Thursday, September 20, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: Sip and smoke at Blue Torch

Well, the bad news is that Blue Torch Cigars & Winery is not actually a winery. That combination seemed too ambitious to fly under my radar, as Blue Torch had since its opening this year, and that ended up being true.

While itís a curious name for what is ultimately a cigar lounge and wine bar, Blue Torch can be excused. In a short time, itís gained a loyal following among Tampaís Oak Grove residents, none of whom seem to be concerned with the lack of grapes fermenting on site.

Iíd heard good things about Blue Torch, so I decided to swing by. At first, I was surprised by the size. Cigar lounges often are small, low-key affairs, but this one was extremely spacious, separated into several connected areas, each with their own vibe.

Near the entrance, thereís a sunlit space with plush sofas, lounge chairs and a few two-seaters, one hosting a game of chess. Thereís a long bar opposite, backed with a row of flat screens displaying sports. In the middle, round granite surfaces sit atop old oak barrels, surrounded by upcycled industrial stools. Farther back are two large nooks outfitted with sofas and tables; one has a massive TV of its own.

Nearby, thereís a boardroom table, suitable for cracking open a laptop and getting some work done, or simply meeting with a large group. Antique muskets hang overhead and filtered sunlight creeps in via an ornate stained-glass window panel.

Between the two rear lounge areas sits a floor-to-ceiling row of humidor lockers available for members to store their cigars. These lockers, of course, are attached to a walk-in humidor, featuring a wide range of cigars, including the house brand, LTT, which offers a range of cigars made from tobacco from the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil and Mexicoís booming San Andrťs region.

Amazingly, thereís yet another seating area outside. A long row of tables, umbrellas and space heaters ó itís hard to imagine now, but those heaters will be great in eight months or so ó skirt the length of the building in a narrow enclosed patio, anchored at the end by a small pond and stone-backed waterfall. This is a major upgrade from the average cigar lounge.

Another surprise: a diverse clientele. You may have preconceived notions about the cigar-lounge crowd, and Iíll admit to the same, but the crowd at Blue Torch ranged from 20-something professional women to burly bikers, all of various backgrounds and ethnicities.

Weíve already established that thereís no house brand of wine, but that does not imply a shortage. To the contrary, Blue Torch pours over a dozen wines by the glass, from regions as varied as Spain, Washington state and New Zealand. The wines are kept under pressure using a nitrogen system that ensures a fresh glass every time.

Of course, thereís also a variety of port, the classic cigar accompaniment. These are generally bottle-only, but I was able to snag a pour from an open bottle of Sandeman Founderís Reserve, a rich, fruit-forward wine that can hang with the best of them.

Thereís also quite a bit of beer, including an almost exclusively local draft list ó 3 Daughters, Cigar City, Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Cycle, Big Storm, Florida Avenue ó and a range of bottles from across the state, including Funky Buddha, Barrel of Monks and Florida Beer Company.

Barring wines and beer, thereís also a full coffee bar, serving everything from a hot cup to Cuban-style espresso drinks. And for food, there are a handful of hot sandwiches and personal pizzas, each of which come with a bag of chips and a fountain drink. Itís a full service stop.

Itís not hard to see why Blue Torch has found its footing so quickly. With a smart interior, a great patio, plenty of space and a wealth of food, drink and cigar options, thereís little that you could be missing. Sure, thereís no liquor, but that issue seems minor, given how well Blue Torch handles the rest of it. (Even then, cans of Jim Beam pre-mixed cocktails are available).

Indeed, Blue Torch Cigars & Winery fails to deliver on the last promise of its name, but the misnomer is easily forgiven when considering how many things it does right. While it certainly wonít appeal to everyone, this is a place with something for nearly everyone. If you donít believe me, swing by and check out the crowd.

ó Contact Justin Grant at
[email protected]

Follow @WordsWithJG.

     
       
Comments
Bar review: Punk meets Pilsner at Antibrewery in Dunedin

Bar review: Punk meets Pilsner at Antibrewery in Dunedin

Iíve had readers jokingly complain that Iíve exposed their off-the-radar watering holes that already are a carful away from becoming overcrowded. Itís like watching your favorite indie band achieve mainstream success: Itís good for them, but now youí...
Updated: 8 hours ago
New restaurants: Olivia from Chris Ponte, Crabby Billís Off the Hook

New restaurants: Olivia from Chris Ponte, Crabby Billís Off the Hook

COMING SOON: OLIVIAChris Ponte, right, has been a steady and notable culinary leader in our area for more than a decade with his flagship restaurant Cafe Ponte in Clearwater. A couple of years ago he mixed things up a bit by debuting On Swann in Hyde...
Published: 09/19/18
Swizzle it: The tool bartenders turn to for a certain kind of cocktail

Swizzle it: The tool bartenders turn to for a certain kind of cocktail

TAMPA It’s a long stick with an irregular claw at the end, something a little macabre, like a skeletal monkey arm or a ritual tool made out of a chicken foot. It is crafted from the wood of the Quararibea turbinata tree, an aromatic and perenn...
Published: 09/19/18
Five ideas for date-night dinners at home

Five ideas for date-night dinners at home

For your next date night with your significant other, try staying in and cooking together. Meals eaten with your loved one are always sweeter. Literally."When we are in love Ö food tastes better," said Rachel Herz, an adjunct professor of psychiatry ...
Published: 09/19/18
What’s that bug gunk on your car? There’s an app for that

What’s that bug gunk on your car? There’s an app for that

Florida is rich in biomass. It’s got a lot of bugs. You’re driving down the highway, and all of a sudden — splat — a bug smacks your windshield, leaving a gooey glob on the glass. That’s the end of it from the bug’...
Published: 09/18/18
Pumpkin spice haters, back off: It’s okay to crave the seasonal flavor

Pumpkin spice haters, back off: It’s okay to crave the seasonal flavor

All right, okay, enough, I get it: You all hate pumpkin spice. But I’ve got one request as we head into fall: Can you just let us have this? There are many things on which to heap anger and despair right now, but please, that thing does not n...
Published: 09/18/18
A brown rice salad with asparagus thatís a hearty side dish

A brown rice salad with asparagus thatís a hearty side dish

This fresh, hearty side dish will stand out among its richer, creamier counterparts when the holidays roll around. We achieved perfectly cooked brown rice by boiling it in abundant water. Sprinkling the rice with bright lemon juice while it was still...
Published: 09/18/18
Restaurant review: The Local doesn't stand out enough above its Tampa neighbors to make an impact

Restaurant review: The Local doesn't stand out enough above its Tampa neighbors to make an impact

TAMPA Do you have this debate? "Florida is not in the South." "Um, look at a map." I guess I am in the former camp: It seems Florida gets more Southern the more north and west you go, accents only creeping in as reliably as boiled peanuts up on the ...
Published: 09/17/18
Updated: 09/18/18
Tampa Bay chefs get fresh platform at Bucs home games

Tampa Bay chefs get fresh platform at Bucs home games

TAMPA ó It was almost like a sitcom spit take. People in Buccaneers-red and Eagles-midnight green would walk up to the makeshift kitchen in the West Stadium Club, look at the huge poster of chef/restaurateur John Rivers, then glance at the guy in the...
Published: 09/17/18
Taste test: Frozen Italian meatballs

Taste test: Frozen Italian meatballs

In keeping with our objective of trying to make family meals a little easier this back-to-school season, our judges figured premade meatballs could serve as a basis for a variety of meals. This week, we sampled 10 brands of frozen Italian meatballs f...
Published: 09/17/18