Politics is one of the quickest means to incite heated arguments between friends and strangers alike. The truth, however, is that a fair deal of common ground tends to exist, even between people with wildly varying political leanings.
This is a column about bars, nightlife and a healthy thirst for a touch of ethanol, so I generally see no reason to venture into topics as sensitive as military affairs and our nation's foreign policy. However, knowing that I'm a pacifist will probably help illustrate the trepidation with which I proposed a visit to, of all places, a military-themed bar.
The Bad Monkey Bar is a new face on the Ybor strip, having taken over spaces previously occupied by a cigar bar and a tattoo shop, respectively. The wide entrance is marked by yellow and black safety tape, giving the impression that you're walking into some sort of airplane hangar, rather than a bar.
Indeed, the interior décor takes more than a few cues from the military playbook, with oversized camo print on the back wall, a massive P-40 Warhawk fighter plane replica crashing through the wall, framed photos of military scenes throughout the bar and beer tap cylinders housed in artillery shell.
A slideshow on the center television in the line of flatscreens above the bar shows historical military images and modern soldiers firing heavy guns from ships and during what appear to be tactical exercises. Despite the chimpanzee face depicted in the bar's logo, even the name itself is of military origin — it's a Navy SEAL call sign.
The bar itself is attractive and tidy, with bottle options (including plentiful craft beers) lined up on display in the center and additional spirits organized by type in separate cubby holes — scotch, gin, tequila, rum, and so on. I took a seat at the bar and was greeted by the bartender, Kari, who surprised me right off the bat by correctly identifying Tampa Bay Brewing Company's new Phantom Dark Ale as an Altbier and proceeding to ask my girlfriend if she'd like her Franziskaner poured the "proper way," versus the "quick way," referring to the slightly more time-consuming but traditional German method of pouring wheat beers straight down the center of the glass, to produce a frothy head with less carbonation.
It turns out that Kari is an enthusiastic mixologist, slinging fresh, muddled cocktails every week during "Muddled Mondays." Throughout the night, we watched her select ingredients from a row of products ranging from fresh basil, apples, cucumbers, bananas, peppers, pumpkin butter, and even a jar of Biscoff spread to make seasonal cocktails and fresh twists on the classics. At one point, I observed her hollowing out a Vlasic pickle and filling it with Jameson. Intriguing, to say the least.
While enjoying Kari's handiwork, I noticed a few other interesting features. An upstairs lounge called the Talibar is home to a small pool table, a flatscreen TV, lounge chairs and a sofa, with a balcony view of the rest of the bar. Downstairs, on the wall opposite the bar, are a couple of full-sized, racetrack-style poker tables for use during Wednesday poker nights. Not tabletops, but actual poker tables. In one corner is a novelty breath tester.
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One unique feature is a lengthy island bar in the center, outfitted with tap handles for self-service beer pouring. Groups can request a keg in advance and then pour their own beers, paying by weight at the end of the night. I've only seen this at one or two other places, so it's a very cool option, especially for those with a Barney Gumble-esque desire to drink directly from the tap (disclaimer: I'm not suggesting you do this!).
I wasn't sure how a military-themed bar would sit with me, but the fact is that I found a lot to like at the Bad Monkey Bar. Next time I'm in Ybor City, I expect that I'll go out of my way for a drink there. It seems like a place where veterans and civilians alike can find common ground.