This is a guest post by Florida Bar Tab, one of my favorite sources for discovering the best spots to booze it up in my home state. I value his opinion because he's never just chasing a trend or new opening. Like me, he values old Florida over martinis with a Gulf view. Plus, like me, he's a campaign veteran so knows what the real staffers want in a watering hole. Take a look at his list and make sure you hit at least a few while you're visiting Tampa:
I make it a point not to be political. But any time you get tens of thousands of people flooding into a city from out of state, there's bound to be tens of thousands of people looking for a drink. So, if they're spending their money, I want to make sure it gets into worthy hands. Some of the best places to drink in the greater Tampa Bay area, in no particular order:
The Hub, 719 North Franklin Street, Tampa. Not quite the same since it moved, but still one of the best dive bars in town. Drinks are strong and cheap. Don't ask for a double, because you're pretty much already getting one. That and the bartender will probably look at you like you're an idiot. Dark and smokey and a diverse crowd that can sometimes be a bit weird, like the night a homeless woman held my hands, stared deeply in my eyes and sang along with Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces" before asking me to buy her a beer. It has possibly the best jukebox in the state.
Skipper's Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa. Part bar, part seafood restaurant, part outdoor music venue. This is my favorite bar in Florida to catch live music. Stand under massive oak trees on a hot Florida night and enjoy local and national acts, or head indoors to the roadhouse-like bar that's got offbeat decor and music posters.
Cigar City Brewing, 3924 West Spruce Street, Tampa. This is Florida's best brewery. I have even boldly made that statement to other Florida brewers and I don't get an argument. And they have a tasting room where you can enjoy their brews, along with a handful of guest taps from other Florida breweries. The room itself is on the bland side. That's completely opposite of the beer, which is flavorful, complex and adventurous. But don't try to have a pint of each, since they usually have more than 20 house beers on tap. And you can even get quart or gallon sized jugs filled to bring back to your hotel.
Tampa Bay Brewing Company, 1600 East 8th Avenue, Tampa. One of Florida's oldest and finest brew pubs. I rarely go to Tampa without stopping in at least once. Not only is the beer great, but the food is good, too. Great pizzas, and the meatloaf is the best I've had ever, anywhere. Located in Ybor City.
Four Green Fields, 205 West Platt Street, Tampa. It's as if a country pub somehow disappeared from Ireland and magically reappeared just outside of downtown Tampa. It has a thatched roof and looks looks like it should be surrounded by green fields rather than on an urban street. Inside, it also remains true to the Irish character and resists the urge to go all leprechaun and cheesy in a way that ruins so many other Irish pubs.
Mahuffer's, 19201 Gulf Boulevard, Indian Shores. This might be Florida's oddest bar. If Salvador Dali opened a dive bar, it might look sort of like this place. The mix of stuff decorating it _ a graffiti covered bust of Abe Lincoln, a boat hull, a mannequin head hanging from a noose, large illuminated panels sexually depicting astrological signs _ can keep you entertained for hours. [Ed Note: I love this place - Tammy]
Don CeSar lobby bar, 3400 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach. I tend to hate hotel bars, but there are exceptions. The Don CeSar is a beautiful piece of Florida history, and the bar makes some great cocktails. It's almost like a step back into time. [Ed Note: Why have I never been here, it looks gorgeous. - Tammy]
The Hurricane, 807 Gulf Way, St. Pete Beach. OK, so it doesn't make the best drinks in the world, but the rooftop bar has an incredible view of sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. Worth it for that alone.
The Ale and the Witch, 111 Second Avenue Northeast, St. Petersburg. Perhaps the best beer bar in St. Petersburg. Lots of taps. If you can't find a beer you like, then you don't like beer.
Cassis American Brasserie, 170 Beach Drive Northeast, St. Petersburg. Terrific cocktails in this French themed bar and restaurant along the bayfront park in downtown St. Pete.
Mastry's, 233 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg. This place has been around seemingly forever. When the New York Yankees used to have their spring training camp in St. Petersburg, legends like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio used to drink here.
Flamingo Sports Bar, 1230 Ninth Street North, St. Petersburg. This is the bar where beat author Jack Kerouac had his last drinks before dropping dead the next day. That was almost 43 years ago and the same guy owns the bar today. He likes telling stories about when Kerouac used to drink there. The bar itself is a tribute to the author. It definitely qualifies as a dive bar, but the cool side of divey. The house drink special was what Kerouac used to drink -- a shot of whiskey and a beer for $2.25. Of course, neither the whiskey nor the beer are of the highest quality. Maybe that's what killed Kerouac.
Now, living 300 miles from Tampa hasn't allowed me to explore every bar, so here are recommendations from readers I trust:
Tiny Tap Tavern, 2105 West Morrison Avenue, Tampa. Some say this is Tampa's best dive bar. High on my list of new places to check out. [Ed Note: When I was a Tampa campaign hack this was my favorite place to go after work... or at least after it was rude to knock on doors or call people. - Tammy]
Ciro's Speakeasy and Supper Club, 2109 Bayshore Boulevard, Tampa. Tampa's version of the new craze over prohibition era bars.
The Independent, 29 Third Street North, St. Petersburg. A beer hall with exposed brick walls. It was the inspiration for Fermentation Lounge, which is one of my favorite Tallahassee bars.
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For all of my blog posts on the RNC Convention click here, for all Tampa posts, click here. Tweet me @floridagirlindc if you have any questions.