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Bar Tab: Woody's River Roo

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Viewing the Manatee River from Woody’s River Roo Pub & Grill, 5717 18th St. E., Ellenton. STAFF PHOTO / WADE TATANGELO

Sometimes you just gotta get away. Get away from the trendy neighborhoods. Get away from the bustling entertainment districts. Get away from the tourist attractions.

Sometimes you just gotta find a bar not filled with the blabbing of pseudo-intellectuals, the glares of well-dressed phonies or the annoying behavior of rank amateurs whose next stop is Disney World.

Out-of-the-way bars that brim with authenticity and Old Florida charm don’t really get any better than Woody’s River Roo. The bar and grill hugs the Manatee River near Interstate 75 in Ellenton. It’s a popular spot for boaters, bikers and various other working-class heroes.

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Woody’s River Roo in Ellenton. STAFF PHOTO / WADE TATANGELO

Credit my amazing wife Kristin for suggesting we make the trip from our home in Northwest Bradenton to this hidden treasure for a late lunch and, mostly for me, libations, on a Saturday afternoon. I had a foggy memory of frequenting the place shortly after it opened about a decade ago. But I couldn’t be sure of its merits.

Kristin assured me it would be worth the drive. As soon as we pull up to the River Roo, nestled along the river and tucked away under a canopy of Spanish moss-covered trees, I’m in complete agreement.

The rain has just stopped but threatens to return so we sit at the main bar, which is conveniently covered. I ask about specialty drinks and the bartender suggests the “Woodyrita” ($5.50). It’s basically a margarita with cranberry juice and does the job. I see a sign advertising $3.75 Sierra Nevada pints “all summer long” and soon switch to a cold draft of the hoppy brew.

The River Roo reminds me of a smaller, waterfront version of the famed Skipper’s Smokehouse in North Tampa. They both have a covered stage for live music, outdoor seating for the audience, bar area and dining room.

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Woody’s River Roo in Ellenton. STAFF PHOTO / WADE TATANGELO

While Skipper’s books national bands (and charges admission accordingly), the Roo sticks with local acts that play the classic rock songs you know by heart. Also, the Roo has a tiki bar, right out there on the peninsula that wraps around the boat slips.

While I’m making mental notes my wife is sipping on Michelob Ultra ($3.25) and surveying the lengthy menu. We decide on a single pound serving of chicken wings ($7.99). She tells me the Roo has good food.

The bartender asks if we like crispy wings and we respond with a great big “yes.” He recommends we order them “naked” and says just get whatever sauce we want – hot, medium, mild, etc. – on the side.

OK.

“I live in St. Pete and only get wings when I drive down here,” the bartender says. “They’re that good.”

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Woody’s River Roo in Ellenton. STAFF PHOTO / WADE TATANGELO

Our wings arrive with high expectations. Crisp and crunchy exterior with a moist, meaty interior; they pair perfectly with beer and a river view. I happily nosh on a naked drum stick and then repeat with a self-styled mixture of medium sauce and blue cheese dressing.

“I’d come back here just for the wings,” I mumble between bites.

Kristin nods in agreement and then smiles.

“You have some sauce in your beard,” she says.

Woody’s River Roo Pub & Grill,5717 18th St. E., Ellenton; 722-2391; woodysriverroo.com

Woody’s River Roo Pub & Grill
5717 18th St. E., Ellenton;
722-2391; woodysriverroo.com


Wade_Tatangelo_by_Mike_Lang_HT_06212013 Wade Tatangelo created what would eventually be called Bar Tab while working as a correspondent for the Herald-Tribune in 2003. He would continue writing about bars for Maxim, Tampa Bay Times, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, OC (Calif.) Weekly and The Fort Collins (Colo.) Coloradoan. Wade joined the Herald-Tribune as a staff writer in 2013 and has happily returned to writing our weekly column Bar Tab. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: September 13, 2013
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