Night Out. Photo credit: Loren Mayo
Photo credit: Loren Mayo
Big Top Brewing

A Night Out at Sarasota Dive Bars

If you are into the bars, pubs and little-known restaurants, you'll love these secret spots in Sarasota County.

In Sarasota County, we cheers to our wonderfully weird, off-the-beaten-track bars, and pubs. We revel in its character: the hip-hop hookah bar, a craft beer bar disguised in a fade white house, or a dimly lit pub with mouthwatering beer cheese. If this type of dive is your scene, check out my favorite selections:

Glass Gripper Hookah Lounge

The word "hookah" was all it took to get us in the door. My friend Star (yes, that's her real name and no I'm not making it up) and I hail an Uber to transport us to Gulf Gate.

Upon arriving at Gulf Gate, my friend and I spotted the most oddly intriguing hookah bar: Glass Gripper Hookah Lounge. I've actually never set foot in a hookah bar (please don't tell my parents otherwise), so I have no idea what to expect. We wait behind a red velvet rope like we're entering some exclusive New York club. The $8 cover includes hookah and a non-alcoholic beverage. (If you're in the mood for alcohol, try the Chocolate Covered Raspberry or Cotton Candy.) There are four other 20-somethings bouncing to Notorious BIG, then Snoop and some old school hip hop.

We choose a corner spot and peruse the menu, filled with flavor after flavor and enticing descriptions. The group agrees the Magic Dragon: an intense blueberry flavor with a refreshingly minty undertone. I must say the stuff is pretty darn delicious, and if you're going with a group it's a fun experience. The hookah pipes kind of remind me of genie lamps, and the tubes coming out of them are a snazzy blue. Although I don't usually condone smoking (horrible for health), this experience, on occasion is very delightful.

Cock & Bull Farmhouse

You'd barely recognize this little old house and it's shabby black paint job during the day. It just sort of blends into the background, and probably the only way to tell it's a bar are the kegs sitting on the porch. And maybe the sign — if you're paying attention.

My favorite time of year to drink beer at Cock & Bull is during fall and winter, when the Florida heat drops a few degrees and the fire pits get going. Seasonal beer fills the taps and beer coolers and everyone gathers in the backyard to jam out and relax. Cock & Bull has 38 taps and 500-plus bottles, one of which is my favorite pumpkin beer, Southern Tier Pumking, and its imperial stout counterpart, Warlock.

If it's too hot, there's darts, card games and pizza with the comfort of air conditioning inside. It's a great place to take anyone visiting Sarasota County or friends who've never been. Plus, you can bring your dog.

Bahi Hut

Ah, what can I tell you about what every local refers to as the "Bye Bye Hut?" It's a total dive. (Duh.) Giant spoon door handle, seriously stiff drinks — as in, the Mai Tai and Sneaky Tiki, which you are are forbidden to order more than TWO, tops. Bahi Hut has a super smoky haze and some kitschy music here and there.

Sure, the oddly charming Polynesian tiki palace, which dates back to the 1950s, has its regulars. But for the most part, because it's near the airport and surrounded by a bunch of cheap motels, anyone from college hipsters to theater junkies can walk through that big spoon door. And trust me, they do. I have an exceptionally pretty and petite girlfriend who is pretty fond of this place and literally asks to hit it up every weekend. She looks more out of place than I do, but there are always good stories to take away from an evening spent there. Like I mentioned earlier, I can't stand tobacco, but everybody should try the good ole bye bye hut at least once in their life. Go ahead, get your weird on.

Shakespeare's English Pub

Beer + cheese = beer cheese. Their burgers and blackened chicken sandwich are pretty killer, too. I always end up here at Shakespeare's English Pub with my friend Dave, and we love to pig out on the most heavenly (and a little spicy!) beer cheese on the planet. For the beer loving, you can never go wrong with the greatest guest IPA of the day. Sometimes I end up with an apricot wheat or cucumber saison. I can't ever recall which beer Dave orders because I'm too focused on the number of minutes I have to endure before I can dip the homemade fried pita chips into my beer cheese!

Shamrock Pub

The first time I set foot in Shamrock Pub, probably back in 2007 or 2008, I immediately spotted the red telephone booth. It's pretty hard not to miss, especially since I've always wanted one. Once, on a family vacation to I can't remember where, we went antiquing and stumbled upon an identical red telephone booth. My dad and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. To this day, I still don't know if he was joking about taking it home and putting it my room.

Shamrock is a cash-only bar, but the phone booth has an ATM machine inside. It's worth visiting: there's always good beer and good music. On Thursdays, there's live music. Sundays are karaoke night. And on Mondays during the summer, there's the Summer Chef Jam, which pairs a few beers with tasty treats from local restaurants. Shamrock also throws the best St. Patrick's Day block party in Sarasota County. If you spot a neon green tutu with black patent leather heels, it's probably me.

Apr 17, 2017
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