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  1. Food

Bar review: At Tampa's Whiskey Cake, whiskey choices and vibe rule

By Justin Grant, tbt* correspondent

If I fancied myself as being known for anything, it would probably be for my passion for beer. I've been writing about beer and breweries for enough years that I find it startling, and that only represents the "legitimate" portion of that particular obsession.

I'm also a heck of a whiskey — and especially whiskey — fan. My palate isn't especially refined, but I know what I like, and there's a lot of it. Although heavily peated scotch will always be my go-to, I've been on a bourbon and American whiskey kick lately, so it was nice timing for the arrival of Whiskey Cake at International Plaza.

Tampa's Whiskey Cake location is the seventh in the chain, with another in Oklahoma and the balance in Texas, where the chain originated. I'm as skeptical of chain bars and restaurants as anyone, but I heard that Whiskey Cake does it right. Throw 300 or so whiskeys on the menu and you can't go too wrong.

This "whiskey library" is what got me in the door, but after eating a perfectly prepared Beyond Burger and sampling a bit of the whiskey and cocktail list, I'll admit that I'm sold.

The place has a great look. There's an indoor/outdoor component along the Bay Street walkway, offering comfy sofas and lounge setups perfect for daytime sipping. Beyond that is the Old Fashioned Bar, a spot more intimate than the main interior bar, featuring a row of small barrels of whiskey hand-selected for the location.

Inside, the space features high ceilings and a mix of unusual dining areas, from community-style tables to cozy nooks. Industrial light fixtures, brick walls and old barrels set the scene.

The focal point is undoubtedly the long wood-and-terrazzo bar in the back. A cutaway behind the row of beer taps provides a panoramic view into the bustling kitchen, while shelves of whiskey and other spirits tower overhead. Bartenders climb up and down a ladder each time someone orders from the massive selection of bourbon, rye, scotch and other whiskeys.

I started with a Texas whiskey, which seems appropriate given that the chain hails from the Lone Star State. These selections are on a menu with Florida whiskeys, which is a nice touch. If I were keeping it local, I'd go with the fantastic Mr. Rye from St. Petersburg's Kozuba & Sons, but I couldn't resist the promise of Brimstone, a smoked-corn whiskey from Waco. It came in a Glencairn glass: a good sign for the overall whiskey experience.

My wife ordered the Disorderly Conduct cocktail, a mix of Courvoisier VS Cognac with Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve 10-year bourbon, finished with Dolin Blanc vermouth, toasted white-pepper syrup and Angostura bitters. It came with a huge ice cube that was filled with honeysuckle flowers.

Next up: Paul John Edited, an Indian semi-peated single malt that was quite enjoyable. I'd never had the brand before, but there's the value of a voluminous whiskey menu for you. Then on to the Black Manhattan, an intriguing riff on my favorite classic cocktail. This one is Rittenhouse Rye-based, tweaked with coffee-infused Averna amaro and Bittermen's Xocolatl mole bitters. It's very good.

Given the busy, high-traffic environment and restaurant setting, I suspect the bar staff is hired for personality over whiskey expertise. If you're a whiskey nerd and don't necessarily need recommendations or detailed background information, then you'll be fine with the otherwise top-notch service.

Quite a few whiskeys were out of stock. I get it when it comes to stuff like Pappy Van Winkle and other hype-heavy spirits (all of which are now redacted from the printed menu), but I'd recommend just ordering more of, say, Compass Box Spice Tree and Peat Monster instead of hitting the menu with a Sharpie. Chalk it up to growing pains. Fortunately, there are more than a few backups on hand.

The prices are almost suspiciously fair, more amazing considering that the whiskeys come standard as a 2-ounce pour. I can't speak to the cake aspect, but when it comes to whiskey, this place is on point.

— Follow @WordsWithJG.

Whiskey Cake

2223 N Westshore Boulevard B207, Tampa. (813) 535-9955

The vibe: A spacious whiskey bar and restaurant with a truly tremendous selection.

Food: Sides, soups, salads, snacks and shared plates, $3-$17; entrées, $13-$38; desserts, $8.50-$9.

Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $5-$8; wine, $8-$17 by the glass and $30-$66 by the bottle; liquor, $7-$12.50, although the bar stocks many high-end whiskies that are priced higher.

Specialty: Cut straight to the voluminous whiskey list, featuring over 300 varieties (though heavily hyped whiskeys like Pappy Van Winkle, may not be in stock) of whiskeys from around the world. You can get single-malt scotch and fine bourbon anywhere, but how about unique whiskeys from Texas (where Whiskey Cake originated), or from France or India?

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday; 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.