Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Great Places to Drink an Adult Beverage in Tampa Bay

I have written previous posts about great places to drink an adult beverage, making five recommendations each time. But none of those recommendations were geographically concise, and recently I found myself thinking it would make sense to change that this time around, so you can check out more than one on a single trip.

Then, I figured that for this particular subject there is no better place to write about than the one where I live. Many people visit the Tampa Bay area on vacation and business, and as an almost-lifelong resident I can definitely steer you right, so my next several posts in this intermittent series will be about the Tampa Bay area’s best places to drink.

Since there are multiple counties here, the posts will be on a county-by-county basis. All of the recommendations in today’s post are in Hillsborough County, which includes the city of Tampa. Although it is on the eastern shore of Tampa Bay, Hillsborough does not face the open Gulf of Mexico like the other counties in this metropolitan area.

Anyway, here are my recommendations in alphabetical order:

Bern’s Steak House

When you talk about places to drink, people usually think of bars, not five-star restaurants. But when a restaurant’s wine menu has more than 6,000 selections and is frequently mentioned in Wine Spectator, leaving it off the list is unthinkable. That tells you everything you need to know about why to come to Bern’s, yet it is also worth noting that the five-star status does not automatically make Bern’s a budget-buster. Because its prices are not a la carte, it is considerably less expensive than most other fine dining establishments, and if you’re not up for a multi-course meal you can do something out of the ordinary by sitting at the bar and ordering a high-end burger to go with your Bordeaux.

Four Green Fields

Just as there are Irish pubs throughout the world, there are Irish pubs throughout Tampa, but Four Green Fields is in a league of its own all the way from its thatched roof to its platoon of bartenders who hail from the Emerald Isle itself. Despite being no bigger than a common village pub, it is very well known in Irish circles -- so much so that renowned Irish musicians from Sinead O’Connor to Paddy Reilly have come here to perform. You would be cheating yourself if you came to Tampa and failed to visit this place where the Guinness is always poured perfect, just two blocks from the city’s downtown waterfront.

McAnderson’s House of Brews

Located in a suburban area north of Tampa and roughly 20 miles from the beach, this place is off the beaten path for most travelers. But as you may know, many of the world’s best places are off the beaten path. McAnderson’s, which is better known as the Tampa House of Brews, features a beer menu that is high on quality yet easy on the wallet compared to similar menus at other places. And its food is comparable to what you find in the kind of restaurants that get written up in food magazines, yet it too is easy on the wallet. On top of that, McAnderson’s has plenty of specials including Micro Mondays and Thirsty Thursday’s Happy Hour Until Midnight. It is impeccably clean and its walls are decorated with humorous posters, one of which is pictured at the beginning of this post. Need I say more?

The Rack Sushi Bar and Billiards Lounge

How can you not be interested when the phrases “sushi bar” and “billiards lounge” are used to describe the same place? The Rack earns the first part of its description by serving up sushi and sashimi that are on par with above-average Japanese restaurants, and the second part by having a number of pool tables that blend into the scene without dominating it. The Rack has plenty of tables for dining; three bars that offer a full liquor menu; and ubiquitous low lighting that lends a metropolitan vibe. It is not to be missed. (FYI, it has two locations but this description is specific to the one in South Tampa’s Hyde Park District, since I have not been to the other one.)

Skipper’s Smokehouse

30 years ago some Air Force buddies bought a shack in North Tampa and turned it into one of the best hang-outs you’ll ever find. Today the shack contains a cramped smokehouse restaurant and enclosed oyster bar, while the area out back -- a smattering of picnic tables and irregular wooden benches under a giant oak -- is where the beer-guzzling and music-listening goes down. Everyone from blues legend Buddy Guy to country great Ralph Stanley has played here to intimate crowds. A reggae band plays every Wednesday and a Grateful Dead cover band every Thursday. Beer aficionados will be pleased that Skipper’s offers craft brews like Rogue Dead Guy Ale and Magic Hat #9, while bargain hunters will be pleased that it sells Bud and Bud Light for $1.75 on draft. What more could you ask for?

The pictures from Four Green Fields were taken, respectively, by my friends Allan Taylor and Michelle Chio.

Full disclosure: Erika’s stepfather is a dining room manager at Bern’s.