Call it a hidden gem, call it a diamond in the rough — whichever cliché suits your preference, it’s always a treat to stumble upon something new and totally under the radar.
When you walk into an empty bar and the bartender’s first question is how you found the place, it can go a few different ways. Occasionally, it will be a real find; a bar that excels in just about every aspect outside of promotion. This time, I got lucky.
Boar and Buffalo Craft Bar in Palm Harbor: Heard of it? Granted, Palm Harbor is far more low-key than, say, downtown Tampa or St. Pete, but this premium cocktail and whiskey bar has been kicking around for about 10 months.
Originally named Boar and Buffalo Whiskey Saloon, the name and premise have changed somewhat since the beginning. From what I can tell, the bar was originally a quasi-speakeasy: a bar in a word-of-mouth holding pattern as its new owner worked out the details and got all the parts moving smoothly.
It’s located in the back of a long-tenured bar called Danny’s Sports Pub, with a separate entrance in the rear that currently boasts absolutely no signage and little indication that the unmarked back door is anything other than a pathway for employees.
Boar and Buffalo is connected to Danny’s via hallway, so when you first walk into the intimate saloon, you may be hit with a mild waft of cigarette smoke and chatter from down the hallway. The environment inside Boar and Buffalo, however, is night and day from its bustling sports pub neighbor.
It’s a one-room deal, maybe 400 square feet at best, with a few tabletops on whiskey barrels, some old framed photos on the wall, and a dark granite bar facing a pair of TVs and ceiling-high wooden shelves stocked with an amazingly rich selection of whiskeys, as well as a pretty serious selection of gins, tequilas and other spirits.
The decor, in a word, is wood — floors, walls, shelves, tables, barrels and so on. Heck, maybe they were right with the “whiskey saloon” designation. The interior is permeated with the sweet scent of fresh-cut wood.
The bar is satisfyingly simple: some light food, low-key background music and lots and lots of high-quality booze. If you’re a whiskey fan, you’ll be in heaven here, with a wide range of common and uncommon labels for sale, all available as a standard 1.5-ounce pour, as well as 1- and 2-ounce options, in case you want to dabble or truly invest.
Some of the most exciting stuff coming out of the whiskey scene today are Japanese whiskies and American boutique whiskeys, both of which are featured prominently in the lineup. I started with short pours of Ohishi and Ohishi Sherry Cask whiskies from Japan, both distilled from rice, rather than barley.
I then moved onto Blood Oath Pact No. 5, the fifth in a series of innovative one-off releases from Missouri-based blender John Rempe. This one features a blend of 13-, 11- and 8-year-old bourbons, the latter two a wheated variety and one aged in Caribbean rum casks, respectively.
This isn’t a shot-and-a-wash whiskey bar, but that’s not to say the cocktail list doesn’t warrant a serious perusal. There are serious standouts, including a smoked and chili-infused Bulleit Rye old fashioned, as well as a wonderfully floral and fruity blackberry-and-basil concoction made with Michter’s American Whiskey called Tommy Gunn.
Maybe you’re not a whiskey buff. Not to worry. The Violett’s Gift — with Van Gogh vodka, violet liqueur, OJ and soda, served in a coupe glass — seemed like a good bet, and it paid off. Heck of a cocktail.
It’s amazing this place isn’t perpetually slammed.
And, as I mentioned before, Palm Harbor probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when searching for a high-end cocktail spot. So, North Pinellas residents, consider this your heads-up.
Like most hidden gems, word will get out, so enjoy it now while it still feels like a secret. A secret that deserves to be spilled, in this case.
— Justin Grant is a tbt* correspondent. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @WordsWithJG.
Boar and Buffalo Craft Bar
2350 Curlew Road, Palm Harbor. (727) 786-4370. facebook.com/BnB.Whiskey.Saloon/
The vibe: A cozy, no-frills saloon with an extensive whiskey selection.
Food: Appetizers, salads and shared plates, $5–$14; desserts, $6–$12.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $3–$8; wine, $6.50; liquor, $9–$13, though the bar stocks several high-end whiskeys that are priced higher.
Specialty: Originally billed as Boar and Buffalo Whiskey Saloon, whiskey is without question the focal point of the bar program. There’s a huge selection, including many less-common options, from boutique American whiskeys to Japanese single malt and single grain whiskies. Don’t leave without trying at least one of the house cocktails, however — the seven options cover a solid range and are as excellent as the name change to Craft Bar implies.
Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight daily.