Make us your home page
Instagram

Bar review: O'Keefe's Tavern in Clearwater

It wasn't until we were almost pulling into O'Keefe's that my girlfriend realized it was the wrong bar. Originally, the plan was to visit a similarly named spot — O'Keefe's Softails Pub in Seminole — which she had heard offered a great Thursday ladies night special. I got it mixed up with O'Keefe's Tavern, a long-running Irish pub and restaurant near downtown Clearwater.

We could have turned around, but this O'Keefe's seemed plenty interesting in its own right, having run continuously as a bar in this location for more than 56 years. Even more interesting, the bar has been owned by the same family for three generations. I could wait until next time to figure out what "softails" means.

Built in 1961, O'Keefe's Tavern has gone through a long series of additions and renovations, including a gloriously old-school dining area known as the Cedar Room that was damaged when a truck ran into it in the early '70s. A large nude painting from that era is still on display, with a visible tear from the accident.

Today, O'Keefe's is comprised of a large island bar, two spacious dining rooms, an outdoor patio and an attached tiki bar. The interior has that lived-in feel that you can only find in long-running, successful establishments. I don't mean "lived-in" as a euphemism for "decrepit"; it's more like a family home that has been well-tended over the decades. Indeed, that's not far from the reality of the business.

While some modern amenities — like personal TVs embedded in the booths of the dining area — give O'Keefe's a sports bar feel, there's no mistaking the extensive woodwork, various nooks, Tiffany-style lamps and other details that go along with the classic American neighborhood bar and restaurant. Add in some green backlighting behind the bar and in display cases, as well as a few Guinness ads, and you've got an unobtrusive Irish pub theme on top.

I was surprised that I'd never been to this place before. With a 56-year run and counting, this qualifies as a bona fide Clearwater institution. There are regulars aplenty, many of whom the bar staff know by name, and by drink. There's an annual St. Patrick's Day party that's one of the biggest in the state; a digital countdown clock to March 17 hangs near the bar.

The bar stocks all the classics, with a little extra on the whiskey side. There are several Bushmills, some Jameson, Michael Collins. A reasonable number of American whiskeys and some decent scotch, like the Glenfarclas 10-year.

There's a decent selection of wines, as well as just over a dozen beers on draft, including, of course, Guinness on nitro. O'Keefe's stocks a few locals, too, like Jai Alai from Cigar City and Reef Donkey from Tampa Bay Brewing Co.

Although I'm generally not a fan of sweet drinks, I decided to take up our bartender on a new drink advertised on the marquee out front: a midori martini. As expected, the citrus vodka and midori drink was quite sweet, but it was also surprisingly strong. Generous pours, and reasonable prices. Good by me.

Continuing on to the $5 drink menu, I noticed a green theme. The Shocking Shamrock's Captain Morgan, blue curaçao, pineapple juice and ginger beer give it an electric blue-green hue, while the Spiced Green Appletini is more of an implied green, with Smirnoff green apple, sour, apple juice and Fireball. Even the Bloody Mary plays along, using Effen cucumber vodka in place of regular vodka.

So it's not exactly a high-end cocktail joint, but the drinks are fun and it's hard to argue with the price. The service, based on an admittedly small sample size, was also a big plus. It's easy to see why there are so many regulars.

I'm not sure if I'm in the market for a massive St. Patrick's Day party, but for an average weeknight in the meantime, sign me up. I love these kinds of classic bars that have been kept up throughout the years without losing their vintage look and feel. It took a simple misunderstanding for me to check the place out, so let's chalk another one up for happy accidents.

Contact Justin Grant at jg@saintbeat.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.

O'Keefe's Tavern

1219 S Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater; (727) 442-9034; okeefestavernonline.com

The vibe: A classic American neighborhood bar and grill, retrofitted with an Irish pub theme.

Food: Starters, sides, soups and salads, $2.95 to $10.95; entrees, $7.50 to $18.95; desserts, $5.25 to $5.95.

Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $3.50 to $5.50; wine, $4.95 to $8.95; liquor, $3.95 to $8.95. Happy hour is 3 to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to close daily, featuring $1 off select domestic drafts, house wines and wells.

Specialty: If you're not going for the Guinness, have a look at the bar's $5 drink menu. These drinks trend on the fruity/sweet side, and in keeping with the Irish theme, most of them are also bright green. For example, there's a piña colada made with midori, a Spiced Green Appletini and the Shocking Shamrock, which is actually a little more blue-green, but the point stands.

Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday.

Bar review: O'Keefe's Tavern in Clearwater 08/10/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 23, 2017 1:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Seminole Heights restaurants face struggles amid killings, post-Irma

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — The neighborhood's hip circle of popular, well-regarded restaurants is feeling the squeeze in the wake of a recent killing spree. And the timing is rough.

    Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe has been taking precautions in light of the Seminole Heights killings: keeping the lights on all night and having employees walk to their cars in groups.
  2. Josbite goes all out, gets results with annual musical, 'The Threepenny Opera'

    Stage

    TAMPA — As the house lights dimmed for the second act, burglars and pickpockets, prostitutes and scam artists weaved between the little tables of the Jaeb Theater, warning customers they'd best wind down their talking and silence their phones. This was done with a wink but the point was made. This is elitism …

    Miscreants in Jobsite Theater's The Threepenny Opera, which runs through Nov. 12, include (from left) Amy E. Gray, Jonathan Harrison, Giselle Muise, Chris Jackson, Fo'i Meleah, and Derrick Phillips. Courtesy of Jobsite Theater.
  3. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Oct. 24

    Events

    On Your Feet: The Broadway musical follows the true story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan's journey as Cuban immigrants coming to America to becoming pop-crossover sensation Miami Sound Machine. 7:30 p.m., Carol Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $45 and up. (813) …

    Alma Cuervo (far left), an Academy of the Holy Names graduate, stars in the upcoming production of "On Your Feet" at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday (Oct. 24). Also pictured, Claudia Yanez (as Rebecca), Christie Prades (as Gloria) and Nancy Ticotin (as Gloria Fajardo). Photo by Matthew Murphy
  4. Hip-hop artist looks to deliver music, monologues with one-woman show

    Stage

    Tampa hip-hop artist and actress Dynasty takes her career into a new direction Saturday at Stageworks Theatre with her first one-woman show: A Star in Life's Clothing : Life. Love. Language. Lyrics.

    Hip-hop artist and actress Dynasty will present a one-woman show Saturday (Oct. 28) at Stageworks Theatre. Photo courtesy of @JoeyClayStudio.
  5. With volunteers as its heartbeat, annual Hillsborough County Fair grows larger

    Events

    DOVER — There's nothing else in the Tampa Bay community quite like the Hillsborough County Fair.

    Retired Tampa police officer Larry Henderson of Seffner sharpens a hewing ax used for squaring wood in the Hometown Hillsborough historical area of the fair. Beside him is a small sampling of the more than 7,000 tools he’s collected over the years.