The cocktail craze seems to have taken Tampa Bay by storm; ordering well liquor and a mixer at a bar just won't cut it anymore. Here's a list of spots with drink lists worth checking out, from cocktail purists to bars that just want to have fun.
BIN 27 BISTRO 2702 W. Kennedy Blvd., 813-878-2700, bin27bistro.com. Sample one of Bin's numerous cocktails and signature "Bintinis," with flavors ranging from lychee to grapefruit to Werther's Originals caramels. Also offering a sizable menu of fine Scotch and bourbons.
THE BRICKS OF YBOR 1327 E. Seventh Ave., 813-247-1785, thebricksybor.com. While not as polished as some of the other spots on this list, The Bricks wins a place on this list for its array of interesting (and surprisingly tasty) cocktails and shooters with inventive names like Star Wars and I Know Judo.
CAFE ALMA 260 First Ave. S, St. Pete, 727-502-5002, cafealma.com. A cozy, dimly lit spot that's great for a date (or late-night shenanigans), Alma's bar offers refreshing mixed drinks and martinis with with tropical twists, like the Tampa Bay Tea, Huckleberry Lemonade and the Acai Berry Collins. Try the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookie or one of their many ports, sherries and madeiras in place of dessert.
CASSIS AMERICAN BRASSERIE 170 Beach Drive, St. Pete, 727-827-2927, cassisab.com. The cocktail list here might be small, but it's definitely quality over quantity at Cassis. Each one of their liquorous offerings is in keeping with the restaurant's French flair. If you're feeling adventurous, try one of their liquors infused with herbs, fruit, peppers and even Jolly Ranchers.
CEVICHE 2930 Gulf To Bay Blvd., Clearwater, 727-799-3082; 10 Beach Drive SE, St. Pete, 727-209-2302; 1502 S. Howard Ave., Tampa, 813-250-0203, cevichetapas.com. The reputation of Ceviche's sangria precedes itself, but did you know that Ceviche also offers an array of libacións with a Spanish twist? Try the sweet Valencia Peach Sunset or the brandy-laden Spanish sidecar.
CIRO'S SPEAKEASY AND SUPPER CLUB 2109 Bayshore Blvd, Tampa. 813-251-0022. The cocktail list reads like a retro-modern bar fantasy: old drinks made with modern ingredients, new drinks made in the old ways. Go on a weeknight, when it's slower, to appreciate the touches that set this bar apart from pretty much every bar in the Bay area. Garnishes cut and prepared as you order, precise measurements of each ingredient, tiny samples taken by disposable stirrers to ensure the proper balance of flavors — care is taken with each drink made at Ciro's. —Brian Ries
DATZ 2116 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa. 813-831-7000, datzdeli.com. With the help of superstar mixologist Somer Perez, Datz has created a list of creative cocktails, all bearing names of iconic people and locations in Tampa. Sample the Bayshore Bubbly, Marti Margarita or the Teddy's Not-So-Rough Ride.
FLY BAR & RESTAURANT 1202 N Franklin St., Tampa, 813-275-5000, flybarandrestaurant.com/tampa. Cleverly disguised as a dining and live music hot spot in downtown Tampa, Fly also serves an impressive list of handcrafted cocktails that changes seasonally. Try them on Tuesday nights for only $6 from 4 p.m. until close.
MANDARIN HIDE 231 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-231-4007, mandarinhide.com. Mandarin Hide mixology references the past but flirts with innovation. Like Tito's Pig, one of the small list of signature cocktails, which transforms a sweet and simple vodka drink into a serious cocktail thanks to the addition of a bright burst of jalapeno heat tempered by cool cucumber. —BR
MARITANA GRILLE AT THE DON CESAR 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach (inside the Don CeSar Beach Resort), 727-360-1881, loewshotels.com. A hidden gem of a cocktail bar is to be found at The Don CeSar's Maritana Grille proffering a revamped cocktail menu to complement the contemporary cuisine. Featured are such avant-garde libations as the hibiscus foam-topped Sea Urchin, consisting of Ciroc vodka and Creme de Cassis, and the Ty-ku Ball — a concoction of Tyku Soju and Domaine de Canton liqueur that is poured over cotton candy in the glass.
MISE EN PLACE 442 W. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 110, Tampa, 813-254-5373, miseonline.com. The artisanal cocktails mirror Mise's elegantly executed food, with classic to contemporary offerings. The Devil's Advocate with chipotle vodka, tequila, lime in a caynne-rimmed glass leans more toward the latter. Bar manager Nathan Dewitt conducts a monthly Cocktail Club at which participants can learn about different spirits while they sip them and nibble on light appetizers.
OCEAN PRIME 2205 N. West Shore Blvd., Tampa, 813-490-5288, ocean-prime.com. You might forget to order the steaks and seafood that form the core of the menu after downing one of the innovative and expertly constructed cocktails on the Ocean Prime martini list. —BR
RUBY'S ELIXIR 15 Third St. N, St. Petersburg,727-898-7829, rubyselixir.com. Cocktails here are old-fashioned and unfussy, largely geared toward classic standards backed up by a very good selection of premium liquors. There's also a good selection of craft brews on tap, perhaps because the cocktails are more musical accompaniment than the reason for the whole endeavor and therefore don't care about internal competition. —BR
SIDEBERN'S 2208 W Morrison Ave., Tampa, 813-258-2233, sideberns.com. Going where no cocktailian has gone before, Dean Hurst, manager/mad scientist at Sidebern's, takes mixology to a whole new level with innovative, artisanal cocktails: twists on old classics, like the Rested Negroni with barrel-aged vermouth, and new-fashioned concoctions like the Hopped Daisy — Cascade (beer) hop-soaked tequila with green chartreuse, dry vermouth and lime. The drink menu changes seasonally, but the accommodating bar staff will gladly whip up old favorites if they're no longer on the menu.
Z GRILLE 104 Second St. S, St. Pete, 727-822-9600, zgrille.net. "Funky" best describes Z Grille's vibe, decor and menu (and chef), and that playful attitude carries over to their drink list as well, with offerings like the sour Motherpucker, Hot Nuts Irish coffee and spicy jalapeno mojito. Would you expect anything less from the place that serves Dr. Pepper-flavored fried ribs?