A sports bar is an interesting choice for a hotel bar, but for a place the size of the Tampa Marriott Water Street that welcomes paying guests and locals alike, it's a good fit. It doesn't hurt that the hotel is a short walk from Amalie Arena, making it convenient for traveling sports fans staying at the Marriott.
I visited the sports bar at the Marriott years ago, then known as Champions. It was a proper sports bar, filled with jerseys and various memorabilia. All things considered, it was a good spot to watch a game or to grab a drink after a visit to the arena.
In retrospect, it did seem somewhat old school, so I wasn't shocked to learn that a new bar and restaurant was slated to replace it. The space has been reimagined as Garrison Tavern, the latest in restaurateur Richard Sandoval's portfolio, which spans more than 50 destinations in eight countries.
The idea is to create an excellent sports-bar experience without relying primarily on that theme. Or as the business describes itself: a "social house that happens to show sports."
Of the many descriptors used in place of "bar," I think "tavern" is the right choice.
The look inside Garrison is a tasteful take on the now-standard modern industrial look. There are some touches that call back to the Champions days, such as vintage punching bags hanging in several corners of the restaurant.
Booth and table seating span three rooms, not including a small outdoor patio. There is a dining area near the bar, a lounge with a TV grid serving as a massive single screen and another lounge in the back with a smaller TV grid, table shuffleboard and two TopGolf Swing Suites — the first in Florida.
The suites are two golf-simulator bays rented by the hour, allowing groups of up to eight people to play on digital versions of a few dozen actual PGA courses with real clubs and balls. For the non-golfers, there are also other sports to play, ranging from baseball and hockey to, um, Zombie Dodgeball.
I came hungry and was disappointed to find few vegan options on the menu. Sure, it's a sports bar, but it's also 2019, so I considered this a missed opportunity.
Expecting to cobble together a dinner of appetizers and side dishes, I was pleasantly surprised when my server mentioned a separate vegan menu. I mention this because fellow herbivores might not think to ask, and that would lead to missing out on the otherwise-unlisted sweet potato brownies and ice cream.
Fortunately, there's no need to request a special menu for the drinks, as it's all spelled out on the back of the main one.
There's a tidy lineup of beers on the bar's 24 taps, but it would be a mistake to not try the house kölsch, an excellent version of the classic German ale brewed by nearby Coppertail Brewing Co. This is an excellent choice for Garrison Tavern — it's the kind of light and crisp brew you'd have a few of while watching a game, but it's also lively enough to stand up to a full dinner.
There are six signature cocktails on the list, all riffs on cocktail-bar staples, most with a seasonal theme. For the TopGolfers, there's the Garrison Daly, a Tito's-fueled take on the John Daly, featuring orange-blossom tea for a summertime Florida vibe.
There's a lemon shandy, a hibiscus margarita and a spicy margarita made with a tequila-mezcal combo and papaya purée.
I was especially hoping to try the House-Made Verde Bloody sans its shrimp, salami, bacon and cheese accoutrements, but the bar was out of verde mix.
That's a shame, because this house-made base involving tomatillo, garlic, spinach, cucumber and lime juice sounds like an awesome vehicle for locally distilled Banyan Reserve vodka.
For me, there's always next time, and there will be a next time. A house kölsch, vegan menu and WWE Raw — who says I'm not a sports fan? — hitting Amalie this month all but guarantees it.
Considering the surrounding barscape, which features several flavors of sports bar, Garrison Tavern has done well in creating something a little different from the rest. There's no mistaking its underlying theme, but there are layers to it and some pretty cool amenities to boot, making it a solid dinner and drink spot for big fans and the sports-averse alike.
700 S Florida Ave., Tampa. (813) 204-6352. facebook.com/garrisontaverntampa
The vibe: A spacious, modern sports bar/gastropub hybrid.
Food: Snacks, sides and appetizers, $5-$15; entrées, $12-$26; desserts, $5.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $6.50-$10.50; wine, $9-$14.50; liquor, $7-$16.
Specialty: Start with the Garrison Tavern Kölsch, a thirst-quenching golden ale brewed by Tampa's Coppertail Brewing Co. While you're sipping that, take a look at the six house cocktails: seasonally themed riffs on various classics, like the Hibiscus Seasonal Margarita and the Garrison Daly (a John Daly made with orange blossom tea). The Spicy Papaya Margarita is especially tasty, featuring both Lunazul reposado tequila and Ilegal mezcal, papaya purée, fresh lime juice and Chile de árbol simple syrup.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.