Someone recently asked me if I knew any places with a good beer selection on St. Pete Beach. I've heard the Undertow has a pretty solid list, but I haven't been there in years and couldn't confirm. Any others? House brews at R Bar in Treasure Island, and, well, nothing else came to mind.
The fact is, while the rest of the Bay area has been on fire with new and excellent beer bars over the last couple of years, the beaches have lagged woefully behind, instead slinging the same tropical, umbrella-garnished drinks that, quite honestly, are what tourists want.
There's not a thing wrong with that, of course, but gears are shifting and a new beer scene is starting to come together, and I think that's just excellent.
The epicenter for the upcoming beer boom on the beach? It's a location as unlikely as they come: John's Pass Village, the ultimate tourist trap for Madeira Beach visitors. It's a damn good one, too — shops filled with handcrafted local goods, every cheesy Florida vacation postcard and T-shirt imaginable, a cigar shop, a winery, restaurants, cafés, bars, even a casino cruise.
Now Madeira Beach's first brewery is in the works at John's Pass, and it's being constructed above Madeira Beach's first serious beer bar, Mad Pub.
It happened last year, when the owners of the popular It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere bar at John's Pass had an idea. They tore apart the old place — a respectable beach-bum watering hole specializing in frozen daiquiris and other typical beach fare — and rebuilt it as a craft beer destination, changing the name to Mad Pub in the process.
Rather than discarding the formula that made the bar a success in the first place, Mad Pub serves as a re-imagining of its predecessor, this time with a pretty serious beer selection. Frozen daiquiris are still on tap, so the average John's Pass visitor won't be left wanting for their hurricanes or piña coladas. The front of the bar is still open-air, and there are café seats outside, perfect for getting some of that fresh sea breeze on your skin while partaking in some traditional John's Pass people-watching.
But the place has grown up a bit, too. The floor is tastefully done in stone tile; the assorted novelty signs and gift-shop knickknacks have been rearranged in an organized, almost tasteful fashion; there are flat screen TVs viewable from every angle; the bar has been extended the length of the interior; and the beer ... the beer is good.
There are 46 beers on tap, and more than that in the bottle. The selection is comprised of a varied, international selection, and there are more Florida beers available than I've seen in most Florida beer bars: 3 Daughters, Cigar City, 7venth Sun, Rapp, Big Storm, Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Florida Avenue, Pair O' Dice, Florida Beer Company, Bold City, Orange Blossom Pilsner, Pensacola Bay, and Rock Brothers. It's quite a selection.
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Most noteworthy — and noticeable — is the "Fusion Tower," a custom beer infuser of sorts, similar to Dogfish Head's Randall. This thing is much larger, though, and it's the first thing you'll notice when you walk up to the bar — a large, steel inverted U with an infusion chamber filled with whatever the flavor of the day is. On any given day there will be a new flavor in the Fusion Tower, and I strongly recommend giving it a try. On the night I visited, the selection was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale infused with oranges and pineapple. It was even better than it sounds.
And just a side note: Mad Pub is one of the few places that still has the Citra version of Cigar City's Hopped on the High Seas. This beer has a short shelf life, but the cans at Mad Pub are still drinking beautifully, so if you're yearning for another sip of this standout release, you know where to find it.
It's not easy finding good beer in St. Pete Beach or the surrounding areas, but between Mad Pub, R Bar, and the upcoming Mad Beach Craft Brewing Company, things are looking up.