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Bar review: SIP your way on the Riverwalk

Photo courtesy of Geneva Johnson Take a stroll on the Tampa Riverwalk and experience SIP, a compact cocktail bar inside a 1966 Airstream.
Published Jul. 4

If you've read this column lately, you may have gotten the impression that I've taken up permanent residence on the Tampa Riverwalk. Admittedly, it's tempting.

Of the major developments across the bay area, the Riverwalk is perhaps the clearest success story. It's far less controversial and obtrusive than some of the development in downtown St. Petersburg, for example, and it's come together remarkably quickly, almost instantly becoming a staple of downtown Tampa.

Related: 10 places to eat near the Straz Center.

Mainstays like the Tampa Museum of Art and the Straz Center have always been a presence along the Hillsborough River, but now they're part of a walkable and bikeable route peppered with bars, restaurants and entertainment.

The Straz has done more than benefit from the increased focus on the Riverwalk; it's actively contributed to it. Maestro's On the River at Straz already had a great view of the river, offering waterside dining during Broadway and opera shows. In January, Straz debuted SIP, a compact cocktail bar located in front of Maestro's and directly on the Riverwalk.

The idea is to keep a presence on the walk even outside of show hours, extending the Riverwalk's bar crawl route footprint in the process. It's built into a converted 1966 Airstream Safari travel trailer. It's both cool and ironic — an iconic road trip vehicle as a permanent, stationary fixture.

The multicolored, 1990s-esque SIP sign above the trailer looks like it could have been taken off the wall at the nearby Gen X Tavern, offering an anachronistic counterpoint to the electric scooters barrelling down the walkway.

Throw in a '60s-era Airstream, several piña coladas, and you might feel like you've done some very mild time traveling.

This is a walk-up only affair, though there are umbrella-shaded café tables on the other side of the brick walkway, allowing guests to have a drink mid-stroll, or even just to post up for the day and enjoy some frozen daiquiris in the sunshine.

The scenery is on point, too. Downtown Tampa's quirky landmarks are on full display, from the old railroad bridge crossing the river, to the minarets of the University of Tampa. Up the hill is the Straz, and in the background, a regular stream of water taxis and yachts drifting down the river.

SIP is one of a handful of Riverwalk businesses stocked with official Riverwalk cups, which allow guests to take their drinks with them for a stroll, so long as they stay on the path. In my case, I parked outside of the Straz, hung out at SIP for a bit, then went for a walk down to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

This is one of the big reasons that the Riverwalk is so successful: it encourages visiting multiple destinations on foot. You could start at SIP, snag a pint at Four Green Fields, have a cocktail at Remedy, enjoy a fresh lager on the patio at Ulele and have dinner at Armature Works. That's a productive day.

While SIP is the most low-key of the Riverwalk establishments, it's surprisingly well-stocked.

There's a full liquor bar to accompany four Florida-brewed draft beers, just under 10 bottled and canned beers, a few wines and splits of Korbel Brut, which you'll need for a particularly lazy Sunday.

In this weather, you might as well jump straight to the frozen drink menu: four tropical cocktails that are absolutely perfect for a warm weather walk. The options: strawberry daiquiri, margarita, piña colada and island punch, which is a Bacardi-based blend of mango and peach daiquiris.

The prices are definitely Straz Center, even outside of showtimes. Draft beer is relatively cheap at $6 a pop, but everything else is in the $8 to $15 range, so consider it a surcharge for the pleasant surroundings and ability to walk around with your drink without having to appear in court later.

A few years ago, I would have never envisioned a bar crawl down the Tampa Riverwalk, but it's now a reality. SIP's a great starting or finishing point for such a venture, but it's also a heck of an option for guests coming to or leaving shows at the Straz. An Airstream serving cocktails on the Riverwalk is a novel proposition, and it's one that's going places (just not literally).

— Contact Justin Grant at jg@saintbeat.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.

If you go: SIP

On the Riverwalk at Straz Center, 1010 N Macinnes Place, Tampa. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org/dining-catering/SIP

The vibe: A cocktail stand built into a vintage Airstream trailer on the Tampa Riverwalk.

Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $6-$9; wine, $8-$10; liquor, $10-$15.

Specialty: It's hard to resist a frozen drink for a summer stroll down the Riverwalk. Try a piña colada or island punch (a blend of mango and peach daiquiris) in a Riverwalk cup — you can take it with you along the route after you leave SIP.

Hours (weather permitting): 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 4 p.m. to midnight Friday; 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.

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