Craft cocktails are truly a thing of beauty. Indulgent, overpriced, and delicious, a good cocktail can turn your whole day around. Beer, wine, and two ingredient drinks are all great staples, but occasionally it is fantastic to indulge in a well-constructed beverage. It can be an appetizer, dessert, or an entrée all to itself. In the right bar, at the right moment, and with the right ingredients and muddler, a craft cocktail can flush the cheeks, boost the mood, give you a whole new appreciation for the sometimes pretentious art of mixology.
The craft cocktail scene in Tampa is booming. There are trendy bars and restaurants all over the city offering classic cocktails, interesting takes on familiar recipes, or brand new concoctions. There are fantastic bartenders in every neighborhood, just waiting for your order. Below are the nine best craft cocktails in Tampa. If you plan to try them all over one weekend, just promise to take an Uber!
The Mermaid Tavern is an incredible dark bar that sits just off the corner of Nebraska and Sligh in Seminole Heights. It is casual and friendly, and definitely funky. Walking through the front door feels like walking into the hangout of the coolest person you know, so long as you enjoy a hipster vibe. Here is how they describe themselves on their website:
“A restaurant is a place to eat, but taverns have been social spaces for over 1,000 years. Our service is basic, because your uninterrupted thought or punchline is more important than us pushing another round of drinks. We strive to select top-quality local, sustainable and family-owned suppliers, and virtually everything down to the ketchup, is made in-house. We think ethical means doing the right thing when no one can see, even when it’s not always profitable. People should locally control their food, water and beer, because when facing a Corporatocracy, our daily choices matter. Thanks for choosing us and welcome aboard!” (source).
They have a spectacular beer menu, a fantastic food menu, and the cocktail that secured their spot on this list…the sangria. This luscious red drink doesn’t quite taste like traditional sangria, but that is ok because it is fantastic in its own right. Rounded out with full fruit and red wine flavors, and topped with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon, this drink will sneak up on you, so try to limit yourself to just a couple…if you can.
Ciro’s is an incredibly stylish bar occupying prime real estate on the corner of Howard and Bayshore, but you may not see it from the sidewalk since it’s a speakeasy! Located on the first floor of a beautiful condo building, you have to call ahead to get the day’s password before you can enter. The cloak and dagger routine adds to the charm of this meticulously decorated space – all of the elements combining to make you feel like you are back in the prohibition era. You can enjoy some incredible cocktails at the bar, or stay for dinner in one of their intimate dining booths. Here is how they describe themselves on their website:
“Ciro’s is South Tampa’s finest cocktail bar serving an elite list of hand crafted cocktails true to the prohibition era. Our talented bartenders & mixologists create tantalizing hand crafted cocktails that will intrigue both your palate and your senses. Located inside the historic Bayshore Royal Building on the corner of Howard Avenue and Bayshore Boulevard, Ciro’s is a hidden gem in Tampa Bay.” (source).
Every single one of the cocktails on their menu is a work of art, but if you really want to embrace the prohibition vibe, you absolutely must try the French 75. This classic cocktail consists of sugar, lemon juice, gin, and sparkling wine. That’s right – the mixer is also alcoholic. Prohibition drinkers were not messing around. The beverage is served in a champagne flute and the delicate color is bound to make you feel like the lady or gentleman you are!
For your next drink, you will have to head deep into South Tampa, all the way into the heart of Palma Ceia. Roux is a New Orleans inspired restaurant seated in an unpretentious strip mall. They are serious about authenticity. Local legend has it that the owner spent a weekend in New Orleans, and when he found the best grilled clams in town he promptly invited the man making them to spend a weekend in Tampa, teaching his team how to replicate the recipe. Here is how they describe themselves:
“Roux’s signature Southern-inspired cuisine has become the darling of regional food aficionados. The highly approachable menu blends comfortable Southern classics with the iconic fresh Creole and Cajun dishes of Louisiana.” (source).
So if you are looking for a drink to go with those oysters (pro tip, hit this spot for Happy Hour since the Chargrilled Oysters are only $1 a piece), definitely go with the Sazerac. Another classic cocktail, the bartenders at Roux skillfully combine the Redemption Rye , Pernod Absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters, and lemon peel into a distinct and delicious beverage. The next time you’re in a NOLA kind of mood, skip the flight and head down to Roux instead.
Bulla is a relatively new fixture on South Howard Avenue. A Spanish-inspired Gastrobar with several locations across the American South, this restaurant capitalizes on the indoor/outdoor concept. Their space features giant doors that roll open when the weather is nice and a rooftop bar that is truly a place to be on Friday and Saturday nights. Here is how they describe themselves:
“Why all the buzz? The bar and open kitchen design set the mood with an energetic vibe. The emphasis is on quality gastronomic creations made with the finest and freshest flavors. With tantalizing tapas, seasonal menus, hand-crafted cocktails, and an impressive wine list, bulla is where you go to indulge in a celebration of good taste.” (source).
Bulla has been mentioned on Just Guava before, in our list of the Three Best Happy Hours in Tampa, the reason being that their cocktails are absolutely incredible. If you are going to spend an evening enjoying some tapas, definitely do it alongside a La Madrileña. This glorious little cocktail is comprised of Old Forester 100 Bourbon, La Gitana Manzanilla sherry, apple cinnamon infused syrup, grated cinnamon, and a filthy black cherry. The result is basically an alcoholic apple pie. Considering that the cooler temperatures we are enjoying now won’t last too much longer in Tampa, you had better head there for your drink now.
Haven is a painfully stylish restaurant and bar on the corner of Howard and Morrison. South Howard Ave has quite a few noteworthy craft bars, in case you had failed to notice the pattern. Haven’s tagline is “Crafted. Cultured. Cellared.” and it is a great place to grab dinner, or even just an appetizer before heading down the block to Bern’s for an incredible steak. Here is how they describe themselves:
“Haven is a place that you go to enjoy food, wine and spirits with your friends in a relaxing and comfortable space. Retreat from life’s challenges to celebrate life’s victories.” (source).
If you are looking to enjoy a drink at their oversized and well-appointed bar, definitely try out the 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie reference may be about 18 years too late, but the drink itself is definitely out of this world. The crisp combination of Hendricks gin, Singani 63, Giffard cacao, and lime juice makes for a very stiff and very enjoyable cocktail. You will be tempted to enjoy more than one, but take care not to overdo it. Remember, you’ve still got a few more cocktails to try.
Hotel Bar in downtown Tampa isn’t actually associated with a hotel. Rather, the name describes that stylish, somewhat transient feeling that comes with drinking in a hotel bar, all without the associated price of a room. Plus, all of their cocktails are named for famous hotels from around the world. Depending on what you order, you can convince yourself that you are sipping a cocktail in London, Paris, Trinidad or Japan, all from the same dimly lit interior of this clever little Tampa bar. Here is how they describe themselves:
“True to our name, the space reflects a swanky hotel – embossed metal ceiling tiles, stylish wallpaper, local artwork, oversized brown leather stools, a custom marble bar top, and an antique chandelier hanging overhead.” (source).
So the question of the hour at Hotel Bar is always, where should you pretend to be? Our vote is Havana. The Hotel National cocktail, named for an incredibly impressive hotel from glory days past, this cocktail consists of cana brava, giffard peche pineapple and lime. It will taste tropical, refreshing, and like the perfect thing to enjoy underneath a palm tree on the once secluded Caribbean island.
If you are looking to stay downtown, then lucky for you the last cocktail on our list comes from a restaurant just a block or two away at Anise. Anise is a Global Gastrobar overlooking Curtis Hixon Park. The restaurant has a swanky feel, incredibly tall ceilings, and a wonderful drink menu. Here is what they have to say about themselves:
“Anise Global Gastrobar centers around internationally inspired bites, masterfully crafted cocktails, and carefully selected wines. We pride ourselves on being involved in an array of community conscious initiatives and maintaining an eco-friendly atmosphere. For the best Tampa restaurant specials, cocktails, and food, Anise Global Gastrobar answers the call.” (source).
So before you venture out onto the Riverwalk for a stroll, enjoy a Kurrant Bramble. The drink is made with Damrak gin, fresh berries, crème de mure and cassis, and is both refreshing and significant in a truly indulgent way.
Ella’s Folkart Café in Seminole Heights serves elevated soul food, soul food on Sunday, and incredible barrel aged cocktails. This fabulous restaurant with its epic porch has been a fixture in Seminole Heights since 2009, and it is easy to see why. The food is heavy but delicious, and the cocktails are inventive and inspiring, the art is curated and incredible, and the live music is loud and soulful. Here’s how Ella’s describes themselves:
“Ella’s expansive bar program includes craft and barrel aged cocktails, a collection of over 100 rare and small batch bourbons, locally sourced craft and classic beers, and an extensive wine list. On Soul Food Sundays, our award-winning Bloody Ella (garnished with a smoked BBQ rib), giant mimosas, and our breakfast of champion shots are sure ways to help you praise the lard!” (source).
So if you opt to enjoy some next level comfort food that both reminds you of home and fine dining, then make sure you’ve got a Beet Negroni to go with it. This incredibly creative cocktail comes together with Ella’s infused beet gin, Campari, Dolin Rouge Vermouth and an orange twist. It will taste earthy and refreshing, equal parts homespun and hip. This drink totally encompasses everything Ella’s is.
This brand new little cocktail lounge is the trendy and Instagram-worthy bar that Seminole Heights had been missing. Have you ever wanted to take a selfie in a claw-foot tub in front of a plant wall adorned with flamingo paintings? Mandarin Heights is here to help you scratch that itch. In addition to basically being a bar-sized photo booth, this little spot also slings absolutely fantastic drinks. Here’s what they say about themselves:
“We see ourselves as stewards of the cocktail culture. In doing so we pride ourselves on classic drink recipes but also strive at creating new cocktails for our guests to explore and find ones tailored to their preferences. At the Mandarin Hide, we create a new menu each Tuesday for our guests to experience. We will continue this tradition and use Mandarin Heights as a cocktail laboratory to focus on pushing the exceeding expectations with cocktail theatre and innovation.” (source).
The Blind Pig is the only cocktail on the list that offers a spicy kick. The drink is made from Absolut Elyx, Ancho Reyes Verde Chile Poblano Liqueur, jalapeño, lime, and cucumber soda. So if you want your drink to hurt a little, then this is absolutely the drink for you.
So the next time you find yourself jonesing for something fancier than a cold beer or a glass of great wine, take yourself on a little cocktail tour of Tampa. The menus are extensive and inventive, the combinations skillful, and the bartenders ready and waiting to make you your new favorite drink.