Big Top Brewing Company. Photo Credit: Eddie Kirsch
Big Top Brewing Company. Photo Credit: Eddie Kirsch

Traversing the bars less traveled down Tamiami Trail

Sometimes the strange, dimly lit bar next to a rustic hotel can be a turn out to be a fun adventure of cheap, strong drinks and peculiar characters serving a tall tale. Check out our list of some of the area's best local hangouts to splash into.

The local tavern. A blessed purveyor of cheap drinks, multi-colored graffiti, and tattooed bartenders in flip flops. There are several of these in Sarasota and each place is unique and content in its own stubbornness not to change and ability to outlive their trendy competition. These bars are ready to serve up a night big on personality and beer mirrors and wee on pretentiousness. The money these bars save on innovation, advertising and new barstools make it possible to enjoy a game day or night out without breaking out the plastic. Which is good, because in some cases these bars are "Cash Only."

If you do find one you like, you'll find yourself returning multiple times when visiting Sarasota County. That's the magic of a special hangout. From Bradenton down to Venice, here's seven great spots down Tamiami Trail worth dipping into for a drink:

Tommy Knockers

Tommy Knockers utilizes a classic local bar formula: Pool tables + great bartenders + loud music + Punching Bag Game for the Boys + Stripper Pole for the Girls (and drunken boys) = Success. This bar also has a great beer selection for a bar of its caliber. The eclectic crowd builds as the night grows late and there's always a conversation to be had with some friendly Bradenton home-growns.

S.O.B. Burgers

S.O.B. stands for South of Bradenton, not your favorite expletive. Maybe too "restaurant-y" to be on the strictly-bar list; but the good-spirited, accommodating and roller derby-loving owners deserve to have this place busier. All they do is make you feel welcome and offer up a yummy array of burgers, homemade onion rings and cold craft beers and drinks on the cheap. And, if you're an Ohio State Buckeye fan, you've found your home away from Columbus.

Bahi Hut

Ahh, Bahi Hut: a Sarasota legend. Nestled between a hotel and a gravel parking lot, this throwback to the days when Tiki masks were chic, is a must. With its close proximity to the SRQ Airport, fun mix of story-tellers nestled around the bar and famous too-strong Mai Tais, this dive makes much more sense than the terminal bars while you wait for a flight.

Harry's Sports Bar and Grill

With a commitment to neon, beer signage, vintage décor, and heavily-garnished food plates, Harry's Sports Bar and Grill is a great place to enjoy a decent beer selection, attractive staff and several sports games. Plenty of indoor and outdoor seating provide temporary homes for lots of out-of-towners and a few locals to enjoy sports, conversation, a Sweetwater 420 and affordable tasty "bar food done right."

Hoosier Bar

From the permanent chalk body outline - complete with head wound - as you enter Hoosier Bar, to the mounted boar's head on the back wall, and all the Anheuser-Busch and Harley-Davidson paraphernalia in between, this watering hole is home to motorcycle enthusiasts, classic rock music, friendly locals and drinking. Our advice: Bring a bottle of febreeze, unless you enjoy your clothes collecting a nice, smoke-and-ash smell.

Wally's Pour House

Dim lights, loud talkers, cheap drinks, wood paneling, a surprisingly tasty menu – written on a poster board – and dollar bills stapled all over the walls at Wally's Pour House can only mean one thing: A classic local watering hole. There's even a separate room for the pool table. Go. Let your hair down. Tell a tall tale. Laugh. Eat. Drink. Enjoy. Thank us later.

Frosted Mug

$1.50 Yuenglings during Happy Hour (and $2 any other time) is all I really need to say about Frosted Mug. But that wouldn't be fair to this '50s original that has managed to stay true to its roots despite the decades of development around it. A few beers on tap and a typical drive-in offering of hot dogs, burgers and sandwiches make it a cheap, filling and nostalgic reprieve from the cars driving 10 mph under the speed limit on 41. Maybe they drive that slow to check out – and honk at – the patrons sitting at the outside bar drinking from any number of mismatched glass mugs. And if you have kids with you, that's OK, there's indoor seating and root beer floats a-plenty.

There you have it. Dive in and enjoy.

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