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5 new Tampa Bay bars where the food steals the show

Put these spots on your weekend list. | Top Restaurants 2022
Cold soba noodles are served at In Between Days, a new sake bar and Tokyo-style listening room in St. Petersburg.
Cold soba noodles are served at In Between Days, a new sake bar and Tokyo-style listening room in St. Petersburg. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jan. 5|Updated Jan. 11

The Tampa Bay bar scene hasn’t seen the exponential growth experienced in the restaurant world, but there have been notable newcomers. The five spots listed below opened in 2020 or 2021. The selected spots all highlight a unique hybrid approach where the food, and not just the drinks, is featured prominently. From airy rooftop lounges to swanky and intimate cocktail bars, put these spots on your weekend list.

This story is part of our 2022 Top Restaurants series. Read the other stories:

6 newly revamped Tampa Bay restaurants you’ll want to check out

5 Tampa Bay restaurants with great outdoor seating

The 10 best dishes our food critic ate in Tampa Bay in 2021

Cru Cellars Westshore

The Cru Cellars Westshore Marina location in Tampa features plenty of outside seating.
The Cru Cellars Westshore Marina location in Tampa features plenty of outside seating. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

This wine bar-restaurant hybrid is designed with oenophiles in mind. An offshoot of sister concept Cru Cellars in Tampa’s Palma Ceia, the glitzy newcomer is also the flagship food and beverage concept at Tampa’s Westshore Marina District, and the proximity to the water is referenced both in the spot’s beautiful bright blue tile backdrop as well as in the food menu, which features an emphasis on fish and seafood. Beyond that, executive chef Jasmine Funk’s menu features a wide selection of contemporary New American cuisine and plenty of snackable shared plates — from flash-fried padron peppers with lemon aioli to cheese curds served with roasted jalapeno ranch. And Cru’s reliable cheese and charcuterie farmer’s platters never disappoint.

If something from the 2,000-bottle exposed wine cellar doesn’t catch your eye during a meal, the wine shop annex offers another great excuse to grab a bottle of something special on your way out the door.

Outside patio seating and takeout available.

5232 Bridge St., Tampa. 813-515-5817. crucellars.com.

In Between Days

A snapper crudo is served at In Between Days, a new sake bar and listening room in St. Petersburg.
A snapper crudo is served at In Between Days, a new sake bar and listening room in St. Petersburg. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Part Tokyo-style listening room, part sake bar and restaurant, the ‘burg’s newest hotspot provides a spot for intimate evenings to the tune of a rotating eclectic music selection.

Warm wood and dim lighting set a sultry mood while a collection of mostly vinyl provides the soundtrack to the evening. A healthy sake collection forms the backbone of the drinks program, and half the fun is sampling from the many different bottles.

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Exploring chef Amber Blawn’s small but superb menu of Japanese and Asian-inspired small plates is the other draw. From the haricots verts and snap pea medley tossed in a garlic and cashew vinaigrette to a snapper crudo with whipped avocado and a truly excellent bowl of soba noodles, there is a lot to love here.

The Grand Central District location inside an unmarked little blue house might be confusing at first, but if the crate of sake bottles is on the front porch, you know you’re in the right place.

2340 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. inbetweendays.co.

The Nest

The Nest, a swanky cocktail lounge from the team at Caracara in Dunedin, features an intimate setting and a French colonial-inspired menu.
The Nest, a swanky cocktail lounge from the team at Caracara in Dunedin, features an intimate setting and a French colonial-inspired menu. [ Courtesy of Traci Bryant Ferguson ]

The swanky lounge from the team behind neighboring restaurant Caracara features an intimate setting and a French colonial-inspired menu in the heart of downtown Dunedin. Get lost in the luxury of it all while cozying up in one of the plush armchairs and sipping on the Hanky Panky, a blend of Sorgin gin, sweet vermouth and Fernet Branca. Or try the Land of Milk and Honey, made with a special Papa’s Pilar Marquesas blend rum, honey and cream, and topped with cinnamon dust.

Chef and owner Traci Bryant Ferguson’s menu of globe-trotting small plates changes frequently, and includes shareable snacks like steak tartare with shiso leaves, black garlic-mustard vinaigrette topped with quail eggs and seared cobia nicoise salad with haricots verts, fingerling potatoes and olives.

For dessert, there’s vanilla sugar-dusted beignets and French macarons filled with raspberry preserves.

30 Broadway, Dunedin. caracaratapas.com.

Sal y Mar

The rooftop lounge Sal y Mar overlooks the pool at the Aloft hotel at Midtown Tampa and features an outdoor setting with Latin-inspired cocktails and snacks.
The rooftop lounge Sal y Mar overlooks the pool at the Aloft hotel at Midtown Tampa and features an outdoor setting with Latin-inspired cocktails and snacks. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Catch a breeze, some delightful cocktails and a selection of Latin-inspired snacks at this rooftop lounge at Midtown Tampa’s dual-branded Aloft and Element hotel. The lounge and restaurant inspired by Mexican beach hot spot Tulum features 360-degree views and a menu that dabbles in Latin and Caribbean-inspired small plates. The eclectic menu (designed for sharing) runs the gamut from shrimp corn fritters with guacamole and pineapple jackfruit tacos to scallops with charred broccolini and tostones served with a chipotle crema. The spot’s signature cocktails fall in line with the Riviera Maya theme, including the Sal y Mar margarita served with a Tajin-spiced rim, and the Mayan Mojito made with Zacapa 23 rum, Chandon sparkling wine, mango and mint.

Outdoor seating available.

3650 Midtown Drive, Tampa. 813-692-3330. salymarrooftop.com.

Santo’s Drinkeria

Casa Santo Stefano's rooftop bar Santo's Drinkeria features Sicilian wines, cocktails, snacks and an outdoor patio overlooking Ybor City.
Casa Santo Stefano's rooftop bar Santo's Drinkeria features Sicilian wines, cocktails, snacks and an outdoor patio overlooking Ybor City. [ HELEN FREUND | Tampa Bay Times ]

This airy rooftop bar and lounge on top of Richard Gonzmart’s Sicilian restaurant Casa Santo Stefano is a great place to pop in for a drink before or after a meal downstairs. But it’s just as lovely to spend an evening on the spacious outdoor patio, which features views of Ybor City.

The vibe here is loud and colorful, from the antique barber chair that greets guests when they enter to the encased cigar selection and bright stained glass bar backdrop (which features glass taken from a chapel at Jesuit High School).

Though billed as more of a bar, there’s plenty on the food menu to make a meal of it, including porchetta “paninos,” meatballs braised in tomato sauce and large antipasti plates toppling with assorted Italian meats and cheeses, Sicilian olives and marinated vegetables.

Just like downstairs, the wine list here is exclusively Sicilian, and though the cocktail menu is distinct, many of the bartenders can whip up the restaurant’s specialty cocktails, including the excellent Casa Negroni, made with Sicilian gin, campari and Punt e Mes, an Italian vermouth.

Outdoor dining available.

1607 N 22nd St., Tampa. 813-248-1925. casasantostefano.com.

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