There’s a difference between a bona fide craft beer bar (think Dunedin House of Beer and Willard’s Tap House) and a spot that happens to have a few craft brews on tap to keep the beer geeks happy. And the folks behind four relatively new Pinellas public houses are proving the point, and doing it right.
Their local bars allow patrons to learn as much, or little, as they want to about the craft, culture and history behind what's on draft, as well as experience a dedication to ingenuity that can’t be found at any old bar.
As West Bay Public House’s Robbie Boyce put it, “We have the very clear intention of just having craft beer available. We’re trying to cater to the craft beer lovers instead of appease them.”
Hops and Props (335 Second Ave. NE, St. Petersburg, 727-803-6806, hopsprops.com). Open for around a year, this downtown St. Pete craft beer hub is a one-stop shop for Florida suds. Out of its 26 taps, 25 had state-made drafts, most of which were local, during a recent visit.
The bar is located inside the St. Petersburg Museum of History and incorporates spare items from the museum’s collection into its decor. Hops and Props also features a short but enticing food menu with items like barbecue sandwiches, a curry chicken salad wrap and smoked black bean hummus.
Co-owner Eric Starr, a local beer scene vet, knows what he likes when it comes to selecting the bar’s liquid wares. However, customer demand also plays a role. Set to host an anniversary bash soon with live bands, Hops and Props is the place for those looking to explore an array of area breweries more thoroughly.
Try: Cigar City Tony Jannus Pale Ale, named after a local legend.
The Pint and Brew (3261 Tampa Road, Palm Harbor, 727-515-9946, thepintandbrew.com). A bubbly beer oasis in Palm Harbor, this 32-tap spot is co-owned by five guys, but Michael Wojtowicz handles most of the operations, including the beer selection. According to him, Tampa’s often in the spotlight when it comes to Florida beer, but great scenes are emerging in places as far south as Miami and as north as Jacksonville. The P&B exposes locals to these offerings, too.
Choosing beers can be tough, said Wojtowicz, who keeps a database of around 2,000 beers and maintains relationships with reps from Florida distribution houses. Breweries are also good about getting him special releases.
A large part of the P&B’s beer culture is its events. The staff assembles a beer lineup for seasonal and holiday-themed gatherings, including the fall Pumpkin Smash, when 22 draft pumpkin beers are offered. Tap takeovers with in-state brewers are also frequently showcased. The next one will feature Jacksonville's Intuition Ale Works.
Try: Terrapin Liquid Bliss, a peanut butter-chocolate porter dry-hopped with Georgia peanuts. You heard right.
Sly Bar (2061 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-735-4035, slybar.com). This downtown St. Pete bar, launched in late April last year, is becoming a no-cover entertainment and hangout haven. Sly Bar regularly welcomes the region’s musicians and comedians to share their crafts over craft beer. Owners Joe Robertson and Loren Bell said they hope to dilute some of the industry’s perceived pretentiousness.
“I’ll have a 9- or 10-dollar beer on tap, but you can also grab a Bud Light if you want that. And if people want to know about a beer, we’ll sit down and explain it to them,” Robertson said.
Robertson and Bell originally planned to open a barbecue joint with six to eight craft brews as a bonus, but after calculating the steep overhead costs, the duo scrapped the idea and decided to go all in with beer. With a mix of local and out-of-town beers on 15 taps, the bar picks many of its drafts based on patron requests.
Try: If you love bourbon like Robertson loves bourbon, sip Lexington Brewing’s Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout.
West Bay Public House (80 Clearwater-Largo Road S., Largo, 727-588-4444). A new taphouse in Largo that’s a must-visit for beer enthusiasts, especially ones who seek hard-to-come-by drafts. Founders Amber Brandon and Robbie Boyce moved from Portland to open West Bay last summer, buying what was then a struggling bar with the help of Boyce’s parents.
The couple said they knew of the flourishing beer scenes in Tampa, Dunedin and St. Pete, but that they wanted to be part of a smaller community they could help build. Offering more than 40 beers on tap, West Bay’s collection is from all over the country, with dashes of local favorites such as Green Bench Brewing Co.’s Surrealist IPA. According to Brandon, the pair enjoys finding beers for the tap list on their own, whether that means picking up a six-pack from the store or visiting a brewery.
Bottle-share events, including ones from a women's bottle share club, are regular occurrences, and the bar plans to host more food happenings like its recent Valentine’s Day beer pairing. Boyce and Brandon said they hope to provide a reliable craft beer spot with plenty of “free fun.”
Try: Boyce recommends Brooklyn Brewery’s Sorachi Ace (“a beer with a lot of steps to it”), and Brandon suggests Stillwater Artisanal’s Cellar Door (“it’s funky”).