Mardi Gras is Tuesday, and the weekend leading up to it is prime time for the people of New Orleans to get super weird, with elaborate, colorful and often perplexing costumes; decked-out parade floats; massive public consumption of food and booze; and generally just doing everything possible to laissez les bons temps rouler ("Let the good times roll"). But in the interest of avoiding an overnight stay on Orient Road, you should probably scale down your Mardi Gras celebration. You might want to just focus on the food and drink part. If this sounds like your kind of weekend, consider a trip to the Tampa Tap Room, a strip-mall bar that just happens to serve a full menu of Cajun and Creole fare, as well as a diverse list of 39 beers on draft.
Formerly Tank's Tap Room, Tampa Tap Room is tucked away in a strangely low-visibility corner of a Carrollwood shopping center. When you turn in from Dale Mabry, you'll need to look for the bright red "PUB" sign in the background.
Inside, Tampa Tap Room is extremely spacious, giving customers plenty of room to move around, watch the game, shoot some pool or — most likely — grab some Cajun food and a cold draft. The main room is primarily for dining, with a long bar on the side. A room on the other side is for games and is decorated with paintings of Bourbon Street. This room features two pool tables, a foosball table, and a Golden Tee machine. With two electronic dart boards, a Touch Tunes jukebox and a Megatouch near the bar, this place has all the trappings of the typical dive. Outside the game room is an open-air patio, which is also dog-friendly.
Where Tampa Tap Room distinguishes itself is its emphasis on quality craft and imported beer. In its previous incarnation as Tank's, the Tap Room has built a reputation as one of Tampa's best spots to get a good beer, dating back to before everywhere was a good place to get a good beer.
Dozens of old tap handles line the walls, while classic beer labels from the days before craft beer was cool cover the bar top underneath its lacquered surface. These labels are a throwback to a time when trying any exotic new beer was a goal — now-ubiquitous brands like San Miguel and Kirin (the original Japanese version) sit alongside classic American craft beers like Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine (the 1989 release), respected imports such as Grimbergen and even extinct beers, like Chief Oshkosh red lager from Wisconsin's Gambrinus Brewing.
While attempts to recreate a "simpler time" are often the misguided result of selective memory, Tampa Tap Room certainly does have that unpretentious, old-school vibe that I remember from pre-boom craft-beer bars. It's not fancy, it's maybe a little bit crusty, but it's got a lot of good beer.
There are several fresh seasonal brews and new releases, such as St. Arnold Elissa IPA and New Belgium Spring Blonde, alongside classic craft bar favorites such as Rogue Hazelnut Nectar brown ale. There are many excellent European imports as well, from breweries such as Affligem, Weihenstaphen, Franziskaner and Okocim. The bar also claims to have the "last keg of Pumpking in Tampa," and from experience, I believe this is true. Ditto a keg of Southern Tier Warlock, which I was quite happy to see.
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Whether you're pretending to celebrate Mardi Gras or just want some Cajun food and good beer in Carrollwood, Tampa Tap Room's worth a look. And if you decide that Fat Tuesday is a premature stopping point, consider coming back on Wednesday, when nearly all pints are a mere $3. Who can fast when beer is so cheap?