For this year's tbt* Ultimate Bar Guide, we tallied up more than 100 reasons we love going to bars in Tampa Bay. Here are six bars where you can experience Tampa Bay's vibrant musical culture firsthand.
We love live, local music (especially when it's free): The Ale and the Witch
The fact that the Ale and the Witch hosted 435 performances last year — not a typo — is surprising enough. But when you take into account the fact that none of these shows included a cover, it's downright amazing. Since opening in January 2011, the Witch has hosted more than 1,400 live performances, making it nearly as well known for its music as it is for its constantly rotating selection of American craft beers. When the weather is hot, there are fewer shows, but for most of the year, there are shows seven days a week, with two shows on Saturday and during special events. In addition to weekly appearances and regular sets by local favorites such as Jun Bustamante and Geri X, the Witch brings a surprisingly diverse range of genres to the courtyard — one week this month featured a swing band, a bluegrass band, a Grateful Dead tribute band, a folk singer/songwriter, and a Southern rock band. 111 Second Ave. NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 821-2533, thealeandthewitch.com.
METAL!: The Brass Mug
The Brass Mug's third location in three years might well be its darkest, dankest yet, but it still holds a place of honor in the hearts of Tampa punk and metal fans. "We've all put in a lot of time at the Brass Mug, hanging out and partying and watching bands," Cannibal Corpse bassist Alex Webster told tbt* last fall, as the pioneering death metal band was planning a 25th anniversary concert there. Indeed, the Mug is far from dying; it hosted punk legends the Dead Milkmen this spring and will host Hawthorne Heights and the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus in September. It's not the only local bar to find authentic Tampa metal, but it's still the place that serves it up the best. 1450 Skipper Road, Tampa. (813) 972-8152.
We can't afford tickets to Bonnaroo: The Orpheum
The first time I saw Swedish alt-pop band Little Dragon was at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee. The second time was at the Orpheum in Ybor City. This was Little Dragon's third trip to Ybor — they'd already played Crowbar twice prior — and watching the band sip Cigar City Hotter than Helles Lager while delivering slick, arty grooves, it reminded me how fun it is seeing a festival-sized band in a relatively tiny club. Less than a week later, Little Dragon was back at Bonnaroo, performing for tens of thousands of fans. Bet they all wished their view was as intimate as mine. 1915 E Seventh Ave., Tampa. (813) 248-9500, theorpheum.com. — Jay Cridlin
We want to meet the band: Pelican Pub
Jannus Live is literally surrounded by bars — Ringside Cafe, MacDinton's, Mandarin Hide and Mastry's, to name a few. But the band-friendliest bar of all might be the Pelican Pub, just outside the main gate. "We always park the bus there, so there are always some crazy nights going on there," said Pat Downes, singer for Badfish: A Tribute to Sublime. George Clinton, Blue October, Pepper and, well, Sublime With Rome are just a few of the acts who've popped into the Pelican for a pint. Get there early and stake out a seat, and you never know who'll end up by your side. 18 Second St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 896-6329, facebook.com/thepelicanpub.
We've got the blues: Hideaway Cafe
On the surface, the Hideaway Cafe doesn't seem like a great blues joint — it's largely a wine bar with a few craft beers and tapas. But what it lacks in gritty delta grime, it makes up for in sheer musical appreciation. The intimate cafe bills itself as a "listening room" and doubles as a recording studio, and its pristine acoustics and respect-the-artist vibe may be why it's hosted performers like Cheap Trick's Robin Zander, Toad the Wet Sprocket's Glen Phillips and, later this month, Tonic's Emerson Hart. Its blues jams take place from 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays, with harmonica maestro T.C. Carr taking the first and third weeks of the month and blues siren Betty Fox the second and fourth. A few times a year, they team up for a rare "fifth Wednesday" jam, and on those nights, the house gets packed before the first note is played. The next fifth Wednesday is in October. Better start clearing your calendar now. 1756 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 644-7895, hideawaycafe.biz.
We feel like dancing: Uncle Mike's Smokehouse Grill
Uncle Mike's Smokehouse Grill looks like a barn from the outside and a hunting lodge on the inside, right down to the taxidermied kills mounted above the bar. Don't let that scare you away from its inviting line-dance floor, though. Uncle Mike's is a sprawling compound, a friendly barbecue restaurant with a two-tiered bar and detached special-event hall that's become a draw for bikers on Sunday afternoons. But Thursday through Saturday, it's all about the line-dance floor. Free lessons are offered at 7 p.m. Thursdays, and, in an ingenious maneuver to help fill the floor, Thursday doubles as "Guys Night," in which guys drink free from 9 p.m. to midnight with the purchase of a Solo cup. On weekends, the floor fills up quickly for live bands and DJs. No surprise, considering Plant City's rep as Tampa Bay's country music capital. 106 E State Road 60, Plant City. (813) 737-4444, unclemikesgrill.com.