For years, people wanting to party in downtown Bradenton had limited choices and just getting a simple slice of pizza after 10 p.m. to go with that final round typically proved impossible. By early 2011, though, the area started to earn a reputation as an entertainment district. Strolling past the festive, white lights that twinkle in the trees that line Old Main Street, you could choose from an array of places serving libations.
Living in the nearby Point Pleasant neighborhood at the time, we would walk to The Lost Kangaroo, Old Main Pub, the riverfront restaurant/bar now called Pier 22, Cork’s Cigar Bar, O’Bricks Irish Pub & Martini Lounge as well as McCabe’s, a more authentic Irish pub. On the same street, we frequented Fav’s Italian Cucina and Fisherman Joe’s (now the home of the piano bar Pub Eighty Eight), all of which also serve alcohol. But what really goosed downtown Bradenton and made party people take notice happened in September of 2011.
The city council’s 3-2 vote to approve a special-use permit and liquor license allowed Paul Kotlarczyk to move his popular Distillery Tavern from near DeSoto Square mall to 450 Old Main St., across from the Manatee County administration building. The beloved bar owner was back where it all began – Kotlarczyk started building his loyal army of followers while working as a bartender at Lost Kangaroo.
“I definitely think there has been a renewed interest in downtown Bradenton,” Kotlarczyk said at the time. “And I think our new location will lend itself to having even more business than we had, with more business professionals around us including county and city employees.”
Paulie, as he’s known to his friends (or, at least, us barflies), fully understood the potential of the area. Thanks to Riverwalk opening last October, the “Pink Palace” hotel renovations nearing completion and numerous events thrown by Realize Bradenton, there has been a wonderful synergy resulting in downtown Bradenton becoming a destination spot for happy hour and late-night party people alike.
While Paulie no longer spends every hour at The Distillery, he has hired an accomplished staff and they deftly cater to both sets of clientele. The tavern ranges from highly relaxed to wild and crazy depending on the day and time. The fun and friendly bartenders, all men since the days of the old location, seem to have a gift for consistently making The Distillery the right place for the right time.
The walls are decorated with black and white photos of Main Street. The pictures show the area when it still went by the name “Bradentown.” These and other vintage touches enhance the laid-back vibe, but get the giant jukebox blasting Top 40 smashes later in the evening and The Distillery feels like a banging nightclub.
I sip my strong, $3 Bacardi and Coke around 10 p.m. Thursday at The Distillery after deciding to take a pass on the tempting, “Thirsty Thursday” $5 liter special.
We had just finished a delicious dinner at the East Bradenton eatery Central Café. My amazing wife Kristin drinks even slower from her pint of Blue Moon ($4.25) and we’re contemplating ordering a slice of pizza. Actually, I’m the only one really doing the contemplating – The Distillery serves a tasty slice of pizza.
It’s doughy and fat and greasy and decadent. It’s the perfect antidote for a night of too much alcohol.
“Do you really want a slice of pizza after we just ate a whole meal?” Kristin asks with a smile.
The Distillery Tavern, 450 Old Main St., Bradenton; 745-8433; the-distillery.com.