Red Star Rock Bar in Seminole Heights a rockin', no-nonsense watering hole

Published April 15 2015
Updated April 20 2015

It seems odd to suggest that Seminole Heights needed another new bar. In the past year alone, the number of beer bars, cocktail joints, and hip restaurants has ballooned dramatically, guaranteeing the Tampa neighborhood a spot on anyone's local food and drink short list.

There's farm-to-table dining featuring nationally-recognized chefs, innovative breweries and beer gardens, fine wines (with prices to match), and craft cocktails for days. Whether you're with the brunch crowd or the late-nighters, you won't find a shortage of resources to keep you full and a little buzzed.

Despite this, Seminole Heights did need another new bar. Why? For all the hip, concept-heavy drinking and dining options, good, no-nonsense watering holes were pretty darn scarce.

That's where Red Star Rock Bar came in. The bar's actually been in the works for a couple of years, with a backstory involving delay after delay, combined with the tragic loss of co-owner Brian Bosco's other spot, the well-liked Domani Bistro Lounge, to a freak electrical fire last February (the entire property and all supplies were declared a total loss, valued at over half a million dollars).

Red Star is dressed up nicely, with an emphasis on the "rock bar" part. You've got red curtains, leopard-print booths and bar stools, and painted portraits of some of rock history's heavy hitters: Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Debbie Harry, Keith Richards, Jerry Garcia, David Bowie, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

There are parts of a drum set hanging from the ceiling, complementing a chandelier and red-tinged glass lamps. The bartop and concrete floor are black with red swirls. My jukebox selection: Blue Öyster Cult's The Red and the Black. A little on-the-nose, maybe?

The décor is heavily stylized, but Red Star Rock Bar feels very unpretentious and really easygoing. Part of this is no doubt owed to solid service. In two trips to Red Star since it opened, the staff has been consistently excellent: knowledgable, welcoming, and all smiles — a really pro crew.

And the drinks aren't bad, either. A big part of the appeal of Red Star Rock Bar is the fact that it's a "normal" bar. Most of the patrons come for simple cocktails and maybe a beer or two. Red Star doesn't try to be the Independent; the beer list is quite competent but hardly exhaustive. It also doesn't put heavy emphasis on its cocktail list like, say, Fodder & Shine, Ella's, or the Bourgeois Pig. Most of the customers are the Jack-and-Coke kind, and Seminole Heights needed a place for those folks.

Still, you know an award-winning bartender like Bosco has to at least offer a modest cocktail menu. The drinks at Red Star are primarily subtle twists on classics, made with the strong pour of a true locals joint. The Government Mule adds rhubarb bitters to a classic Moscow Mule, while the Sympatico El Diablo (somebody get a Spanish proofreader for these guys!) subs black walnut bitters in for the Angostura of a classic Manhattan. The Donkey Show takes a Margarita and adds a little Florida, with orange bitters and orange juice on top.

In a neighborhood booming with bars and restaurants, it's remarkable that the Red Star Rock Bar folks have managed to fill a niche simply by nixing a highly-detailed concept in favor of offering good, honest drinks in an easygoing environment.

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