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  1. Arts & Entertainment

Seminole Heights' new Mermaid Tavern a repository of retro cool

Published Jan. 19, 2012

Although the designations "bar," "pub," and "tavern" are mostly synonymous, the latter two tend to imply a social element that is not necessarily found at just any bar. When I see "tavern" in a name, I envision a meeting place where friends get together.

Perhaps that was the concept behind the Mermaid Tavern, a new Seminole Heights beer and wine bar that shares a name with a famous Elizabethan-era tavern purportedly frequented by Sir Walter Raleigh and William Shakespeare in early 17th century London. The Mermaid was a regular meeting place where regular intellectual debates and conversations took place, with many alcoholic beverages consumed in the process.

Or maybe the idea was to give a nod to the Florida of the '50s and '60s, when nautical-themed bars were all the rage. Certainly the juxtaposition of that era's tiki bars and nautical imagery is a combination of themes that goes largely unexplored nowadays.

I would be willing to bet that neither of these references went unnoticed by the owners of Tampa's Mermaid Tavern, a small, vaguely nautically themed bar that seems set up as a destination for interaction, rather than drinking.

I say this because that's the way it's laid out. There's a bar in the corner, decorated with abalone, shells and the skeletons of starfish set beneath its lacquered surface. The rest of the space is wide open, with round tables and barrel chairs, an outdoor patio with benches and café tables, and a peculiar, pitch-black room with bench seating. This is the kind of place that lends itself to group activity.

The interior is also pleasantly laid back most of the time, in part because smoking is only allowed outside on the patio. This disperses the crowd a bit, lessening congestion inside the bar — in more ways than one.

Between the dark, polished wood and thick rope accents (!), the bar seems like it's situated inside the hull of a ship, rather than off of a stretch of Nebraska Avenue. It has a retro feel, illustrated by the throwback lettering in the bar's logo. Although it may appear to have been built 40 years ago, the Mermaid Tavern has been around for only a few months.

But in Seminole Heights, word travels fast, and the Mermaid is practically an institution by now, a welcome addition to the area's repertoire of quality drinking and dining establishments, such as the Independent, Ella's and the Refinery. The Mermaid Tavern boasts a wide selection of world-class beers, many of which are brewed locally. In all, there are some 20 beers on tap and another 30 or so in the bottle at any given time.

Wines also are in the spotlight, with a selection ranging into port and dessert wines, Champagnes and even sake. The selection for both wine and beer changes on a regular basis.

Aside from good conversation, entertainment at the Mermaid comes in the form of gritty '60s and '70s films projected on a screen in the back, classic board games, and DJs and live musicians performing several nights a week, including a "bring-your-own-vinyl" night on Wednesdays.

From the kitsch of yesteryear to the high-end beer selections of today, the Mermaid Tavern provides a unique and fun place to meet friends for a few beers or wines. Where the conversation goes from there is up to you.

— jg@saintbeat.com

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