I try to avoid repeating myself too much in this column, but sometimes it's unavoidable.
While racking my brain for a way to start this one, I remembered an old weekly DJ gig I had at the Hub, the long-running downtown Tampa dive. I used to take fresh-air breaks and walk to Fly Bar, traversing a desolate stretch of Franklin Street in the process.
I started writing about this, since my new assignment was Franklin Manor, a hip cocktail joint and restaurant that's coming up on its one-year anniversary right in the middle of this once-dead stretch. Along with the upscale NINE15 apartment high-rise across the street, Franklin Manor represents real progress in the revitalization effort for this previously blighted section of downtown.
Then I remembered that a few years back, a bar popped up in this same space with a similar promise. Martini Republic was going to turn a shuttered Chinese restaurant into a hot new nightclub. When I went to reference my that old Barfly column, I found that I had rewritten the first couple of paragraphs practically verbatim, five years later.
Thankfully, I think this is the last I'll have to say about a business in this particular location reviving this section of downtown. Franklin Manor has taken the basic elements put in place by its predecessors — Martini Republic, and subsequently Nine12 Ultra Lounge — and made them really count. This one's gonna stick.
Franklin Manor features a split layout that's half indoor, half outdoor. Inside, it's a fairly typical modern cocktail bar — distressed brick walls, patterned wallpaper, exposed ducts, marble bartop, angular light fixtures; the works
Outside, it's a courtyard that's equally suitable for weekend brunch and late-night dining with live music. There's an island bar near a food truck-style patio kitchen — dubbed the Carriage House, which serves food late into the evening — and a mixture of picnic table bench seating and umbrella-covered cafe tables near a large, covered stage. A row of stadium-style seats runs perpendicular, facing a wall used for projecting major sporting events, though it's also a good spot to check out the music. The whole thing is enclosed by rows of tall hedges.
The drink program is excellent, with a nice mix of local craft brews, a variety of wines and a selection of spirits ranging from premium to extremely premium. The cocktail list was assembled by one Mr. Ro Patel, a name you may recognize as being behind basically every outstanding cocktail program in the entire city. Franklin Manor's is no exception.
I started with Tea for Two, which is creative beyond a simple assembly of a few ingredients that aren't usually put together in a cocktail. This one, as the name suggests, serves two, and it's made from Stoli Blueberry, coconut, local jasmine tea from TeBella, orange peel and strawberries, poured from a teapot into custom-made stemmed teacups. Even if the cocktail itself wasn't fantastic (it is), the presentation would make it worth ordering.
There are punchbowl drinks (Junto Punch), a take on the ever-popular wine slushee (Manor Frosé) and a Cognac-enhanced sangria (Thee Sangree), not to mention a conspicuously pricey old-fashioned made with Japanese Hibiki Harmony whisky ($39!). It looks delicious — Harmony, ginger syrup and Black Mission fig bitters — but that's a lot to ask for a cocktail made with a sub-$100 bottle of whisky.
Nevermind, because there's plenty more where that came from. I opted for the Smoked Irish Old Fashioned instead, which features Jameson Caskmates with black walnut bitters and house-made Guinness simple syrup in a wonderfully-aromatic cedar-smoked glass. These flavors were made for each other.
The apartment tower across the street is no doubt helpful, but Franklin Manor would be a hit without them. It's a shame that the groundwork laid by earlier iterations in this space wasn't enough to ensure their success, but if the ultimate result is what we see now, then maybe the early promise of these businesses didn't go unfulfilled after all.
Contact Justin Grant at email@example.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.