I won't bore you with a tedious recap of Hurricane Irma's aftermath, but by the fourth night without electricity I had to get out of the house. I headed out to the beach to cool off at a bar that I has noticed while passing by not long ago.
Coffee Grounds is a Treasure Island cocktail bar and coffee shop, which is enough of a unique combo for me to take a closer look before even considering its beach environment. Like my house during the storm, Coffee Grounds is not air-conditioned — it's an outdoor bar — but it was a full 20 degrees cooler in the evening breeze, so that's a win.
This is a very small bar. There are a couple of seats at the bar itself, with some additional umbrella-shaded wicker sofas in the adjacent patio lounge. It certainly fits the bill for a quick coffee spot along the beach, but it's surprisingly full-service, serving local Kahwa coffee, beer, wine, liquor, breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.
I started with my usual inquiry about a cocktail menu. Coffee Grounds bills itself as a "craft coffee + cocktail" bar, so I hoped there would be some sort of fleshed-out cocktail program. Nope. No matter, our bartender was willing to experiment. And this is a great place for that.
Word is that Coffee Grounds started in the planning stages with a speakeasy, Prohibition-era theme. That theme was ultimately scuttled before the bar opened, but after the inventory orders had already been placed. The result is a pretty wild selection of spirits that I guarantee the average beachgoing passerby is not capitalizing on.
I started with a glass of Monkey Shoulder while I perused the lineup, and the girlfriend went with a Plymouth sloe gin fizz. How many places even stock sloe gin, much less the Plymouth version?
Lots of options up there: Foro amaro, Luxardo maraschino cherry liqueur, Borghetti espresso liqueur, Rabarbaro Zucca Chinese rhubarb amaro, Pimm's (an herbal gin-based liqueur), pisco Portón, Havana Club rum (the Puerto Rican version, of course), Del Maguey crema de mezcal (mezcal sweetened with agave syrup), St. Petersburg Distillery Oak & Palm spiced rum, Crop spiced pumpkin vodka (not pumpkin spice — crucial distinction) and so on. Eclectic, to say the least, especially for a beach bar.
If you're a professional bartender, you don't need any advice on what to do with all of this stuff. But if you're adventurous and have a bartender who's a good sport, here's a pro tip: find a spirit that you've never tried and visit its website. The website will invariably have cocktail recipes. Additional tip: the Monin-flavored syrups that coffee shops (like this one) stock are just flavored simple syrups.
An on-the-fly creation that I was pretty happy with was three parts Patrón XO Cafe, one part Ancho Reyes chili liqueur and a pump of Monin vanilla syrup, shaken with ice and served up in a cocktail glass. Pretty basic stuff, but it was a perfect fit for the chill, coffee shop/beach bar/cocktail bar vibe on this particular humid Thursday night.
When the bar gets busy on the weekends, it may not be feasible to play amateur bartender assistant, so stick with the basics. But during the more laid-back hours? That's a great opportunity to have some fun. Hell, have the bartender whip up an alcoholic snow cone — who's gonna stop you? That's what I did after overhearing a mention of the snow cone machine hiding quietly in the back. A cherry snow cone generously topped with Pierre Ferand dry orange curaçao and I was officially cooled off.
Don't go to Coffee Grounds expecting a world-class cocktail program, but do go there with an open mind and a little creativity. It's a welcome change of pace from the dives and tiki bars that populate the rest of the area, and it's about as Florida as it gets.
Even when my power comes back on (hopefully by the time you are reading this), I think I'll still pop in on occasion to enjoy the breeze and see what kind of weird concoction the bartender and I come up with.
Contact Justin Grant at [email protected] saintbeat.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.
10927 Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island; (727) 820-1909; coffeegroundscraftcoffee.com
The vibe: An almost-beachside coffee and cocktail bar with an eclectic spirit selection.
Food: Breakfast items, $2 to $6.25; lunch entrees, $7 to $8, desserts, $5 to $6.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $4 to $6; wine, $11 to $12; liquor, $6 to $8.
Specialty: There's no cocktail list proper, but there's an impressive selection of spirits from around the world just begging for an adventurous drinker to come in and try them. Amaros, bitters, liqueurs, a wide range of quality spirits, a snow cone machine (!), fresh fruit and a lineup of flavored syrups (courtesy of the coffee shop component) provide all the tools you and your bartender need to come up with something fun.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 6 p.m. to midnight Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 7 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.