brings in upwards of $30,000.
"The first time we had someone throw up on the pool table, we were like, 'Alright, we made it!'" he laughs.
The Brown Boxer does boffo business during Phillies spring training — "On a Tuesday night, we'll be jam-packed," Thomas said — but it got an even bigger boost this summer, when a USA Today reader poll named Clearwater Beach Florida's best beach town.
"A 21-year-old doesn't feel weird coming to the Brown Boxer, and a 71-year-old doesn't feel weird," he said. "Everyone gets along, and we have a good ol' time."
The Brown Boxer Pub and Grille is located at 483 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach. (727) 441-6000, thebrownboxer.com.
Rounding out the top 10 bars selected by tbt* readers
2. Nolan's Pub
They've got 22 tasty beers on tap at Nolan's Pub in Safety Harbor. Try them all and you get a free T-shirt. Do it five times and you get your name on the wall. Ten times and you get your name on a plaque on the bar. It's an incredibly welcoming place, family-run and named for the owners' 2-1/2-year-old son. They're starting a softball league with some other joints in Safety Harbor, so stop by if you're looking for a game. 230 Main St., Safety Harbor; (727) 400-6998, nolanspub.com.
3. Anchor Bar
Davis Islands is packed with locals' joints, and the Anchor Bar is a good one, with a nice selection of craft beer and scotch behind the bar. Their cocktail menu is still in flux, but the Mai Tai, made with Captain and Malibu, is cool and coconutty, with a satisfying mouthfeel. No wonder they're already planning to expand, with a site on Franklin St. downtown coming soon. 304 E Davis Boulevard, Tampa; (813) 483-4573, anchorbartampa.com.
4. The Broken Tusk
Call it St. Pete's most inclusive dive. Opened by longtime Emerald bartenders Judah and Levi Love, the Broken Tusk is an LGBT-friendly bar located far from St. Pete's LGBT-friendly Grand Central District. You can always find darts and pinball, and occasionally drag shows and bingo nights. Check out the Saturday night "Power Hour" (10 to 11 p.m.), when everything behind the bar is only $3. 4685 28th Street N, St. Petersburg; (727) 521-9514, facebook.com/thebrokentusk.
5. The Stein and Vine
Wedged between a gun shop and a Family Dollar in southeast Brandon is the Stein and Vine, a cool and cozy wine, craft beer and tater tot bar. That's right: their burgers come with tots, which you can top with chili, cheese, jalapeños, onions, sour cream, bacon and/or a fried egg. As good as the food, beer and wine menus are, the chic atmosphere and friendly conversation is the real draw. Just keep your hands off our tots. 827 Bloomingdale Ave., Brandon; (813) 655-4786, thesteinandvine.com.
6. Peabody's Billiards and Games
By day, it's one of Tampa Bay's biggest sports bars, with more than 70 TVs and giant screens, not to mention plenty of pool and foosball tables, poker and pool tournaments and other games. At night and on weekends, USF students flock here for the late-night party scene and jaw-dropping specials. Nickel-beer Tuesdays, $2 Burger Mondays, $7 liquor pitchers, $12.49 all-you-can-drink calls and wells at select happy hours ... the deals go on and on. 15333 Amberly Drive, Tampa; (813) 972-1725, peabodysbilliards.com.
7. Tarpon Tavern
Modestly decorated but immensely popular among locals, this nautically themed bar has a huge patio and some 30 beers on tap and more in bottles. It's highly rated on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, not only for its casual seafood and pub grub, but for its beer selection, one of the biggest in town. 20 N Safford Ave., Tarpon Springs; (727) 945-1000, tarpontavern.com.
8. Harry's Beach Bar
When FloridaBeachBar.com names your bar one of the top 10 beach bars in the Sunshine State, you must be doing something right. Located poolside at the Sirata Beach Resort, it's a laid-back margarita fuel-up joint on hot summer days and a rocking beach party when the fire pit warms up at night. Frozen drinks like the Lava Flow are the specialty, but try the Sirata Punch — pineapple, cranberry and orange juices; grenadine; and your choice of rum, vodka and tequila. 5300 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach; (855) 344-5999, sirata.com/harrys-beach-bar.
9. Blowfish Bar and Grill
Darius Rucker himself showed up to play at the opening of this Seminole bar and grill. And why wouldn't he? His Hootie and the Blowfish bandmate Dean Felber is a part owner. The former bassist nods to his '90s alt-rock past on the cocktail menu, which features drinks with grunge-era names like the Come As You Are, (raspberry vodka, Sprite and lime juice), Self Esteem (Wild Turkey, amaretto, cranberry juice and Apple Pucker) and Man in the Box (Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea, peach schnapps and orange juice). The '90s will never die! 8305 Bay Pines Blvd. N, Seminole; (727) 547-2100; blowfishgrill.com.
10. Palm Harbor House of Beer
Dunedin's House of Beer was the original, and one of the first beer bars in North Pinellas to capitalize on the craft beer craze. In addition to 50 beers on tap and many more in bottles, the Palm Harbor location has carved out a niche as a fun place for live music, trivia and bar games — everything from cornhole and tabletop shuffleboard to oversized Connect 4 and Jenga. Stop by on Sunday, when they usually have a Randall up and running — that's a high-tech device that infuses beer with flavors like cinnamon, vanilla and fruit. Mmmm. 34970 U.S. 19, Palm Harbor; (727) 784-2337, palmharborhob.com.
Information from Times files was used in this report.