Tampa’s bar scene has evolved unevenly over the years. What started off as just seedy dive bars and Florida beach bars and sports pubs has attracted more of a craft cocktail vibe over the years and prices went up with it. Tampa has plenty of talent and sports an organized United States Bartenders Guild chapter that does the work. Still it doesn’t quite match the bars in big cities despite attempts to revolutionize things.
Here are 10 bars to explore and experience Tampa:
Probably one of my favorite bars in Tampa. Hotel Bar has cocktails inspired by hotels around the world and a wide list of spirits available. Bartenders can make almost anything at your request. You’ll spend about $10-15 per cocktail, maybe more but it is very much worth it. The bartenders give a good pour. The food is also really great although the size of most dishes is small so plan accordingly. I really like the vibe here at night - it feels more grown up. Seating is limited, so I wouldn’t bring a large crowd without planning ahead.
200 North Tampa Street, Tampa, FL 33602. (813) 999-4080
An offshoot of the Mandarin Hide in Downtown St. Petersburg, Mandarin Heights is a fun place to be. It has some off nights, but on the weekends it sometimes has live music and DJs and is located right next to Bodega for a quick bite before drinking. The bartenders have worked at many of the popular spots around town and drinks are fairly affordable. The scene is hipster just like much of Seminole Heights and the music fits it accordingly.
5901 North Florida Avenue #6603, Tampa, FL 33604.
First Chance Last Chance Bar
When I think of Ybor City, I feel like First Chance Last Chance has the vibes that are representative of the town. Hip-hop and old school music and dive bar-like drinks. I love the outside courtyard, it’s a great place to hangout with friends and when there is a DJ spinning it’s a great time. Prices here are pretty affordable, just make sure to bring cash if you are not going to spend too much. I like the outside bar with the spinning shot board as well. Overall - it’s a good time at First Chance Last Chance.
1707 North 16th Street, Tampa, FL 33605. (813) 816-1707
CW’s Gin Joint
This is a swanky bar in Downtown Tampa with a large variety of gin spirits and other libations. It’s a little pricey, but the atmosphere inside is gorgeous. It gets very busy inside on the weekends and they do have a dress code so be sure to watch out for that and make reservations if coming during a busy time. The food was stellar in the past, but my go-to chef left recently so I can’t speak for it at the moment.
633 North Franklin Street, Tampa, FL 33602. (813) 816-1446
No bar list would be complete with Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supper Club or Ciro’s Tampa as it is also known. Everything in this bar is set to the 1920s and you’ll find creative cocktails and bartenders who really know their craft. Expect to spend on a visit, sometimes a cocktail can run you nearly $20. Overall though it is a great time. Reservations are definitely recommended and don’t forget to get the password for entry.
2109 Bayshore Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33606. (813) 251-0022
The Champagne Bar - Oxford Exchange
I would classify this as a mini-bar inside the Oxford Exchange, a London-inspired hall filled with delicious food, a coffee shop, tea bar, and business coworking-meeting space. The vibes are fancy and the prices are reflective of this. It’s a fun stop along the way, but not your destination if you’re going out for a drink.
420 West Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33606. (813) 253-0222
Independent Bar and Cafe
This is a Seminole Heights neighborhood spot. You’ll run into all the locals and they have a wide list of beer options available. The vibes are very chill and during the day it feels more like a cafe or restaurant. They have some basic American food available, not good or bad. If you want to get a feel for the area, I feel like the Independent is exactly that. Prices are fair and the staff is friendly.
5016 N Florida Ave, Tampa, FL 33603. (813) 341-4883
Park & Rec Tampa
This is a St. Pete transplant that found its way into Downtown Tampa in a spot that has changed time many times over the years of what was once Channelside. Loud music, young kids, and an overall fun yet rowdy environment. The cocktails are surprisingly affordable for Downtown Tampa and not badly made. It has nightclub vibes without quite being one. It was a welcome addition when it first entered the scene for a sorely lacking nightlife scene in Downtown Tampa, although it would not seem the neighbors upstairs agree.
Be aware that they will regularly slap cover charges on at the door depending on what is happening around town.
290 South Meridian Avenue, Tampa, FL 33602. (813) 563-4777.
Carmine’s Restaurant & Bar
Carmine’s is a historic restaurant in Ybor that has an unsuspecting bar with great cocktails. It all started on a day of judging at the Cuban Sandwich Festival. I stopped in for a snack before starting the day and noticed that the cocktail list featured St. George’s Gin and Vodka from California. The last time I enjoyed a cocktail with it was in San Francisco and so I decided to get a drink and ever since then I simply cannot overlook that Carmine’s has excellent food AND cocktails. One drink had me tipsy. Prices are fair too. Definitely give a try if you haven’t ordered a drink there before. They aren’t open late so this is more for day drinking.
1802 East 7th Avenue #3808, Tampa, FL 33605. (813) 248-3834
The Hub Bar
If you like dive bars, this is the spot. The Hub is a 1940s vintage bar, although to be honest I can’t tell the difference. Smokers, bartenders who don’t give a damn what you want to drink, cash, and destroyed restrooms. You wouldn’t see everything Tampa has to offer without making a pit stop here. Indeed it is better to show up here already after a night of drinking, but depending on your style this may make or ruin your night. Regardless, The Hub is a fun place.
719 North Franklin Street, Tampa, FL 33602. (813) 229-1553.
Carlos Hernandez is a local writer who has written about food for ten years. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @CarlosEats or visit him at CarlosEats.com.