Monday, September 20, 2010

Best of the Bay 2010: The best drinks and where to find them in Tampa Bay

Posted By on Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 4:30 PM

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Here it is, the best in libations in the Bay, where to get them and who to get them from as chosen by the CL staff and our faithful readers.

Critics' Picks:

Best Way to Get Drunk for $2: Reservoir Bar’s Mr. Purple shots, Ybor

A down and dirty dive bar on the Ybor City strip that always merits a drop-in before a show, Reservoir Bar serves up the tastiest little jolt of liquor you can find in town for two bucks. It tastes like grape Dimetapp and we’re certain we don’t really want to know what’s in there … but Mr. Purple does his work every time. Chase ’em down with the cheapest PBR tall boys on Seventh Ave. 1518 E Seventh Ave., Tampa, 813-248-1442,

Best Place to Chase the Green Fairy: James Joyce Irish Pub, Ybor

If you like bawdy singalongs to live traditional Irish music, the James Joyce is your kind of place. But for a real treat, try a taste of their absinthe. You know what they say: ”Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.” 1704 1/2 E Seventh Ave, Ybor City, 813-247-1896

Best Artisanal Cocktails: Ocean Prime, West Shore

With bartenders becoming “mixologists” and liquor being subjected to what New York Times food critic Frank Bruni has called an “infuse-a-palooza,” one might expect the double-digit drinks at the upscale chain Ocean Prime to be too over-the-top trendy to bear. But that’s not the case. Someone at OP knows that less is more, creating cocktails like the cucumber gimlet and whiskey clover that are models of sublime simplicity — smooth, refreshing and potent, with none of the medicinal tang that so often comes with such newfangled test-tubey preparations. International Plaza, 2205 N West Shore Boulevard, Tampa, 813-490-5288,

Best Locally Produced Craft Beer: Cigar City's Jai Alai IPA

We could have picked one of the specialty beers like Hunahpu or the Humidor series, but the Jai Alai is the workhorse of the Cigar City line. Plus — from the hoppiness in the nose to the kicking bitterness in the taste, from the gorgeous hazy golden hue to the silken mouthfeel — this beer is just plain amazing. Widely available in bottles or on tap throughout Tampa Bay. Cigar City Brewing, 3924 W Spruce St., Tampa, 813-348-6363,

Best Draft Beer Selection at a Restaurant: Datz Deli, Palma Ceia

Besides offering over 70 different bottled beers, Datz has upgraded from six taps to 36 just in the past three months, offering an ever-changing lineup of import and craft brews on draft. There’s also a “no crap on tap” rule, never allowing cheap, fizzy, “lite” beer to take up precious tap space. And where else can you get a smorgasbord of gourmet meats and cheeses to chow down on while you throw back a few brews? 2616 S MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-831-7000,

Best Gas Station Beer Selection: The new Rally’s, 4th Street in St. Pete

We can already hear St. Pete hipsters hammering us for giving an award (for beer selection, no less!) to the new Fourth Street Rally station. Yes, we are aware that local stalwart Shep’s is just a few blocks down the road and remains the go-to destination for ’Burgers in search of microbrews and hard-to-find imports. That said, sometimes you just need to grab a six while you’re filling your tank, and that’s where Rally’s really shines. Instead of the usual gas-station suspects (Bud, Miller, Natty Ice), Rally’s offers a $9.99 mix-and-match six-pack allowing you to build your own variety pack from the 150 varieties in stock — everything from Anchor Steam to Woodchuck, and many brews in between. There’s also plenty of the usual gas station accoutrements (sandwiches, salads, a full coffee bar, foodstuffs, lotto, etc) to make the Rally’s a welcome one-stop shop for Old Northeast residents. 2131 Fourth St. N (at 22nd Avenue N.), St Petersburg, 727-821-7660

Best Local Java: Kahwa Coffee, St. Pete

Downtown St. Petersburgers knows where to go for a caffeine fix, or when they’re in the mood to browse the Sunday paper over a latte and a croissant (and it doesn’t start with an ‘S’). Kahwa is a local business that cares about quality and the community, roasting the beans at its facility in St. Pete and serving fresh brews at their two hip downtown locations. Kahwa’s signature blends are slightly sweet without being overly bitter, and the prices are hard to beat for the quality of product served. 475 Second St. N, 727-823-4700; 204 Second Ave S, 727-821-1942,

Best Iced Coffee: Felicitous Coffee House and Vintage Boutique, Lutz

Felicitous’ coffee tastes great by itself, but there’s also a myriad of flavors available to enhance your iced coffee experience, from white chocolate to raspberry and even peanut butter. But the best part is that the ice cubes are made from coffee, meaning no watered-down brew when you’re only halfway through drinking. Genius. 19015 N U.S. 41, Lutz, 813-948-6540,

Best Coffee with a Kick: King Corona Cafe, Ybor

Talk about your hot coffee. Cafe Corona at Ybor’s King Corona Cafe will wake you up and then some, adding a cayenne-infused caramel sauce to its mix of coffee and steamed milk. The result is spicy-sweet (but not too sweet like so many of Starbucks’ calorific creations), and surprisingly refreshing even on a hot day. 1523 E Seventh Ave., Tampa, 813-241-9109,

From the Readers' Poll:

Best Coffee Shop (The Please-Not-Starbucks-Again Award): Kahwa Coffee, St. Pete

Runners-up: Buddy Brew Coffee, Indigo, Cafe Hey

Comment: “shut up, I love Starbucks”

Best Neighborhood Bar, Hillsborough: The Independent, Seminole Heights

Runners-up: Maloney’s Local Irish Pub, World of Beer, Tiny Tap Tavern

Best Neighborhood Bar, Pinellas: Old Northeast Tavern, Downtown St. Pete

Runners-up: Georgie’s Alibi, Orbit 19 Lounge, Dunedin House of Beer

Best Dive Bar: The Hub, Downtown Tampa

Runners-up: Emerald Bar, Tiny Tap Tavern

Comment: “I avoid those, I want to live to see my grandchildren”

Best Sports Bar: Ferg’s Sports Bar, Downtown St. Pete

Runners-up: Press Box, Beef O’Brady’s

Best Draft Selection at a Bar: World of Beer, various locations throughout Tampa Bay

Runners-up: The Independent, Dunedin House of Beer, New World Brewery

Best Local Brewery: Cigar City Brewing, Tampa

Runners-up: Dunedin Brewery, Tampa Bay Brewing Company

Best Happy Hour: MacDinton’s Irish Pub, Hyde Park

Runners-up: The Chase Club, Grillsmith

Best Bartender: Demitry Lewis, The Chase Club, Westchase

Runners-up: Christina at Mahuffer’s, Kevin Gallagher at The Palm

Other nominees: “Dude with the red beard at the Dubliner”; “the one with the huge tits at blur in dunedin”

Best Martini: Blue Martini, West Shore

Runners-up: Orbit 19 Lounge, Timpano Italian Chop House, Café Alma

Best Margarita: Superfruit 1800, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Madeira Beach

Runners-up: Red Mesa, Estela’s Mexican Restaurant

Best Beach Bar: Caddy’s on the Beach, Sunset Beach

Runners-up: The Undertow, Frenchy’s Original Cafe

Best Wine Bar: The Wine Exchange, Hyde Park

Runners-up: A Taste for Wine, Taps, The Grape

Best Place to Buy Booze: Total Wine & More, various locations around Tampa Bay

Runners-up: The Hub Package Store, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, Lueken’s Liquors

Comment: “Anywhere that’s not Total Wine and More”

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