Bar review: Ready for kombucha with your beer, amid a salt cave? Head to Brandon

Among other kombuchas, Windmill Taphouse offers the Moringa Lavender kombucha from Sarasota's Kombucha 221 B.C. [Photo by Geneva Johnson/special to tbt*]
Among other kombuchas, Windmill Taphouse offers the Moringa Lavender kombucha from Sarasota's Kombucha 221 B.C. [Photo by Geneva Johnson/special to tbt*]
Published March 30, 2018

I'm always on the hunt for bars with unique or unusual concepts. Cocktail bars are great, but they tend to run together. Ditto beer bars, sports bars and the rest. Sometimes, I just need a good gimmick — a surprising quirk that makes a place too curious to pass up.

I've found one that fits the bill: a small beer and wine bar attached to a health food store that specializes in kombucha, has its own movie theater and features a 350-square-foot salt cave that circulates salty air for therapeutic purposes.

Where to start?

Windmill Taphouse opened in Brandon about two years ago, in a space attached to Chuck's Natural Fields Market. At night, a metal barrier separates Chuck's and Windmill, lending it that rarely experienced after-hours health food store vibe. It's currently only open two nights a week, and short hours, at that. Live music is the main draw: there's a well-attended open mic night Thursdays and various local singer-songwriters appear Saturdays.

It's cozy inside — a cross between a low-key beer bar and a neighborhood coffee shop. The peach walls, cafe seating and folks strumming guitars on a small stage in the corner belong to the latter, while the industrial-style hanging metal lamps, metal bar top and corrugated siding wrapped beneath it are straight out of the former's playbook.

Beneath the siding are rows of large, translucent bricks, backlit and glowing green. It turns out these are bricks of Ukrainian salt, the primary feature of the adjacent salt cave.

Perhaps you're already familiar with the whole salt cave concept, but it's a new one for me. The idea is to book the room in advance ($25 for a 45-minute session for two) and kick back in a lounger, surrounded by 24 tons of salt bricks — plus the occasional Himalayan pink salt chunks and other various minerals scattered about — and a machine that grinds up salt and circulates it through the air.

It's purported to have therapeutic respiratory effects. I'm skeptical when it comes to natural remedies like these, so I did a bit of digging and found that the jury is largely out. At $12.50 a person, it seems worth a shot, even if it just ends up being relaxing. Either way, make sure to check it out if you visit; I don't think you'll find another bar with a salt cave around here anytime soon, and it's a cool sight to see.

Speaking of natural remedies, how about kombucha? This fermented tea comes with a lot of dubious health claims, but I look at it as a reasonable alternative to soft drinks, with a potential upside by way of antioxidants and probiotic bacteria. Windmill Taphouse keeps an impressive six varieties on tap, from Tampa Kombucha and Kombucha 221 B.C. from Sarasota.

Kombucha and beer are an interesting combo, and even more so when combined. Enter Unity Vibration from Ypsilanti, Mich.: maker of beer-kombucha hybrids, which you'll find in stock at Windmill. These odd brews — try ginger, raspberry or, my favorite, bourbon peach — combine the tart/sweet of fruit-flavored kombucha with the funk of wild ales fermented in open oak casks. After trying some regular kombucha on tap, this seems like an appropriate next step.

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Of course, this is also a beer bar, and to that end you'll find another half dozen taps dedicated to a rotating selection of Florida beers, with plenty more in the cooler. There are many local brews, as well as a large selection of Orlando Brewing Company beers (the most I've seen outside of the brewery itself) and a few from Orange Blossom Brewing and Miami Brewing Company, as well.

Finally, there's the movie theater. A 12-foot screen is reserved for the occasional movie screening or major sporting event — check Windmill's Facebook page for these — but it's worth noting that you can rent the whole building out for $300 a night. I'm not sure what to do with that information, but I'm filing it away in my brain just in case.

A beer and wine bar attached to a health food store that's open a maximum of 12 hours a week is definitely an odd proposition, but if you're in the Brandon area during that window, it's worth a visit. Try some kombucha, enjoy a local beer or two, hear some live music and be sure to check out the salt cave. It's a modest setup overall, but there's nothing else around quite like Windmill Taphouse.

Contact Justin Grant at Follow @WordsWithJG.