Recently, a friend of a friend, visiting from Sarasota, commented that there aren't any beer bars in St. Pete. She must have realized her mistake as soon as I immediately rattled off a couple dozen competent beer spots that she apparently wasn't aware of.
For all my pride in being hip to every St. Pete beer destination, however, it wasn't 48 hours before a friend told me about a bar I had never even heard of, serving a wide variety of Florida brews, including some pretty impressive options that should've shown up on my radar at some point.
The worst part? It's been open since March! I was truly late to the party on this one.
Hops and Props is the name, a minuscule taproom and eatery attached to the St. Petersburg Museum of History. That's the one with the big airplane hanging from the ceiling and rows of boats across the street at the municipal marina -- hence, "props."
Hops and Props has managed to keep a fairly low profile since opening earlier this year, probably due to its location on the road leading to the now-vacant Pier. It's a really small and relatively quiet place, and you can tell that some people would rather it stay that way. It's definitely a bar that could be described as a well-kept secret.
While I would normally feel a little guilty about spreading the word on someone's secret watering hole, Hops and Props' low profile is set to expire this Saturday, when it will host the official after party to the Tampa Bay Beer Week Halfway There Festival. After that, expect the word to be officially out.
I found out about Hops and Props from a friend who went there to try some of Cigar City's Marshal Zhukov's Imperial Stout on draft. This is the same beer that has been disappearing from bottle shop shelves in a matter of hours every time it gets stocked, and a bar I'd never heard of had it on draft?
Word is that Eric Starr, who co-owns Hops and Props with his mother, Lucy Ziegler, is an old friend of Cigar City's Joey Redner, so the CCB selection there is pretty extensive. Hops and Props even offers Tony Jannus Pale Ale, a beer brewed to honor Tampa Bay's aviation history that was previously only available at CCB's Tampa International Airport brewpub.
Hops and Props is a perfect location for this beer, seeing as how Tony Jannus departed on the first commercial flight between St. Pete and Tampa from the neighboring harbor back in 1914. That big plane hanging from the ceiling at the museum next door? It's a replica of Jannus' Benoist XIV airplane.
Hops and Props is all about a locally fueled tap list, with more than 80 percent of the options on any given day hailing from Florida, and nearly all of these from the Bay Area. For the Halfway There after party, a dozen of the taps will be small batch and one-off beers from local breweries, such as 7venth Sun's lavender-and-lemon saison, Crimes of Passion; Rapp's Watermelon Hefeweizen; and a new collaboration between St. Pete Brewing and Sarasota's JDub's Brewing Company.
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There's a lot to say about the tap list, which is probably why the setting is so minimal — it's all substance here. There's plenty of patio space out front, but the interior is little more than a couple of tables and a cool, backlit marble bar. There's an attached lounge area with darts and a sofa. Above the bar, naturally, is a large wooden propeller.
My new friend from Sarasota may not have known it, but St. Pete has a lot of excellent beer bars. Hey, at least she had an excuse. I may have been late to the game on Hops and Props, but I don't feel so bad — at least I'm in the know for another day or two, before everyone else is too.