If you look hard enough, you’ll find lots of interesting bars out there. They may be hiding in the woods on the outskirts of Tarpon Springs, or an ordinary looking liquor lounge near St. Pete Beach. Hotel bars sometimes surprise, and you may even come across a Chinese restaurant that secretly keeps a decked-out cocktail list. The point is: You’ve gotta look.
This is the reason I found myself driving through a mobile home park to find a tiki bar that I heard serves a range of quality beer. The place: Harbor Master Tiki Grille in St. Petersburg, a dockside bar and grill located adjacent to Bay Pines Marina. The name “Harbor Master” comes from a Bahamian legend of a massive hammerhead shark.
Accessible by land or boat, Harbor Master is a fairly ordinary dockside tiki bar, in that it takes place under a thatched roof and sports a nautical theme. But this bar is a real upgrade over what you might expect — even after considering that it doesn’t stock liquor (no mai tais or piña coladas).
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One of the perks of being at a marina is isolation. Harbor Master has effectively no foot traffic, and there are no neighboring businesses, so it has an element of seclusion that works well. It’s not the right vibe for everyone, but a little peace and quiet with the accompaniment of good food and drink, sports on the TV and a cool breeze is not a bad way to spend some time.
The setup is simple but full-featured — a series of café tables, a bar in the back and water along one side, all covered by a thatched tiki roof adorned with nautical decorations, including a big ol’ hammerhead shark above the bar.
Now, this is a beer and wine bar, which in this particular context would ordinarily mean a few macro lagers, some house wines and maybe a wine-based cocktail or two. Harbor Master has aimed higher, stocking more than 20 beers on draft and more by the can and bottle, including some interesting alternatives, from hard seltzer and premade tropical cocktails to Pura Still, an alcoholic, non-carbonated water. Say what? Believe it or not, the stuff is very drinkable.
The drinks, across the board, are cheap. No one can complain about $2 tallboys of Narragansett Lager, especially considering that beer’s association with Jaws, a fitting tie-in at a bar named after a shark. However, the local and domestic craft-beer selection is solid, featuring brews from Silverking, Cigar City, Pair O’ Dice, Big Storm, Big Top, Green Bench, Tampa Bay Brewing Company, 3 Daughters and more.
If you need further confirmation that this is a real beer bar, look no further than Harbor Master Mandarina, a beer brewed exclusively for Harbor Master by Seminole’s Rapp Brewing, and available only at this bar.
Throw in live music every Friday and Saturday, and you get an idea of how Harbor Master outperforms its role. It has all the stuff that makes that format work, with a few perks that should put it on the radar of folks looking for a little something extra.
— Contact Justin Grant at [email protected]
Harbor Master Tiki Grille
4999 Harbor Lights Drive, St. Petersburg. (727) 256-3383; theharbormaster.com
The vibe: A boat-friendly dockside bar and grille with a solid beer lineup.
Food: Sides, appetizers, sandwiches and entrées, $2.50-$15.95
Booze: Beer, $2-$5.50; wine, $3.50-$5.
Specialty: Harbor Master keeps over 20 beers on tap, including many locals. And exclusively made for the low-key tiki bar on a marina: the Harbor Master Mandarina, a pale ale brewed with mandarina bavaria hops by Seminole’s Rapp Brewing.
Hours: noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; noon to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday; noon to 8 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.