By Brian Ries and Wade TatangeloFinding the right bar for you
When you want a drink, it’s much cheaper — and often more comfortable — to just enjoy one at home. Plus, you get to choose your company, entertainment and food, and don’t have to worry about transportation. Oh, yeah, and it’s your bathroom! ~ Sometimes, though, no matter how you much love your living room you just have to get out (if only to avoid drinking alone). And with our area’s rich array of bars, pubs and taverns, you don’t have to belly up to just any bar that has a neon sign in the window. ~ With Wade Tatangelo reclaiming Ticket’s Bar Tab column this week (read his first new review), we thought we’d take the opportunity to detail the factors that go into a great place to down a drink or two, with some of our favorite places to go depending on our mood.
(Photo by Corey Woolsey)Location
Sometimes you want to be in the thick of things, like Main Street in downtown Sarasota or Old Main in downtown Bradenton. The few waterfront watering holes in the area are great when the weather is a shade less steamy and there are a few out-of-the-way spots that are perfect when you need to get away from the amateurs. Pick according to your mood.
Sharky's 1600 Harbor Drive S., Venice, 488-1456, sharkysonthepier.com. (Photo by Matt Houston)Location: Beachfront
Sharky's has the ideal spot, situated above the beach so you have an expansive view of sand in both directions and the Gulf of Mexico out to the horizon.
Woody’s River Roo, 5717 18th St. E., Ellenton, 722-2391, woodysriverroo.com (Photo by Thomas Bender)Location: Out-of-the-way
Woody's River Roo may be hidden down a side street in Ellenton, but with live music, plenty of outdoor spaces with a view of the Manatee River and a great crowd, it's a destination.
Clasico Cafe & Bar, 1341 Main St., Sarasota, 957-0700, barclasico.com (Photo provided)Location: In-the-middle-of-it-all
Smack dab on the corner of Main and Palm -- one of the most traveled intersections of downtown Sarasota -- Clasico Cafe and Bar combines an historic space, creative cocktails and sidewalk seating that includes couches and hidden nooks, perfect for watching the people go by with a drink in hand.
White Buffalo Saloon (Photo by Thomas Bender)Design
Nautical, rustic, modern or crazy kitschy, it really doesn’t matter as long as it’s done well, with the chosen theme consistent and detail-rich throughout. And if the bar is going for a theme, make sure the decor makes you feel like you’re downing a stout at an Irish local or a mai tai with your feet in the south Pacific.
Pub 32, 8383 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 952-3070, irishpub32.com (Photo provided)Design: irish Pub
This new Irish pub might be in a strip mall, but the owners have gone to lengths to make it feel like it could have been transplanted straight from the Emerald Isle, including authentic "snugs" -- those high-backed booths hand-carved from rich wood that will keep you and your friends ensconced in a separate world.
Louies Modern, 1289 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, 552-9688, louiesmodern.com (Photo provided)Design: Chic and modern
Just opened this year, Louies Modern features clean and elegant modern design accents, including a beautifully designed wood-panel wall in the cozy bar area. Plus, you can drink the bartenders' excellent and innovative cocktails outside in the covered courtyard.
White Buffalo Saloon, 5377 McIntosh Road, Sarasota, 927-6655, thewbsaloon.com (Photo by Thomas Bender)Design: White Buffalo Saloon
The massive White Buffalo Saloon has enough wood accents to build a sizable barn, rustic chandeliers, whiskey barrels, lots of country music up on stage or over the speakers and cleverly chosen decor that will make you feel like you are somewhere significantly west of Florida.
(Photo by Thomas Bender)Selection
The best bars offer an extensive selection of beer, wine and spirits, and if you’re looking for a basic cocktail, mass-produced draft beer or glass of house chardonnay you can find it almost anywhere. If you’re looking for something a little more specialized, however, there are plenty of places that will cater to your needs.
Cock & Bull Pub, 975 Cattlemen Road, SarasotaSelection Beer Bar 1
It's the Sarasota standard, a beer trailblazer for the area in a converted house that with a big backyard perfect for live music on beautiful nights.
Mr. Beery’s, 2645 Mall Drive, Sarasota, 343-2854, mrbeeryssrq.comSelection: Beer Bars 2
Mark Tuchman has created a temple to beer geekery in Gulf Gate that has become the destination for serious fans of of great craft beer in Sarasota.
Beer Box, 5767 Beneva Road, Sarasota, 923-1002Selection: Beer Bars 3
If you want to sample one of the many craft beers made here in our home state of Florida, The Beer Box is the place to go -- all they serve are homegrown brews.
Shakespeare’s Pub, 3550 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota, 364-5938, shakespearespubsarasota.comSelection: Beer Bars 4
Shakespeare's Pub has long been the pub you go to if you want an extensive beer selection featuring a host of imports and smartly chosen craft brews, along with one of the best burgers in Sarasota.
State Street Eating House, 1533 State St., Sarasota, 951-1533, statestreetsrq.com (Photo by Corey Woosley)Selection: Creative Cocktails 3
State Street does spend some time innovating, but what this bar staff is really good at is executing ideal versions of classic cocktails, especially the bar's legendary bramble.
Lost Kangaroo Pub, 406 12th St. W., Bradenton, 747-8114, lostkangaroopub.comSelection: Beer Bars 4
A stalwart of downtown Bradenton, Lost Kangaroo features 14 taps and a rotating list of bottles, as well as a knowledgeable staff that will be happy to educate you on any aspect of the beer world.
Pangea Lounge, 1568 Main St., Sarasota, pangealounge.comSelection: Creative Cocktails 1
How many times do we have to tell you that Brad Coburn and crew at Pangea are the most innovative bartenders in the area? And, yes, it is open, despite the fact that there's no sign and you'll have trouble finding how to get in there.
Jack Dusty, 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota, 309-2266, jackdusty.comSelection: Creative Cocktails 2
Although some people are sad that Vernona was replaced by Jack Dusty at the Ritz-Carlton, no one will dispute that the cocktail program has become astounding, with house-infused liquor, creative combinations and some serious attention paid to constructing truly surprising flavor combinations.
Libby's Meatball Micro Burger with Fried Velveeta (Photo provided)Food
Almost every restaurant can pour you a beer or a glass of wine, but if you want food that fits a bar vibe, you’ll need to be a little picky. These days, many restaurant bars offer excellent bar selections that not only taste great but come at a discount if you time it right. Happy hour? Happiest hour.
Libby’s Cafe + Bar, 1917 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota, 487-7300, libbyscafebar.com (Photo by Thomas Bender)Food: Happy Hours 1
Libby's has had one of the best happy hour deals in town for the past few years, partly due to the fine drink specials - including half-price draft beer, $1 off bottled beer and $3.75 well drinks -- but mostly thanks to the half-off bar plates. That includes items like their crispy grouper tacos, cheesesteak eggrolls, Tong Dak chicken drumettes and much more. It's the most high-class cheap happy hour around. (4-7 p.m. daily)
Darwin’s on 4th, 1525 4th St., Sarasota, 343-2165, darwinson4th.com (Photo by Thomas Bender)Food: Happy Hours 2
You'll find drafts of Darwin's on 4th's house-brewed beer for $5, the restaurant's excellent mojitos and sangrias for $6 and dishes like tostones, parmesan truffle fries and pollo anticuchos for $4, along with a host of other food options. It's not the cheapest deal, but where else can you get a local brew and excellent cuisine for under $10?
Pier 22, 1200 1st Ave. W., Bradenton, 748-8087, pier22dining.com (Photo provided)Food: Happy Hours 3
Bradenton’s best happy hour deal runs 3-7 p.m. daily at Pier 22, with patrons seated right on the Manatee River for a wide selection of half-price drink specials plus $5/$6 small plates ranging from sushi to St. Louis-style ribs.
(Photo by Corey Woosley)Bartenders
An ace mixologist who is also friendly and fun will keep people returning again and again to just about any bar, regardless of many other mitigating factors. Find that special server and tip well.
Shore Diner, 465 John Ringling Blvd., St. Armands, 296-0301 (Photo by Corey Woosley)Bartenders 1
The bar at Shore Diner not only looks great -- with a lot of Sarasota architecture school influences -- it's also staffed with some seriously knowledgeable folks. Not just about cocktails (although they are experts at that) but they're veterans of the Sarasota nightlife scene, people who have probably poured you a drink in the distant past.
Manatees Sports Grill, 7423 Manatee Ave, W. Bradenton; 794-1400, mannateessportsgrill.com (Photo by Abby Weingarten)Bartenders 2
Mannatees is a family-owned business that excels at friendly service -- you'll end up feeling like your part of their family before you finish your first beer.
Eat Here Sarasota, 1888 Main St., Sarasota, 365-8700, eatheresarasota.comBartenders 3
The upstairs lounge at Eat Here has a history (among various previous owners) of being a home for regulars who want to hide away from the usual Main St. scene. The bartenders are quick with a smile and your drink, and always manage to find some of those Eate Here munchies if you need something to nosh on.
Shamrock Pub (Photo by Chip Litherland)Scene
We all want to find that neighborhood pub where everyone acts like the characters in “Cheers.” The best way to become tight with the regulars and have that bar resembling the one “where everybody knows your name” is to simply find a small establishment you enjoy, return often, interact politely and maybe throw down occasionally for a round of shots.
Shamrock Pub, 2257 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, 952-1730, shamrocksarasota.comScene: Become A Regular 1
Shamrock may look like just another neighborhood pub, or even a hipster hangout, but it's so much more than that. Owner Derek Anderson has managed to turn his tiny spot into a haven for craft beer lovers, local music fans and foodies who come to sample the fare at special barbecues he runs throughout the summer. He knows that once he gets them in, they tend to come back.
Casey Key Fish House, 801 Blackburn Point Road, Osprey, 966-1901, caseykeyfishhouse.com (Photo by Dan Wagner)Scene: Become A Regular 2
Come by boat or car, it doesn't matter at Casey Key's very own tiki bar, where everyone chats with their neighbor and the drinks are served as cold as humanly possible.
Blue Rooster (Photo provided)Music
As for live music, it all depends on your mood. If you want a guy doing Jimmy Buffett covers you’re safe at pretty much any beach bar from Venice to Anna Maria, but piano lounges require a little more effort. There are a host of spots that have stages big enough for local bands — from roots to blues — and all you have to do to figure which one works the best for you is check out Ticket’s weekly live music listings.
Pub Eighty Eight, 436 12th St. W., Bradenton, 896-8877Music 1
Pub Eighty-Eight is a classic piano bar lounge in the heart of Bradenton, where you can drop a dollar in the glass and request your favorite hit from the man tinkling the ivories.
Ace’s Live, 4343 Palma Sola Blvd., Bradenton, 795-3886, aceslivemusic.com (Photo provided)Music 2
Ace's has been the premier spot for live music in Bradenton, from massive benefit concerts (like the blow-out for Dan Toler a couple years back) to weekly blues jams.
Blue Rooster, 1525 4th St., Sarasota, 388-7539, blueroostersrq.com (Photo provided)Music 3
Blue Rooster is a newcomer with a small stage that's made a big splash, thanks to its booking of some serious national acts and its consistent shows by local bands.
Growler’s Pub, 2831 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 487-7373, growlersonline.comMusic 4
If you're a local indie rock band, chances are you've graced the stage at Growler's at some point in your career. The beer bar has a great open room so it can cram in the fans if necessary and the casual setting and proximity to Ringling and New College makes it an ideal location.
Pool at Livingston's Amusement Center (Photo provided)Games
Darts, billiards and some form of trivia have probably been around since our great-grandparents started hitting the bars, while video games (often designed to mimic more traditional bar games) can be found in many bars. “Cornhole” requires a fair amount of outdoor space, which is easily a draw all by itself, right?
Council’s Bradenton Recreation, 536 12th St. W., Bradenton, 746-8350Games: Pool
We love historic dive bar Council's Bradenton Recreation mostly for its burgers, but if we can shoot some eight-ball while we down a couple of those tasty treats and American draft beers, well, what's not to like?
Tarpon Pointe Grill & Tiki Bar, 801 Riverside Drive E., Bradenton, 746-8700, tarponpointegrill.comGames: Cornhole
Tarpon Pointe Grill & Tiki Bar, the eastern anchor of Bradenton Riverwalk, attracts clients chiefly because of its superb location on the Manatee River but also thanks to the “corn hole” bean bag toss games set up in the sand.
Livingston’s Amusement Center, 5947 Clark Center Ave., Sarasota, 925-7665, livingstonsamusements.comGames: Everything, plus go-karts
The massive warehouse space that is Livingston's has just about every bar game you could possibly imagine, plus skee ball, video games and gas-powered go-karts on the track out back.
Keys to a great bar
/ Thursday, August 15, 2013