Few things today are more insufferable than complaints about "millennials," especially when they come from fellow millennials in their 30s who fail to realize that they made the cut.
Back in the '80s and '90s, though, it was all about Generation X, and I'm not talking about the punk band fronted by a young Billy Idol, who belongs to the baby boomer generation. Gen Xers were yesterday's millennials — too wild, too lazy, too carefree. It's all very quaint in retrospect.
Apart from sheer karmic irony, Generation X also holds the distinction of being a part of an era only recently entering full-on nostalgia. I'm sure there are some folks out there who feel the same way about the early 2000s, but for many, it's all about the tackiest decades: retina-searing neon, family sitcoms, mall food courts and unchecked consumerism.
I was a kid for most of it, but I have plenty of fond memories of the past two decades of the millenium. A bar themed after them is an instant draw for me and plenty of others, as evidenced by the hype surrounding Tampa's Gen X Tavern, which has been in and out of local bar-scene chatter since it was first announced nearly a year ago.
Gen X Tavern is the brainchild of Tampa restaurateur Dave Burton, a Gen Xer who has a half-dozen restaurant credits to his name in the bay area. Those projects have given him a nice funding boost, allowing him to open what he refers to as a "passion project."
Admittedly, the idea of a heavily themed business paying homage to one's youth is inherently self-indulgent, but there are more than a few willing to join in on the fun. The place has been open for a couple of weeks now, and the crowds haven't dissipated yet.
If you're looking for subtlety, look elsewhere. Gen X Tavern is an absolute sensory overload of everything kids of the '80s and '90s could ask for. From a wall of CRT televisions connected to a Super NES, to display cases of knickknacks and memorabilia, to tap handles modeled after pop-culture icons like Mr. T and Care Bears and tacky upholstered-booth seating against a tremendously detailed mural of a row of school lockers plastered in stickers and period-specific references, Gen X Tavern brings back more than a few flashbacks.
The attention to detail is commendable. The music on the house stereo is a given, but there are more Easter eggs to count littered around the spacious bar area and cozy lounge in the back. There are old concert posters on a cork bulletin board, throwback local sports gear, retro versions of arcade classics and even those select-a-color pens that every American child seemed to own. You could stay for hours and not catch it all. If you're going to work with a theme like this, especially after a year of hype, you'd better go all out.
This is to say nothing of the drinks, but they are downright fun. There are two dozen or so house cocktails and shot on the menu, all cheekily named in keeping with the theme, and many containing additional references in the drinks themselves.
For example, the Bangin' Tang-a-'rita is a proper Milagro margarita, only with the addition of actual Tang, as well as a Tang rim, garnished with a lime wheel and little plastic monkey from a Barrel of Monkeys set. Give Me Those Pop Rockin' Beats — getting that 1997 Chemical Brothers reference in right under the wire — is a fruity Stoli concoction topped with Pop Rocks. The Bushwood Country Club is a frozen Redemption bourbon drink served in an iconic paper Solo cup, garnished with a cherry speared by a golf tee. Oh, and there's an "Adult Capri Sun" — C&D pending — that comes served in a big squeeze pack.
There are a dozen draft beer and ciders, and about the same in bottles and cans, along with a decent wine selection. If you're feeling lucky, you can roll the dice with "Dad's shitty little fridge," wherein you pay $1.99 in exchange for whatever low-end macro brew Gen X Tavern happens to have in stock that night. It might be Natural Light, it might be Miller High Life. Just like the old days.
There are a few clear areas of improvement at Gen X Tavern — it's unbelievably loud inside, for starters — but this is a case of hype paying off. The place is stocked with more artifacts of the recent past than a flea-market stall, and it's all put together in a way that is super fun for someone who has a soft spot for this stuff and doesn't take themselves too seriously. If this is Burton's idea of a passion project, all I can say is: Party on, Dave!
— Contact Justin Grant at email@example.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.
Gen X Tavern
103 E Jackson Street, Tampa. (813) 694-7001 genxtavern.com
The vibe: An '80s and '90s neon-nostalgia overload.
Food: Appetizers, sides, salads and tacos, $4-$10; entrées, $10-$15; desserts, $8-$10.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $2-$6; wine, $6-$13.50 by the glass and $49 by the bottle; liquor, $6-$9, with some pricier premium spirits. Happy hour is 3-7 p.m. daily, featuring $3 select domestic drafts; $4 craft drafts, wells and shots; and $6 select signature cocktails and glasses of wine.
Specialty: The cocktail list is a hoot, featuring Tang to Pop Rocks — even an "Adult Capri Sun." They're not all pure gimmicks, either. The Bushwood Country Club may come frozen in a paper Solo cup, garnished with a cherry speared by a golf tee, but it's also pretty clever: Redemption bourbon with citrus and tea slush and a Midori floater.
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.