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Tampa Bay loves an espresso martini. Why?

Local bartenders weigh in on what makes the drink one of the most popular cocktails in town.
An espresso martini is served at Luv Child in Tampa. The popular drink is experiencing a renaissance at bars and restaurants across the country.
An espresso martini is served at Luv Child in Tampa. The popular drink is experiencing a renaissance at bars and restaurants across the country. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published May 6

Tampa Bay drinkers love an espresso martini.

A simple combination of vodka, espresso and coffee liqueur, the drink is frequently ordered as an aperitif of sorts or at the end of a meal as a nightcap. It’s served in lieu of a cappuccino for a coffee break and on a raucous girls’ night out.

The cocktail has been experiencing a renaissance across the country. Bar professionals in cities like New York, Chicago, Toronto and Los Angeles have noted the drink’s surge in popularity over the past few years.

In Tampa Bay, the drink can be found, well, pretty much everywhere. We spoke with several local bar industry professionals to find out why Tampa Bay loves the espresso martini so much.

The iconic drink was reportedly invented by bartender Dick Bradsell at the London bar Fred’s Club in the 1980s. By Bradsell’s account, a young, now-famous model walked into the bar and asked Bradsell to make her something that would wake her up and get her drunk (the language she used was a bit stronger). The legendary drink was born.

Brenda Terry, a Tampa bar industry veteran currently working as a brand ambassador for Jack Daniel’s, recalls the drink first landing big in Tampa Bay around 2018.

“2018 is the year that I truly noticed it was a thing,” Terry said. “But I don’t think the espresso martini ever really went away. If anything, it’s gained even more momentum.”

It’s now close to impossible for cocktail bars of a certain caliber not to offer the drink.

Justin Gray, president of the Tampa Bay chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, said the drink has become so ubiquitous that it’s not even necessary for most bars to include the listing on their menu — people will expect it anyway.

“There are certain cocktails that even if they aren’t on the menu, people are still going to come in and ask for them,” Gray said. “The espresso martini is in that camp.”

The Night Cap, served at Tampa's On Swann, is a riff on the espresso martini, made with Diplomatico rum, Averna amaro espresso, Buffalo Trace bourbon and Demerara stout, finished with a cream foam and cinnamon.
The Night Cap, served at Tampa's On Swann, is a riff on the espresso martini, made with Diplomatico rum, Averna amaro espresso, Buffalo Trace bourbon and Demerara stout, finished with a cream foam and cinnamon. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

With such ubiquity also comes opportunities for bartenders to get creative with the drink, Terry said.

The traditional vodka, espresso and coffee liqueur combination has fluctuated to include different spirits — like bourbon or tequila — cold brew in place of espresso, cream, flavored syrups and even egg whites. Most, but not all, will still come with the signature garnish: three espresso beans floating on top.

At Intermezzo in St. Petersburg, the drink includes cold brew and chocolate bitters; at Olivia in Tampa, the cocktail features Godiva chocolate and Frangelico; and at Kojo in Sarasota, beverage director David Roth tosses in a whole egg along with a locally made espresso concentrate, homemade vanilla syrup and vanilla vodka.

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When and where people are drinking espresso martinis has changed, too. What was once an after-dinner cocktail is now being consumed at brunch, in the late afternoon and during dinner, Gray said.

“People are drinking it more during the day, for a coffee break, instead of a coffee,” Terry said. “It’s no longer an after-dinner cocktail — it’s an any-time-of-day cocktail.”

But why is it such an enduring hit? Opinions differ, but most agree the espresso martini has maintained a steady level of popularity because it’s a good drink that appeals to many different palates — sweet and creamy, but still strong; boozy, but with enough of a jolt to keep you from getting too sloshed.

Others point to Tampa Bay’s lively tourist culture, which fuses both all-day and nighttime activities, many of which involve alcohol. Roth, of Sarasota’s Kojo, suggested that the cocktail may have taken the place of other popular pick-me-up combinations, like vodka and Red Bull.

Whatever it is, it seems safe to say the drink is here to stay.

5 Tampa Bay espresso martinis to try

Ciro’s

Jameson Caskmates Stout, Borghetti espresso liqueur, vanilla and cream.

2109 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa. 813-251-0022. cirostampa.com.

Intermezzo

Banyan vodka, Borghetti espresso liqueur, cold brew and chocolate bitters.

1111 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-873-6664. intermezzo.co.

Kojo

Santa Teresa rum, coffee liqueur, espresso and egg.

1289 N Palm Ave., Sarasota. 941-536-9717. eatkojo.com.

Olivia

Stoli vodka, Godiva chocolate, Frangelico and espresso.

3601 W Swann Ave., Tampa. 813-328-8866. oliviatampa.com.

Parts of Paris

Vodka, Baileys, Kahlúa, espresso, milk foam and cinnamon.

146 Fourth Ave. N, Safety Harbor. 727-797-7979. partsofparis.com.

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