Bad drinks are out, good drinks are in, and that doesn’t necessarily mean a heavy pour. Handcrafted cocktails require a knowing hand and an experienced bartender to stir up something good. —Arielle Stevenson
THE BENDS 919 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg, 727-202-8931. Located on First Avenue North in the former ARTpool space in downtown St. Pete’s newly dubbed “edge district,” The Bends is a full liquor bar with several specialty cocktails (i.e., the Moscow Mule and Cucumber Margarita) and a fair selection of drafts all on the cheap. A portrait of Tom Selleck’s mustachioed mug is framed and illuminated behind the bar like a deity of coolness. Named the Best New Bar in the Burg in the 2012 Best of the Bay.
THE BRICKS OF YBOR 1327 E. Seventh Ave., 813-247-1785, thebricksybor.com. The Skatepark of Tampa’s own bar, restaurant and coffee shop, located right in the heart of Ybor City. By day, it’s a trendy spot for a good lunch. Come afternoon, it’s time for happy hour, when cocktails start getting slung about acrobatically. By night, we’re usually quite tipsy and watching Star Wars on one of the TVs above the bar, or drinking the Star Wars (Southern Comfort, amaretto, sour and a splash of Sprite), one of the offerings on their craft cocktail menu.
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. Ceviche’s sangria is already famous, but did you know that the restaurant also offers an array of other libations with a Spanish twist? Try the sweet Valencia Peach Sunset or the brandy-laden Spanish sidecar. —Katie Machol
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. 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.
ELLA’S FOLK ART CAFÉ 5119 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, 813-234-1000, ellasfolkartcafe.com. While food is Ella’s main claim to fame, don’t forget your drink order. Get out there for Soulful Sunday brunch and order yourself the Bloody Mary that comes garnished with a short rib. That’s right, we said a short rib. It’s a must-sip.
FLY BAR & RESTAURANT 1202 N Franklin St., Tampa, 813-275-5000, flybarandrestaurant.com/tampa. Home to Best of the Bay’s best cocktail — the Pimm’s Cup, made by Danny Guess — Fly Bar makes food and drink that are equally appealing to connoiseurs and the cocktail-curious.
FUMA BELLA 1318 E. Eighth Ave., Ybor City, 813-248-6130. Fuma Bella is the Narnia of cocktail bars. From the outside it looks like a minuscule closet, but take one step through the threshold and you’re in a whole other world, dimly lit, warm and welcoming. Fuma Bella’s strength is knowing exactly what you want to drink even if you don’t.
MANDARIN HIDE 231 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-231-4007, mandarinhide.com. Mandarin Hide’s mixologists reference the past but flirt with innovation. Take Tito’s Pig, a signature cocktail that transforms a sweet and simple vodka drink into a serious cocktail thanks to the addition of a bright burst of jalapeño heat tempered by cool cucumber. —BR
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.
Bar manager Nathan Dewitt conducts a monthly Cocktail Club at which participants can learn about different spirits while they sip and nibble on light appetizers.
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 like the Rested Negroni with barrel-aged vermouth. The drink menu changes seasonally, but the accommodating bar staff will gladly whip up old favorites if they’re no longer on the menu.
TRYST GASTRO LOUNGE 240 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg, 727-821-4567, trystgastrolounge.com. Tryst is home to St. Petersburg’s most glamorous bar, with a golden wall twinkling behind bartenders as they mix. Try the Downtown Derby made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, rosemary-infused honey and grapefruit juice.
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 and Spicy Jalapeño Mojito.