Best Of 2013

Best "I can't believe I'm drinking here" bar
Chip Weiner

It’s with reluctance that we mention this Seminole Heights watering hole because drinking here feels like home (with a lot more selection, obviously) and we don’t wanna ruin it. There are countless reasons to be charmed by the open-to-the-public venue (there’s a cuss jar – and they use it), but a good place to start is on Thursday nights when Johnny Charro’s dance band plays tunes you can mingle and just be neighbors with someone to. Just remember to be nice; it’s not that hard, you know.

Best 1926 mechanic shop turned hoarder’s nest turned highly anticipated brewery
Todd Bates

It’s been a long and winding road for Green Bench Brewing Co. The building renovations are now nearly complete, the outdoor beer garden is underway, and head brewer Khris Johnson is brewing batch after batch of delicious (and already noteworthy) beers. They’re not quite open yet, but the slated mid-September looks right on track.

Best aquarium where you eat the fish

As the name suggests, the authentic specialties of the house come from the sea. Or to be more accurate, from the aquariums that line a wall near the kitchen. Talk about fresh! Your dinner is swimming right up until you place an order. It’s especially fun to see a tank of shrimp gliding through the water doing a kind of multi-legged dog paddle. And then, like magic, fresh seafood is on your plate.

Best “we are the world” food plaza

Pull into the nondescript group of shops at 1300 East Bay Drive in Largo and you’ll swear you’re being punked. This intimate plaza offers an authentic global cuisine sampler: Thai Bay restaurant, Anna’s Polish deli, Tampa Style Cubans café, German Bistro 2 and Las Palomas Latin American Market. There’s no excuse not to explore. 1300 East Bay Drive, Largo. Cuban 727-586-5797; German 727-216-6519; Latin American 727-581-1050; Polish 727-953-7763; Thai 727-584-5522,

Best bagel that makes you think of NYC
Clearwater Bagels

CL food critic Jon Palmer Claridge went in search of the perfect bagel earlier this year, and he found his holy grail at Clearwater Bagels. Dense, chewy, with a moist crumb and a touch of sweet malt, these bagels stand out above all the rest. Take a bite, close your eyes, and be transported to bagel Valhalla (aka New Yawk).

Best bar above the fray

When the elevator doors open, your gaze is drawn toward the thrilling rooftop space. There’s the sky bar, private cabanas, fire pits, indoor/outdoor grass, living room seating, high-top tables and a surprising glass railing with unobstructed, breathtaking views across the treetops of Straub Park out to the glistening Bay. Add a delightful mix of Todd McNulty’s creative cocktails and, for the Champagne aficionado, Veuve Cliquot by the amply poured glass. It’s only five stories up, but it sure seems close to heaven.

Best bareback mustache ride
One Night Stand

One Night Stand’s animatronic bull, Mustache, has proven irresistible to macho men, women in skirts, and spectators eager to see this vomit-machine make fools of the drunken brave. While Mustache may lure patrons into St. Pete’s first country bar, they stay for moonshine cocktails in mason jars, line dancing, and female bartenders rocking tank tops, daisy dukes, and boots. 149 First Ave. N., Saint Petersburg, 727-823-0000, [email protected]

Best BBQ man

It wasn't just the ribs, almost inappropriately tender and juicy, that made Eli's Bar-B-Que in Dunedin. It was Eli Crawford himself, a shepherd of meat to the promised land of barbecue. It was almost as if the racks of ribs knew they were in the right hands when they reached Crawford, and they submitted to his barbecue will every time. Crawford, 71, died on March 14, after a battle with leukemia. Barbecue apprentice and Crawford’s “son,” Eric Davis, continues the tradition today.

Best beer geek invasion
Tampa Bay Beer Week

Only the second year of this festival, and already the rest of the world is taking notice. With over 200 events spread around the bay, and some truly top-notch happenings, Tampa Bay proved it can attract craft beer lovers from all over. Every day brought something amazing, from beer pairing dinners to collaboration releases to full-blown festivals. We had visiting brewers from Belgium, homebrewers sharing their talents, and a Beer Week kick-off with Mayor Buckhorn tapping a firkin of the first-ever 13-brewery collaboration brew.

Best Ben-and-Jerry’s-better-watch-out ice cream shop
Chip Weiner

Bill and Leslee Workman opened up their Brandon ice cream shop last year and drew a word-of-mouth following with flavors like Chicken N Waffles, Drunken Brownie, Porkie’s Delight (yes, there’s bacon), and Curried Sky. And that’s just the tip of the ice, ahem, cream cone. Workman is constantly coming up with new and inventive flavors like their most recent addition, the Seaward, made with salted caramel, cardamom, cinnamon and coffee.