1. Food

Bar review: Drinks take star turn at Tampa's Oak & Ola

Courtesy of Geneva Johnson The Chloe Kay has Templeton Rye and a spice-baked apple reduction.
Published Jun. 12

By Justin Grant, tbt* correspondent

This year has been a big one for Tampa's drinking and dining scene, in no small part because of Armature Works, the wildly popular restaurant hall and event space that features everything from vegan Southern cuisine to rooftop tiki drinks.

After opening in February, the Oak & Ola restaurant has quickly become a central feature of Armature Works, occupying a sprawling corner space with floor-to-ceiling windows and a spacious patio overlooking part of the Tampa Riverwalk and the downtown skyline.

Billed as a "EuroAmerican restaurant" with seasonal food and drink, Oak & Ola is a partnership between award-winning chef Anne Kearney and the co-founders of the similarly swank On Swann: Chris Arreola and John and Trudy Cooper, as well as fellow restaurateur Andy Ganger.

RELATED: M.Bird rises with rooftop view.

It's a neat example of modern fine dining, nixing white tablecloths and chandeliers in favor of casual cafe tables, exposed ductwork and rustic wall lanterns. The weathered orange brickwork adds a nice contrast to the terrazzo and wood floors, which are dotted with funky blue sofas in a lounge area near the bar. The open kitchen and its blazing wood-fired ovens are a focal point at the rear of the restaurant, with a small, marble-topped horseshoe bar on the opposite side.

RELATED: Armature Works has a high BAR.

Here's where you'll kill some time before your reservation, or, like me, pop in simply to have a look at Oak & Ola's clever cocktail list, a 10-strong selection listed as starlets, with each cocktail featuring a name referring to a famous female chef.

Someone had fun putting Oak & Ola's menus together, featuring categories such as somethings (appetizers) and herbs | fruits | beans (tea, juice and coffee). The cocktail list is similarly coy, with titles and descriptions that are often little more than hints as to their compositions.

Take the Santini '13, presumably named after chef Nadia Santini, who was voted the world's best female chef in 2013. The menu tells us that it's made with Martell Blue Swift, Gozio, cacao and Julius Meinl espresso.

I had to ask to learn that Martell Blue Swift is a VSOP Cognac aged in bourbon casks, and Gozio is a type of amaretto liqueur.

How about the Yumi Chiba?

That one's made with "Roku, MIO Natural and Chartreuse Jaune," which is Oak & Ola's way of saying "Suntory Roku gin, MIO sparkling sake and yellow (jaune in French) Chartreuse. It's bright and citrusy, with a compelling herbal finish.

Looking beyond the well-varied cocktails, you'll find an extensive wine list, an eclectic and internationally sourced beer menu and a truly impressive selection of apertifs and cordials ranging from Italian and German bitter liqueurs to an extensive range of vermouth, which is no longer resigned to an accompanying role in martinis and manhattans.

A glass of Vya vermouth from California, on the rocks with a ribbon of citrus peel, is a drink that deserves a starring role.

As with its neighbors BAR and M.Bird, Oak & Ola presents a compelling case for cocktails at Armature Works. I'm happy that each has its own identity. Where BAR features an extensive whiskey list, M.Bird focuses largely on tiki-inspired drinks. Oak & Ola brings in some European flair, utilizing exotic liqueurs, fortified wines and unique spirits to craft an eclectic menu of cocktails that fit right in at this "EuroAmerican" restaurant.

It's well worth a visit.

— Contact Justin Grant at Follow @WordsWithJG.

Oak & Ola

1910 N Ola Ave., Tampa. (813) 773-1901.

The vibe: A bustling kitchen and lounge with an inventive cocktail list and rich aperitif selection.

Food: Small plates and salads, $6-$18; entrees, $12–$50.

Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $5-$14; wine, $8-$25 by the glass and $30-$190 by the bottle; liquor, $8-$17.

Specialty: Head directly to the list of "starlets" signature cocktails named after noteworthy female chefs. Highlights include the Braidwood 20, a layered riff on a classic Rob Roy featuring Compass Box Great King Street Artist's Blend scotch, Carpano Antica vermouth, Galliani and Aperol; and Yumi Chiba, a bright spritzer made with Suntory Roku gin, MIO sparkling sake and yellow Chartreuse.

Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.


  1. At The Tiki Cove, you don’t need too much imagination to place your mind and mood at an actual beach. JUSTIN GRANT  |  Justin Grant
    The Tiki Cove is a Florida-only novelty that anyone passing through will be sure to enjoy. | Bar review
  2. Try I Am The Walrus Berliner Weisse ib draft at Hidden Springs Ale Works, or look for it in cans at your local quality beer shop. JUSTIN GRANT  |  Justin Grant
    This is Florida, so some of our autumn brews fall outside the paradigm. | Local beer of the week
  3. Dunedin's Parlor House Bistro will feature an American-French menu that includes house-made pastries. Courtesy of Ryan Steffensmeier
    The new restaurant will serve American-French cuisine, offering a New Orleans vibe.
  4. Ginger molasses spice cookies LORRAINE FINA STEVENSKI  |  Special to the Times
    They’re loaded with fresh seasonal spices, plus pecans and raisins.
  5. Screenshot of Austin Davis from a Vice News documentary on Youtube. Vice News/Youtube
    The 20-year-old Keystone Heights resident has selective eating disorder believed to stem from childhood trauma.
  6. The John's Pass Seafood & Music Festival will return to Madeira Beach for its 38th installment this weekend. But the Friday event, Flavors of the Gulf, is a big draw for gastronauts. SCOTT KEELER  |  Times (2016)
    Flavors of the Gulf and two stone crab fests embrace Florida seafood, plus a mac 'n' cheese fest, Top Local Chef and a gardening class.
  7. Rocca partner and chef Bryce Bonsack stretches fresh egg yolk pasta that will later become tagliolini at his new Tampa Heights restaurant. LUIS SANTANA   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Rocca’s chef will pay homage to the people he spent months learning from in Monforte d’Alba.
  8. A kamayan feast held in Tampa. Courtesy of Baybes Who Brunch
    A change in cocktails, more global ingredients, and here’s what else.
  9. A rendering of one retail corner at Sparkman Wharf, which is building up its dining offerings in Tampa. Courtesy of Strategic Property Partners
    The new arrival will pair small plates with more than 150 bottles of wine.
  10. Taco Bell Tuesday announced it had recalled 2.3 million pounds of its seasoned beef filling.
    The fast food chain announced Tuesday it voluntarily recalled 2.3 million pounds of beef after customers reported fining metal shavings in their food.