1. Bars & Breweries

Bar review: From drinks to dining, it's Clear Sky all the way

There are a couple of things to appreciate about the local Clear Sky restaurant chain. First, all of its locations open at 7 a.m. While that's an hour that I typically reserve for deep sleep, it's good to know that I could also use that time to get some drinking done. Second, the Clear Sky crew has given each location a unique identity, from the layout and decor to the food menu and drink lineup.

For example, the original Clear Sky Beachside Cafe, a sunny and brightly colored hot spot on Mandalay Avenue in Clearwater Beach, contrasts nicely with Clear Sky Draught Haus, a modern sports bar of sorts with an emphasis on its great beer selection, located on the edge of downtown Dunedin.

The newest addition is Clear Sky on Cleveland, a welcome addition to downtown Clearwater's sparse drinking and dining scene. Along with neighboring Tony's Pizzeria & Ristorante, Clear Sky is among the best — and only — choices for a good beer and wine list and quality specialty cocktails in the area.

The food is the first notable difference from Clear Sky on Cleveland's other locations, focusing on what the restaurant describes as "global bistro" fare: an intriguing range from Thai-inspired tacos and dressed-up naan breads to Mediterranean meze and steaming bowls of ramen.

I wasn't hungry enough to order the amazing-looking African vegetable curry, but I did sample the surprisingly excellent PB and J brussels sprouts, which — no joke — consist of deep-fried brussels sprouts topped with peanut sauce, raspberry jelly and chopped peanuts. Ah, the elusive and delicious Thai-American doughnut shop fusion. If it works, it works.

Outside, there's a nice chunk of cafe seating opposite downtown Clearwater's historic Capitol Theatre, providing some people-watching opportunities (to say nothing of the constant foot traffic on adjacent Fort Harrison Avenue). Inside, it's a classy mix of brick, wood and copper, with painted exposed ducts to match and light bulbs enclosed in metal cages. Simple, clean and cozy.

One of the restaurant's more popular features is its charming and somewhat hidden garden room, a spacious, enclosed patio in the rear that's designed to look like a Tuscan courtyard, complete with balcony facades and a blue-and-white tiled water fountain in the center. Large picture windows give the room an open-air feel.

For drinks, there's a balanced list of options. With an emphasis on dining, it's no surprise that there are many wines, primarily from California and Italy. There are 20 beers on tap and about the same number in bottles, many of which are local options, including lesser known breweries like de Bine, Escape, Sea Drift and House of Beer.

The house cocktails have a few fun twists mixed in. For example, the Smoky Maker's Mule uses a smoked copper mug and smoked simple syrup for a new take on the Kentucky mule. The excellent (and strong) Foggy Bay Mai Tai comes with a flamed orange twist, served in a heavy rocks glass with a single ice sphere. The classic Southern boozy sweet tea becomes the Cleveland Bourbon Peach Tea, made with Maker's, fresh lemon juice, house-brewed iced tea and peach-infused simple syrup.

This is as close to a something-for-everyone scenario that you're likely to find, with ample selections for just about any drinking preference. Throw in an excellent happy hour that features a great selection of half-off drinks and you've got a quality drinking establishment for a thirsty part of town.

Downtown Clearwater remains a mixed bag when it comes to the bar-and-restaurant biz, but places like Clear Sky on Cleveland lay a good foundation for what could eventually become a new hot spot. With impressive city incentives for new breweries and more than enough available space to work with, Clear Sky could see itself as the start of a reinvigoration of downtown Clearwater's drinking and dining scene. It's certainly a good place to start.

Contact Justin Grant at Follow @WordsWithJG.

Clear Sky on Cleveland

418 Cleveland St., Clearwater; (727) 754-7244;

The vibe: An upbeat downtown lounge and restaurant with a great drink selection and international fusion fare.

Food: Appetizers, sides, soups and salads, $2 to 14; entrees, $8 to $26; desserts, $6 to $7.

Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $3.50 to $9; wine, $6 to $19.50 by the glass and $26 to $109 by the bottle; liquor, $6 to $12. Happy hour is 2 to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, featuring half off select drafts, bottled beer, house wines by the glass and select cocktails.

Specialty: The drink menu is balanced, offering a strong range of draft and bottled beers, many wines across a wide range of regions and price points and some very nice house cocktails. In the last category, try the Smoky Maker's Mule, which features Maker's Mark, smoked simple syrup and ginger beer served over crushed ice in a copper mug filled with smoke from a freshly charred wooden block.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday.