Bar review: Gigglewaters is a modern speakeasy in Safety Harbor

LUIS SANTANA   |   Times Barfly photo for Gigglewaters Social Club & Screening Room in Safety Harbor. [Saturday June 9, 2018] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
LUIS SANTANA | Times Barfly photo for Gigglewaters Social Club & Screening Room in Safety Harbor. [Saturday June 9, 2018] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
Published June 12, 2018

Every time I think the speakeasy theme is dead, I run into a place that breathes new life into it. This time, it's Gigglewaters Social Club & Screening Room, a new addition to downtown Safety Harbor.

The term Gigglewaters was Prohibition-era slang for cocktails. But that period is only the starting point for a bar and restaurant that brings something remarkably fresh to the concept.

Like a true speakeasy, Gigglewaters doesn't look like anything from the exterior: It's just small blue canopy over double doors. Inside is a single room with low tables that cozy up to a wooden L-shaped bar built in the late 19th century. A plush booth anchors one of the entrance corners.

The look and feel is that of a time capsule retrofitted with modern flair. Ornate red and gold wallpaper, tin ceiling tiles and mini-chandeliers give the interior a speakeasy swank, while hanging Edison bulbs and lounge versions of pop songs playing over the speakers plant it firmly in the 21st century.

Instead of more period décor, the Gigglewaters folks opted for framed photos of film and music icons — Jack Nicholson, Prince, Barbra Streisand, Bruce Lee, Lucille Ball, Janet Leigh, among others — reimagined with full body tattoos. Why? I have no idea, but a photo of a tatted Leonard Nimoy as Spock is something I didn't know I needed until I saw it.

The art is perfect for the overall aesthetic. It's a fun riff on an otherwise vintage look. Imagine ordering a cocktail — one you could find at the type of bar that takes itself too seriously — while saying Giggle Dippers with a straight face.

It's also a segue into the other side of Gigglewaters: a 32-seat screening room that will feature full bar and kitchen service when it begins screening classic and cult films starting in July. First up: The Goonies.

That Gigglewaters is significantly smaller than your average neighborhood bar makes the whole space doubly impressive. The owners have done a lot with very little.

Even more impressive is the service. The newness — it opened in late May — surely plays a part, but I haven't experienced such enthusiastic and attentive service in recent memory. You'd think the owners must have an extensive hospitality background to create this workplace culture, but they're actually from the television industry. Some people just get it.

All would be for naught if the drink program couldn't pull its weight, but — surprise — that's not an issue. True to its speakeasy roots, Gigglewaters presents a list of smartly crafted cocktails that make their base spirits go down much too easily.

The spirits are of a much higher caliber than the bathtub gin that Prohibition-era cocktails originally were designed to mask, of course, but the approach is effective nonetheless. Drinks like the Wooden Kimono (bourbon, yuzu purée, fresh sours and club soda) are simple but subtly exotic, while drinking enough like a soft drink to get you in trouble if you're not careful.

The drinks are downright fun, too. There are punchbowl drinks, coffee cocktails, a root-beer flavored boilermaker and a selection of five varieties of wood planks to choose from when ordering a currently off-menu smoked cocktail like an Old Fashioned. This fun approach would grant a mediocre cocktail program a pass, but these drinks are top-tier. Again, some people just get it.

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I was surprised by the buzz surrounding Gigglewaters after just a few weeks in business, but after visiting, I understand it. By mixing elements both new and seemingly played-out in such a creative way, Gigglewaters has delivered an inspired food and drink experience.

Rarely do all of the pieces of a bar and restaurant concept come together as perfectly as they do at Gigglewaters. This one's a true crowd pleaser.

— Contact Justin Grant at Follow @WordsWithJG.