Pulling up to Grass Flats Bar and Grill, near Ulmerton and 49th Street at the south end of Clearwater, I realized that I'd stopped into this unassuming bar once before, to enjoy a few gin and sodas on a sweltering summer day last year. It was a pretty standard roadside bar, utilitarian and pleasant enough.
A lot has changed since then, as I found when I recently headed out there with a few friends on a week night.
Grass Flats has been operated by the current owners for the past two years in the middle of an area dedicated almost entirely to industrial warehouses. In startling contrast to its surroundings, Grass Flats has a beachy vibe to it. An outdoor stage hosts live entertainment while guests sit back with a drink or play volleyball on a court made of actual white sand.
The staff seems intent on avoiding even one dull evening. There is action scheduled nearly every night, including bands, open mic nights, jam sessions, volleyball games (league and pickup) and even poker nights that boast bar tabs for winners and a chance for a paid entry into a major televised poker tournament.
The bar is also known for hosting major events and gatherings for bikers, including the "Biker or Not Weekend" (which, as the name implies, isn't exclusively for bikers).
Out in the back courtyard, the stuffed body of a donkey that once appeared in a John Wayne movie hangs from the rafters.
And the bar is allegedly haunted, according to the owners and every member of the staff that I spoke to at the bar?
Apparently, the bar was owned by a somewhat unsavory character in the 1960s who found himself involved in a few nasty incidents (involving shotguns) on the premises. The favor was eventually returned when an intruder used one of the owner's shotguns against him, killing him behind the bar. According to the staff, the trouble from a past ear causes jumbled text to appear in lieu of closed-captioning on only one TV in the bar - the one that sits where the TV in the original 1960s bar sat. And the clock next to the bar has to be replaced every so often because it has a tendency to fly off the wall - it never just slips off; that distinction was made clear to me - and shatter on the floor.
I was pleased to find the staff incredibly friendly and welcoming, and the bar was well-stocked and comfortable. I opted for the Glenfiddich 15-year, which is hard to find at any bar, and was happy to find it priced lower than I expected ($6). The beer selection was also surprising, including some higher-end domestics, as well as a rarity or two (Belhaven Scottish Ale outside of a specialty beer bar?).
Personally, I'm going to go back and try to catch that clock in the act.
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Grass Flats Bar and Grill
12924 49th St. N, Clearwater; (727) 561-9151; grassflatsbarandgrill.com
The vibe: Beachy biker bar with live music
Booze: Beer, wine, full liquor. Domestic bottles are $2.50. Happy hour is 3 to 7 p.m.; wells are $2.
Specialty: The outdoor seating lends itself to warm weather cocktails, like a Cuba Libre: white rum and cola with a lime wedge. If you're in a beer mood, ask about the hidden micro and import selection kept in the back.
Food: Appetizers $2.50-$9.95; entrees $4.95-$9.95
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.