(This is part 2 of a 4-part series about the continuing evolution of downtown Clearwater.)
From people-watching to meeting up with friends to strolling hand-in-hand with your mate, a nighttime venue hop along a downtown sidewalk makes a night out so much more special than driving from one strip mall to another.
In this spirit, downtown Clearwater has started to come alive after dark with an array of distinctive, welcoming establishments offering live entertainment, trivia, comedy, games, friendly conversation and more. The popular fusion restaurant Clear Sky on Cleveland has been a boon and has injected energy by providing a stylish, contemporary spot to dine and socialize. Capitol Theatre, across the street, attracts crowds regularly with first-rate headliners.
Consider also that the newer establishment owners have taken a chance on an unproven market, so it’s a fair bet that the proprietors who’ve revamped spots like Downtown Pizza Sports Bar & Grill care about doing their part to make downtown Clearwater a place-to-be destination. They host a variety of events such as their Bandingo nights on Wednesday, a trivia night focused on music.
“The CRA has invested in businesses that provide more opportunities to eat and drink in downtown Clearwater on evenings and weekends,” explains Amanda Thompson, director of the Clearwater Redevelopment Agency.
“After visiting an exhibition at Second Century Studios or attending a show at the Capitol Theatre, visitors enjoy a glass of wine at Pours Yours or grab a beer and play a game at Vector Bar & Arcade.”
Speaking of drinking and arcade games: Nostalgia has fueled the resurgence of pinball machines and arcade games like Asteroids, Pac-Man, and Super Mario Brothers.
Add craft beer and sodas, French-press coffee, kombucha, a variety of special events and a dog-friendly atmosphere, and you’ll hit a top score, and how Vector Bar & Arcade at 629 Cleveland Street became a top-reviewed venue in downtown Clearwater.
Owners/married couple Michael Burke and Lauren Patrick were born during the golden age of mall arcade games, and both grew up to serve in the military. Burke, now 40, trained as a U.S. Marine in avionics and mastered electronic-repair skills. Patrick, 42, served as a corpsman for the U.S. Navy and developed the discipline and stamina required to start a business from the ground up.
Affection and expertise went into their venture. Burke’s lifelong affection for arcade games led him to servicing and installing old-school machines in local bars and restaurants, where he got to observe the types of places he likes to visit, inspiring him to create a welcoming, recreation-filled public house of his own.
“We've got games from the ’80s, and we’ve got kind of like a ’90s vibe going on, and then we have all these pinball machines, so we have guys that are 60, 70 years old,” Burke says, “so Vector appeals to a wide range of people.”
Recent additions to their craft beer list include Udderly Sweet from Swamp Head, which is, you guessed it, a milk stout, and Pumking Nitro from Southern Tier.
“We've also got tons of local craft beers,” Burke adds. “We’ve got beers from Three Daughters in St. Pete, and we've got Green Bench and others from around here and throughout the state.
In touch with the craft brew scene, Burke expresses enthusiasm for The Salty Bull Brewing Co., which has plans to open in the single-story warehouse and adjacent empty lot near the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Cleveland Street, so that one might be included on their menu, too.
A regular roster of events such as their open-mic Wednesdays and Church of Nintendo has been a consistent draw as well as one-off live music shows and other entertainment.
“When people come into Vector, they can relax, there's no pressure to drink if you just want to play games,” Burke assures. “We have sodas and tea, and we just want a really friendly environment that's welcoming to all people and for all to have a good time.”
PYOW: Pour your own wine
Pour Yours, a self-service Euro-style wine bar is a spot where wine lovers can experience vino in a novel, sophisticated ambiance. Customers slide debit cards provided by Pour Yours into the automated machines that allow them to choose one-, three-, or six-ounce pours of 24 wines.
Spouts are easy to remember because they pay tribute to celebrities like Antonio Banderas or Cristiano Ronaldo and feature fun nicknames. At the end of the evening, you present the cards to the Pour Yours associate at the register and pay your tab all at once.
Sleek but not too imposing, the lounge combines industrial and rustic sensibilities. Tall tables combine with a sofa and living room chairs. Strung lights and colorful lighting effects add a cheery touch. A long table seats large groups, and a more lounge-y seating area appeals to pals playing catch-up and couples wanting to get cozy and settle in with a glass of red or white. Co-owner/civic leader Lina Teixeira calls the interior design “stylish but organic,” conceived to attract both a younger and mature clientele.
New on the staff, Chef Nile Madley, 26, grew up in Clearwater and will be serving three different sizes of plates. The smallest size will include two types of cheeses, one aged, one soft and creamy. The next size up will also include cured meat, such as prosciutto or salami; as well as mixed nuts. The large size will encompass a more mixed variety that will also include mixed olives and an additional cured meat selection.
Check Pour Yours’ Facebook page for themed events such as Trivia Night on Mondays and Karaoke Wednesdays, as well as the occasional food-and-wine pairing.
If you prefer liquor
La Fondita de Leo (Leo's Tavern) not only features local dishes from Puerto Rico with his own creative twist but a full bar that serves top-notch mojitos.
Under new ownership
The Tampa Bay Escape Room and The Lucky Anchor Irish Pub are two spots attracting an increasingly younger clientele while still appealing to people of all tastes and ages.
At Tampa Bay Escape Room, you gather with a group in a themed room such as “The Wizards Keep” or “Cabin in the Woods.”
At The Lucky Anchor, enjoy live music outside and the reverse osmosis Muscle Water, “the strongest water on Earth,” with 5 percent vodka, zero sugar and additives, and vitamin C -- how health-conscious people get a buzz.
For more information, visit these websites:83 Degrees Media's 4-part series on the evolution of downtown Clearwater: