Three Tampa Bay bars that have a passion for pairing music and drink

It's all about context, including who you’re sharing the wine with, even the weather.

click to enlarge Picking wines to go with music is all about context, including who you’re sharing the wine with, even the weather. - Photo via crucellars/Facebook
Photo via crucellars/Facebook
Picking wines to go with music is all about context, including who you’re sharing the wine with, even the weather.
If I hadn’t already been told there was no sign out front, I might have assumed we’d goofed up the address.

But the wooden crate filled with empty sake bottles on the cozy blue bungalow’s front porch, and the low sounds of jazzy piano from a stereo, put me at ease. Ditto for glimpses through the windows of folks chatting and drinking.

Friends had been telling me for weeks about In Between Days, a Tokyo-style listening bar in St. Pete’s Grand Central District. My wife Gail and I decided to pay it a visit on a recent Saturday night.

I had only the faintest idea of what a Tokyo-style listening bar is. It turned out to be a bar with a really good sound system, with vinyl being the preferred medium.
Listening bars started some years ago in Japan and then spread to such U.S. cities as Los Angeles and New York. This one in St. Pete is believed to be the first of its kind in Florida.

The front door was bouncer-free. We just walked on in. The vibe was like a mellow party at a really cool friend’s house.

Making our way through the cozy, wood-floored living room, we chose a high-top table near the bar, a few feet from the swank stereo system. We studied the sake menu by lamplight.

As if sensing my ignorance about the sake list, co-owner Elio Marini arrived at our table. He told us about a visit to Tokyo, where he was smitten by Japanese culture. And sake. And listening bars. “It just blew my mind wide open,” he said.

He told us about encountering a small elderly man in one listening bar who would “grab a record, put it on, and place the album cover over an easel.” The interplay of different music styles, Marini said, was a revelation.

Back home in St. Pete, he wished for a similar place to hang out. So he and a friend opened In Between Days, named after the song by the band The Cure. The trick to pairing tunes with sake, he said, is not to overthink it. “It boils down to, what are you in the mood for?” he said.

By way of example, the trio of sakes he helped us pick from the extensive menu seemed like an ideal match for what was playing on the stereo. As for more specific pairings, Marini’s favorites include the light and fruity sake Miyasaka Yawaraka Junmai and the music of American jazz artist Carl Tjader, especially his Soul Sauce album. And Tamagawa’s earthier Red Label Yamahai Genshu sake and such funkier ‘60s and ‘70s tunes as Idris Muhammad's Turn This Mutha Out or Tom Scott’s The Honeysuckle Breeze.

Marini and crew aren’t the only local folks with a passion for pairing music and drink.
Growing up in Tampa, Seth Davis and his brothers played in various bands, mostly punk, indie and hardcore. His current band Brother Cephus has put out several albums, with another on the way. In his 20s he worked at an area coffee shop, where he was tapped to expand its menu to include wines.

When he first tasted natural wines, then barely on the wine lover’s radar, he said he fell in love with the wine as well as the winemakers. “They reminded me so much of the punk music scene,” he said.

Today, as general manager of wine bar and restaurant Cru Cellars in Tampa’s Palma Ceia neighborhood, Davis helps oversee one of the area’s broadest selections of family-made wines from around the world, including natural wines. Picking wines to go with music, he says, is all about context, including who you’re sharing the wine with, even the weather. But he’s no snob.

“I like the idea of listening to country music and drinking vinho verde out of a paper cup."

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“I like the idea of listening to country music and drinking vinho verde out of a paper cup,” he said.

Ryan Fouche, who manages Tampa’s Jug & Bottle Dept., also grew up playing in punk bands. Like Seth, he’s got a soft spot for natural wines. Among his favorite music and wine pairings, especially for summer, is the song Pool Hopping by Illuminati Hotties and a good natural pink wine.

Nate Young was another kid who grew up in the local punk rock scene. When not busy with King State, the Tampa Heights craft beer brewer, coffee roaster and beer, wine and coffee bar he helped found several years ago, he plays drums in an alt-rock band called Anberlin. He too was hooked at an early age by the flavors and ethos of natural wine. And like the others, he’s a fan of mixing music with wine. He even plans soon to host events that pair the two.

“I’m thinking of calling them vino and vinyl,” he said.
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