Who doesn't like a good underdog story?
This one is taking place in Brandon, where even bars and restaurants struggle against the chain giants that are the area's status quo. The Mill, for example, didn't make it long — though its owners consider its new Tampa digs to be a relocation rather than a closure — and The Forge has entered the fray in its stead.
The Forge is a traditional Irish pub, even if it doesn't look like one. Nearly all of the interior décor remains from the previous tenants, which makes sense considering how detailed and unique are the cogs and gears that make up an intense wall sculpture and surrounding industrial façades. The effect is part steampunk, part Irish.
Owners Patrick and Mariely Crowne bring some authenticity to the table via Patrick's background. He hails from Ireland and got some help on the menu from his mother, who flew in to assist with the recipes. The music is a mix of traditional and contemporary Irish tunes, and a stage has been built near the bar for regular live music from musicians like Brendan Nolan, a St. Pete Beach singer originally from Dublin.
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This is one of the rare cases where it's smart for a new business to avoid creating a new image. Instead, the Crownes have leveraged an existing unique look with a name to match, and it gives a striking new feel to the otherwise typical pub format.
I think The Forge should keep a house cocktail list. I know you won't find such a thing at most traditional Irish pubs, but considering the unusual décor that the business has inherited, something a little off-script wouldn't be unwelcome. As it stands now, you're likely to gravitate toward a modest lineup of Irish whiskeys, or maybe a cocktail made with Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish gin, flavored with gunpowder green tea.
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The beer list is a nice mix of local, popular domestics and imports and a few Irish classics, like Guinness and Kilkenny (both poured on nitro), or Harp and Smithwick's. The prices are fair, and the seven-hour weekday happy hour makes it easy to pop in for a cheap drink.
All of the ingredients are there — traditional Irish fare, live music, good beer and spirits — along with the added benefit of looking and feeling distinctly different. If The Forge can overdeliver in a few other categories — service and selection, for example — then it'll prove to be an asset to the local drinking and dining scene. It'll be a challenge, but I'm an optimist.
I won't claim to have an intimate understanding of the bar landscape in Brandon, but I do know that it's not an easy fight. I think this steampunk Irish pub pouring frothy pints and robust whiskeys in chain-dominated Brandon has a fighting chance.
The Forge Irish Pub
109 W Bloomingdale Ave., Brandon. (813) 548-7090; theforgeirishpub.com
The vibe: An Irish pub filled with ornate, industrial décor inherited from the previous tenant.
Food: Sides, appetizers, sous and salads, $2.95-$10.99; entrées, $10.99-$13.99; dessert, $6.99.
Booze: Beer, $4.25-$6; wine, $6; liquor, $5-$12. Happy hour is from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, featuring $3 select domestic drafts and $3.50 select domestic bottles, $3.75 wells and $5 house wines.
Specialty: Recommending Irish beer and spirits at an Irish pub is a given, and there are several good options available. Expect lots of Saint James beers on draft, from nitrogenated pints of Guinness and Kilkenny to Harp lager and Smithwick's Irish red ale. There are several Jameson varieties on the shelf, as well as the ever-popular Tullamore Dew, but for a different take, try a G&T made with Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish gin, a spirit flavored with gunpowder green tea and "exotic Oriental botanicals."
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.