Spring is upon us, which means it’s time for some much-needed cleaning and a serious restocking of spirits for your bar cart. From spirits to glassware, here’s a list of staples you’ll need to get your cart rolling. The best thing about this list is that each item can be sourced from businesses throughout the greater Tampa Bay area, which means you’ll be able to keep your dollars local while being your own bartender. Oh, and if you don’t have space or the budget for an actual cart, free counter space or a side table will do.
Let’s begin with the most important component of any bar cart: the booze. While investing in your starter pack of bottles may seem steep, let’s compare it to a typical bar tab. Two cocktails plus a tip could potentially pay for a bottle of liquor. In the long run, you’re doing your budget a favor. The lineup of staple spirits includes vodka, rum, gin, bourbon, and Campari. You’ll also want to grab sweet and dry vermouth. With these bottles at the ready, you can shake up tried and true cocktails like an Old Fashioned, Martini, Manhattan, and Tom Collins. After grabbing your handful of basic spirits, you can then begin to branch out, acquiring bottles needed for more intricate recipes.
Lucky for you, local distilleries are abundant in Tampa Bay. Many of them allow you to order through their website or are available at chain liquor stores. If you want to sample spirits before purchasing, many distilleries host tasting rooms. Check out Florida Cane Distillery in Ybor City, St. Petersburg Distillery, or Dunedin’s Cotherman Distillery Co. American Freedom Distillery in St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District recently debuted a luxurious bar, restaurant, and lounge for guests to get their hands on award-winning Horse Soldier bourbon, handmade and bottled in-house.
Other recipe necessities include sugar cubes, bitters, soda water, tonic water, demerara sugar, and citrus—lemons, limes, and oranges. Demerara sugar is key to making a more complex simple syrup with notes of caramel. (Simple syrup consists of boiling sugar and water (1:1) until the sugar dissolves.) Store it in a Mason jar in the fridge; it has a shelf life of about a month so no need to mix industrial amounts unless you’re hosting a bash.
Before you begin to panic about recipes, a valuable asset is a library of mixology books. To get your collection started, Tampa with a Twist is a guide to Tampa Bay’s cocktail culture complete with recipes from iconic local bars and restaurants. With this book, you can re-create your favorite concoctions at home, like EDGE Rooftop’s Ruby Smash offering a pop of color withgrapefruit juice with a basil leaf garnish. You can also gain insight into the importance of ice shape, from large cube to pebble; these gems will take you to the next level. This book will run you $19.95 and you can purchase it through Visit Tampa Bay’s website, visittampabay.com. To get you started, Tampa’s Fly Bar shared a daiquiri recipe, ideal for spring or summertime.
OK, we’ve rounded up the booze, now we need the tools. Your cart should include a shaker, jigger, julep strainer, and muddler, as well as a citrus press and zester. It’s an easy pickup as they can usually be found in a bundle. Last but not least, snag a bar spoon and an ice bucket with tongs. For glassware, keep it simple with lowball and highball glasses. This duo will cover all of your classic cocktails, and if you’re feeling the itch to level up, treat yourself to a few Martini glasses and coupes (which will be useful for that daiquiri).
Now that your bar cart is all decked out, you may just consider hosting a get-together to show it off. To add a personalized touch, items can be sourced from thrift and boutique shops like St. Pete’s ZaZoo’d and Vintage Marche, The Far Forest in Seminole Heights, and Lakeland’s Junktiques Auctions. Another idea is investing in some silicone ice cube trays boasting Floridian flair with playful shapes like flamingos and dolphins from Amazon or Etsy. While you’re at it, jars of maraschino cherries and stuffed pimento olives are handy for garnishes.
If you prefer to leave it to the professionals, you won’t have to go far to find a stiff one with a view. Some prime outposts for sips while watching the sunset include Hi-Fi Rooftop Bar at Dunedin’s Fenway Hotel, M. Bird at Armature Works, and 360 Rooftop at Hotel Zamora on St.Pete Beach, to name just a few. Cheers to supporting local while catching a buzz.