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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 10 months ago

Cheers to Something Different: Try these unique happy hours

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These bars and restaurants are a little off the beaten path, but they have some of our favorite happy hours in town.
by: Niki Kottmann Managing Editor of Arts and Entertainment

The local watering hole.

Most communities have one. Whether it’s the dive bar down the road where the chairs wobble but the bartenders know most customers by name or the Mexican restaurant where white collar and blue collar workers alike drop in for a margarita after work, this is where memories — and friendships — are made.

And there’s no better time of day to make a new drinking buddy than during happy hour.

The sangria is one of the most popular drinks during happy hour at Brasa & Pisco. Photo by Niki Kottmann

Sarasotans have a plethora of choices when it comes to happy hour, but many of these deals are found downtown at crowded bars and restaurants that often cater to tourists.

So we went on a search for our favorite hidden gem happy hours — and we steered clear of downtown, Siesta Key and St. Armands Circle.

What we found was a mix of places we had heard of and some that we hadn’t. Some had amazing deals and others had a happy hour discount that was just OK, but what was new about all of them was the sense of community that was evident from the moment we sat down at the bar.

 

J.R.’s Old Packinghouse Cafe

This place has been through some hard times, but families band together when life gets rough, and that’s exactly what the close-knit regulars and employees did after J.R.’s Old Packinghouse Cafe suffered a fire on June 18, 2016.

Bartender Cledith Coleman poses with regular Susie Tanner in front of Coleman's honored spot on the wall. Photo by Niki Kottmann

The restaurant reopened Feb. 15, and its loyal customers wasted no time getting right back on the barstools. One of them was Susie Tanner, who’s been coming for 12 years and is on a first-name basis with not only owner J.R. Garraus but all the employees, Garraus’ mother and even the volunteer bartender, Cledith Coleman.

Coleman is a Vietnam War veteran who “got bored one day,” he says, so he decided to start making the drive up from his home in North Port to work an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. bartending shift without pay. That was 18 years ago, and his boredom has yet to come back.

But be warned, Tanner says, because anyone who walks up to his bar will be greeted with a grumbly, “What do you want?” that has turned off some customers.

But he doesn’t phase Tanner, who held his wrist affectionately for nearly half of our conversation.

“Good people and good food,” Tanner says of why she keeps coming back. “I don’t have a family, so this is like my family.”

Bartender Cledith Coleman of J.R.'s Old Packinghouse Cafe is known as a tough cookie (AKA blunt with a sailor's tongue), so his beloved fellow workers hung this sign behind the bar. Photo by Niki Kottmann

The Happy Hour Deal

What: $1 off draft beers and $1 off bottle domestics (happy hour excludes all crafts and imports)

When: Every day 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: J.R.’s Old Packinghouse Cafe, 987 S. Packinghouse Road.

Most Popular Drink: Domestic beers

 

Badda Bing

Brandon Hoffman’s place on Lockwood Ridge might seem like a typical sports bar, but after a second look at the chalkboard and some of the wall decor, an observant eye can tell there’s more to it.

Badda Bing is the perfect happy hour for gamers, sports fans, smokers and curious neighbors alike. Photo by Niki Kottmann

Hoffman is the owner of Badda Bing, the last of what used to be a three-bar chain that he started 16 years ago. He opened this location nine years ago, and now his fiance, Melissa Runyon, runs the day-to-day operations.

The smoky bar boasts 14 TVs, three golf arcade games, two pool tables, a foosball table, a dartboard and a jukebox, along with a chalkboard drawing of a hairy beast above the words “We Believe.”

Just like his bar isn’t just a sports bar, Hoffman isn’t just a bar owner.

The businessman is also a self-identified “Bigfoot nut” who’s a member of a believer organization that goes on hunts looking for the star of American folklore. His friends and customers are well aware of his fascination, so over the years Hoffman has acquired several signs and other yeti paraphernalia that he often displays in the bar.

Because that’s what Badda Bing is about — providing a place for people to be themselves and kick back.

“People come in here to relax before they go back to the hustle and bustle of everyday life,” Hoffman says.

And with 32 seats at the custom bar he designed himself, Badda Bing offers plenty of room for relaxation.

Behind the bar at Badda Bing there are several unique decorations that tell a story. Photo by Niki Kottmann

The Happy Hour Deal

What: $1 off all liquor drinks and 75 cents off all beer.

When: 12-7 p.m. every day

Where: Badda Bing, 8237 Lockwood Ridge Road

Most Popular Drinks: Domestic beers, especially Budweiser and Bud light

 

Mi Pueblo

Stepping into Mi Pueblo feels like walking into a colorful Mexican mansion where there’s always a celebration of some sort going on.

The house margarita is one of the most popular drinks during happy hour at Mi Pueblo. Photo by Niki Kottmann

Those fiestas are especially lively at the bar that boasts $2 house margaritas for its happy hour, which bartender Cristal Caro says attracts both locals and seasonal customers alike.

Caro has been bartender since the restaurant opened 12 years ago, and it’s not just her tasty margaritas that keep customers coming back, though she admits she makes a great one.

“This is the closest thing you’ll get to authentic,” she says.

Regular customer Betty Sue Hunt agrees, and says it’s the warm environment that’s made her return for years since she first came a couple weeks after the opening.

“I’m biased,” she says. “I come here three-four times a week. But it’s near my home and I just like it.”

Mi Pueblo offers a wide variety of both food and beverage options during happy hour. Photo by Niki Kottmann

The Happy Hour Deal

What: Half off house wine, house margaritas, sangria, Corona and Corona Light bottles and draft beers. Food offerings include $5 pollitos, $5 taquitos, $5 toothpicks (battered onion jalapeno strips) and $4 cheese dip and guacamole dip

When: 5-6 p.m. every day

Where: Mi Pueblo, 8405 Tuttle Ave.

Most Popular Drinks: House margarita and the drafts

 

Monk’s Steamer Bar

Self-described at the first hockey bar in Sarasota, Monk’s Steamer Bar is a true sports bar with a tough exterior but soft, fun-loving core. Plus, they have seafood.

Monk’s Steamer Bar is popular not only for drinks during happy hour but oysters. Photo by Niki Kottmann

Bartender Geoff Aldridge has worked at Monk’s for 12 years, and the way he greeted another bartender beginning his shift with a “look at that good-looking guy!” was the perfect example of the friendly group of employees he says he works with.

“You can get cheaper drinks somewhere else, you can get cheaper oysters somewhere else, but it’s hard to find better service,” he says.

Aldridge thinks people are attracted to Monk’s because of the unique opportunity to be able to sit at the bar, drink in hand, and watch your bartender/server shuck oysters right in front of you. It attracts an eclectic crowd, he says.

Monk’s opened 17 years ago with a full kitchen, but took the kitchen out when establishments permitting smoking were only allowed to get 10 percent of their profit from food sales. It’s since switched to non-smoking (besides the patio, where it’s permitted), but the smaller, more focused menu has remained.

Monk’s Steamer Bar offers $1 off Bud Light draft, domestic bottles and sinqle-liquor wells during happy hour. Photo by Niki Kottmann

The Happy Hour Deal

What: $1 off Bud Light draft, domestic bottles (not including Ultra) and sinqle-liquor wells.

When: 3-6 p.m. Monday-Friday

Where: Monk’s Steamer Bar, 6690 Superior Ave.

Most Popular Drinks: Bud Light, Vodka Cranberry and Vodka Tonic

 

Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar

Believe it or not, South Tamiami Trail isn’t just for car dealerships, furniture shops and chain restaurants. 

The Caribbean Coolada is one of the most frequently ordered drinks at Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar. Photo by Niki Kottmann

Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar offers a slightly corny yet inviting casual dining experience right on Phillippi Creek, as the name implies. 

The locals that Phillippi attracts for happy hour aren’t the young professional crowd that’s common downtown, but General Manager Michael Cerroni says the establishment is popular with folks in their 40s and 50s.  

“Our locals are from the older community, especially in the part of town we’re in,” he says. “The younger business crowd likes to hop around and have variety, but around here, unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of variety — we’re pretty much the only ones around.”

That lack of diverse options in term of dining on the restaurant’s area of south Tamiami has helped Phillippi maintain a strong customer base, especially during season when tourists are lured in by the seafood, cheap happy hour special and Old Florida tiki feel. 

Bobby Kalasz is such a devoted customer that the staff got him a custom Phillippi staff shirt that’s identical to what Cerroni wears, only it says “Official Customer” instead of “Manager.” He comes in every day and takes his drink outside to watch TV,  an area he calls “Bobby’s Barbecue.” 

“There’s no barbecue out there,” Ceroni laughs. “That’s just what he named it.”

Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar's veteran bartender Jasmine Stanco serves a Caribbean Coolada. Photo by Niki Kottmann

The Happy Hour Deal

What: $4 house wines, $3 house margaritas, $2.50 drafts, $4.50 wells and $5 martinis 

When: 3-5:30 p.m. daily

Where: Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar, 5353 S. Tamiami Trail

Most Popular Drinks: Caribbean Coolada, Chocolate Monkey and Captain’s Rum Runner

 

Brasa & Pisco

Sarasota has its fair share of Peruvian places, but few are known equally for their food and craft cocktails.

Brasa & Pisco bartender Taneon Alexander shakes a cocktail during happy hour. Photo by Niki Kottmann

Pisco, a brandy made by distilling fermented grapes, is the national liquor of Peru and the alcohol the restaurant is partially named after. It makes sense, then, that this is largely why people come here.

With a seven-drink section of its menu reserved for only pisco cocktails, it’s evident that Brasa and Pisco takes their pisco seriously. But they also take their chica seriously, which is a sweetner made of purple corn boiled with pineapple, cinnamon, lime and sugar.

So don’t be fooled, the sangria isn’t red because it’s made from red wine. It’s actually made with white wine and the red-purple chica sweetener.

The Happy Hour Deal

What: $5 pisco cocktails, $5 house wines, $4 premium wells, $3 Bud Light draft, $4 other drafts, as well as select $5 appetizers

When: 5-7 p.m. Monday-Friday

Where: Brasa & Pisco, 8347 Lockwood Ridge Road

Most Popular Drinks: Classic Pisco Sour, Passion Pisco, sangria and the Conquistador cocktail

The Classic Pisco Sour is one of the most popular happy hour drinks at Brasa & Pisco. Photo by NIki Kottmann

 

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