Whether you’re looking for a toes-in-the-sand tiki hut, a secretive speakeasy or a big boisterous beer garden, Sarasota has the bar for you.
We’ve chosen our favorite places to meet up for a drink. Let’s get together soon.
Pangea Alchemy Lab
1564 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 870-5555, pangealounge.com
The address says Main Street, but to enter Pangea, you’ll need to circle around to the alley in back, where a nondescript door welcomes you to a hidden lair of stiff drinks. The cocktail list includes a number of classics, plus longtime Pangea favorites, like the “sir Sazerac,” made with tea-infused bourbon and chilled with a maple syrup ice cube. The selection changes with the seasons, skewing lighter and more floral in the hot months and denser and richer when it turns cold. A thick Christmastime cocktail here is one of our favorite holiday traditions.
6519 Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key, Sarasota, (941) 217-6837, crescentclubsiestakey.com
For more than 70 years, the Crescent Club served as a humble hangout on Siesta Key’s south side—the place you went to late at night after you had already been out drinking with your pals somewhere else on the island. The vibe changed a few years ago, after Gary Kompothecras of 1-800-ASK-GARY and MTV Siesta Key fame purchased it and added a cheery open-air patio out front, but inside you’ll still find the same dim red lights and booze-heavy pours.
Mandeville Beer Garden
428 N. Lemon Ave., Sarasota, (941) 954-8688, mbgsrq.com
Family-friendly bars are a blessing for adults with kids who want to meet up with friends, and few Sarasota bars are as welcoming to little ones as Mandeville. Children are free to scamper around the fake grass lawn out front or challenge one another to a game of table tennis or cornhole while their parents catch up at shaded picnic tables. The beer selection is dependable, if not revelatory, and the food menu includes a number of pub grub favorites. (Note: Mandeville is changing hands, and names, soon.)
1216 First St., Sarasota, (941) 445-5660, sagesrq.com
A meal at Sage, one of Sarasota’s best restaurants, should always start with a drink on the roof, a swanky fourth-floor deck that provides views of downtown and Sarasota Bay guaranteed to make you sigh. The drinks vary depending on the time of year, but they often riff on established themes, like a “sage & soda” made with sage-infused vodka or the “Negroni purezza,” a clear version of a traditional Negroni. Try to stop by on Friday or Saturday evenings, when live music makes the rooftop scene even more chill.
Dive Wine & Spirits
2881 Clark Road, #19-21, Sarasota, (941) 888-0382, diveliquors.com
Dive is both a superbly stocked liquor store and home to one of the area’s best bars—a dark, cozy speakeasy that specializes in exceptional tiki cocktails whipped up by bartenders James Dennis and Arch Bernard. It’s an ideal meetup spot for a relaxed conversation with an old friend, or for a romantic nightcap with someone you love. In a separate section of the store, you’ll also find Hive Bar, which has a more stripped-down drink menu and often hosts pop-up food events from talented chefs like Tralia’s Anthony Petralia.
Oleary’s Tiki Bar & Grill
5 Bayfront Drive, Sarasota, (941) 953-7505, olearystikibar.com
Anytime your relatives visit, they likely want to stop at Oleary’s, a postcard-perfect example of what most people think a Florida bar should look like, with its big thatched roof, picnic tables plopped in the sand and salty water just steps away. Add in a cover band jamming on some Bob Marley or Jimmy Buffett tunes, plenty of neon-colored frozen drinks and people lounging in beach dresses and tank tops, and you’re in Sunshine State heaven. Snap a pic for the folks back home.
Office Bar SRQ
1989 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 955-3843, officebarsrq.com
Located on an otherwise quiet portion of Ringling Boulevard, Office Bar is the perfect place to rub elbows with Sarasota’s dedicated service industry professionals and late-night partiers. Patrons spill over from nearby McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre for fast service and no-fuss cocktails. The Office is split into two levels, with comfy seating upstairs and fun music and a pool table downstairs. It’s the perfect place to let loose and disappear into the crowd.
2257 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 952-1730
The Shamrock has been holding down east Ringling Boulevard since long before the neighborhood became a hot spot for redevelopment thanks to a bevy of new condos and the newly extended Legacy Trail, which leads almost directly to the bar’s front door. One of Sarasota’s earliest craft beer bars, the Shamrock is a casual pub where you’re likely to run into a friend tossing darts. Love soccer? There’s no better place to catch a match on the telly. Bring cash, because the bar doesn’t take cards.
Sharky’s on the Pier
1600 Harbor Drive S., Venice, (941) 488-1456, sharkysonthepier.com
If you’re visiting friends or relatives in Venice, you’ve likely found your way to Sharky’s at some point. It started as a laidback hangout in 1987, but in the years since, it’s become a sprawling beachside complex, with multiple tiki bars, two stories worth of restaurant (including the more upscale Fins at Sharky’s upstairs), near-daily live music and direct access to the Venice Municipal Fishing Pier, a white sand beach and the lapping waves of the Gulf of Mexico. A piña colada is mandatory.
The Gator Club
1490 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 366-5969, thegatorclub.com
The beating heart of Sarasota nightlife for decades, the Gator occupies a brick building that dates to 1912 and that was, at one time, a brothel. Downstairs, live bands keep the dance floor cooking, while upstairs you’ll find a more relaxed, clubby atmosphere, with pool tables, gorgeous wood details and vintage fixtures. The bar has an immense selection of spirits, with more than 500 bottles to choose from, and is committed to making perfect versions of all the classics. The Gator will outlive us all.
229 N. Cattlemen Road, #61, Sarasota, (941) 960-3997, jpanrestaurant.com
We like both JPan locations, but the bar area at the University Town Center restaurant usually pulls us out east. It’s a lively, bustling room, with tables for big groups and bartenders who like to put on a show by busting out the torch and burning some wood to smoke up a glass. The drink menu can make you rethink what a cocktail can be. One night, we sipped Japanese whisky flavored with saltwater and a sprig of rosemary from a small wooden box. Unusual, and delicious.
100 Marina View Drive, Sarasota, (941) 217-4777, marriott.com
The bar on the rooftop of downtown’s Westin is located right in the middle of the deck, which leaves guests free to wander around the perimeter of the roof while soaking in the stunning 360-degree views. Gaze west out to the Gulf of Mexico, south to Marina Jack or north and east across the city spread out beneath you while cheers-ing with your buddies. The drinks here aren’t all that special, but with views like these, they don’t need to be.
1445 Second St., Sarasota, (941) 487-7874, 99bottles.net
Few people take beer as seriously as the staff at 99 Bottles, where the selection is always in flux and you’re always guaranteed to find something new to sample. We love how you can choose different-sized pours, which enables you to try a variety of brews or just double down on one you love. Be sure to sample something from “The Machine,” a custom-made device that allows the bar to pour individual portions from bottles that might be too large (or expensive) to be consumed all at once, without spoiling the rest of the bottle.
1345 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 362-4427, selvagrill.com
The narrow, intimate bar at the downtown Selva has been a hot spot for mixing and mingling among the fashionable ever since it opened in 2004. With its romantic lighting and bartenders who remember your face, your name and your drink, it’s ideal for everything from a happy hour get-together with coworkers to a late-night rendezvous with someone you’ve had your eye on. Vodka martinis are a specialty here, as are the mojitos, and don’t miss the chance to munch on some of the city’s best Peruvian plates while you’re here. (Selva’s second location, near the University Town Center mall, also has a bar, but the original can’t be beat.)
Art Ovation Hotel
1255 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 316-0808, artovationhotel.com
More than just a bar that serves drinks, Art Ovation’s Perspective Rooftop Pool Bar gives you the opportunity to feel like you’re slipping away to a blissful resort without having to travel anywhere or spend the night. You can take the elevator to the roof for a drink any time, but we recommend booking a day pass, which gives you access to the pool, plus chairside food and drink service. Hang out there all day and milk the chance to feel like a tourist in your own town. Really want to splurge? Reserve a private cabana.
800 Broadway St., Longboat Key, (941) 259-4600, dineshore.com
We have one core belief, which is that any beverage in the world can be elevated by a dark rum floater. And that’s definitely true of Shore’s mai tai, a throwback drink that gets you in the perfect mindset to enjoy Shore’s refined tropical vibe. Like every other seat in the house, the bar offers views of the water, but we also like taking our drinks for a stroll over to the patio on the eastern tip of the restaurant, where chairs, benches and fire pits make friendly conversation easy. (The original Shore, on St. Armands Circle, has the same drinks and a nice bar, too, but the Longboat Key location is a cut above.)
Siesta Key Oyster Bar
5238 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, Sarasota, (941) 346-5443, skob.com
Pounding some cold ones while slurping raw oysters at SKOB is a rite of passage for short-term beach vacationers and longtime residents alike. SKOB is a Siesta Key Village institution, with plenty of shady outdoor seating, a singer plucking cover tunes from a stool in the corner of the patio, great deals on buckets of beer and silly-cheap daily discounts on both drinks and oysters. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, goes the saying. It’s always 5 o’clock at SKOB.
State Street Eating House + Cocktails
1533 State St., Sarasota, (941) 951-1533, statestreetsrq.com
Plenty of restaurants served good cocktails before State Street opened in 2012, but the eatery, perhaps more than any other in Sarasota, was a major force in pushing them to the forefront of diners’ minds. The bar introduced tons of locals to classic but forgotten drinks like the bramble, which still dominates readers’ polls of people’s favorite cocktails (including our own) a decade later. By now, it’s an old favorite, with a huge library of options and bartenders who are serious about their craft but never fussy or uptight about it, either.
5808 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, (941) 778-2501, duffystavernami.com
It’s hard to find a place that serves a soda for $1 these days, let alone a beer, but that’s the basic price point for a mug of Bud at Duffy’s Tavern on Anna Maria Island. It’s a throwback price at a throwback place that has been part of Anna Maria life since 1958 (although the bar was forced to relocate in 2003). There’s nothing fancy here—just cold beer and a small wine selection that goes great with the tavern’s legendary hamburgers. Don’t forget to bring cash. This place does not accept credit cards.
1200 First Ave. W., Bradenton, (941) 748-8087, pier22.com
If you prefer wine, you’re going to want to check out Pier 22 in downtown Bradenton. The indoor-outdoor bar and restaurant has more than 100 varieties to choose from. Enjoy a refreshing, bubbly prosecco on the patio overlooking the Manatee River or dress up for a romantic night in the restaurant, tasting French, Italian or Spanish reds. The bar also offers mixed drinks, and has some excellent happy hour options.
Oak & Stone
1201 First Ave. W., Bradenton, (941) 357-4306, oakandstone.com
Every Oak & Stone restaurant in town has a fun beer wall with about 100 brews to
choose from. The downtown Bradenton location, however, boasts a rooftop bar that can’t be beat. Start the night with pizza and a beer taste test. Then, climb the stairs or take the elevator to the second floor, where you’ll be greeted by a sleek full-service bar and gorgeous views of the Manatee River. Watch boats from the Twin Dolphin Marina float by or catch the sunset over the water. You’ll come for a drink, but stay for the views.
2831 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 487-7373, themablebar.com
Stumble into The Mable and you’re likely to find yourself caught up in an intense game of trivia or maybe even pulled onstage to try out your open mic skills. It’s a fun, somewhat boho hangout that draws creative types from nearby Ringling College of Art and Design and New College of Florida. There are 30 beers on tap, a pool table, lots of cool art on the walls and a limited but tasty selection of bar food, like a fried chicken sandwich and carnitas tacos.
4675 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 355-5141, bahihut.com
The Bahi Hut straightened up and went legit a few years ago, when the owners gave the legendary tiki bar a facelift as part of a huge overhaul to the attached Golden Host Resort. They even banned smoking inside! You can still order the bar’s iconic mai tai (limit: two), but there are several other considered concoctions to choose from, like a rhubarb old fashioned made with rum instead of bourbon, or the “Bahi aloha,” made with not one, not two, but three types of rum.
1990 Main St., #112, Sarasota, (941) 953-2900, maderestaurant.com
Made pairs some of Sarasota’s best food with some of Sarasota’s best drinks. The inventive seasonal cocktail menu always carries a few surprises, like a pistachio cane syrup or kaffir lime dust, and the drinks are often served in unusual stemware, like a French press or a teacup. The restaurant’s Sunday brunch brings the party from the nighttime to the daylight hours, with beloved bloody Marys that come with a slice of bacon and enough garnishes to count as a serving of vegetables.
The Old Venice Pub
100 W. Venice Ave., Venice, (941) 484-3031
The Old Venice Pub draws crowds from the sleepy island of Venice and invites them to pull up a stool and enjoy a cold pint. With an ample selection of domestic and imported beer, it’s a great place to catch a game or catch up with friends. Outdoor seating allows guests to overlook neighboring Venice Avenue, where the people watching is a delight. Everyone is a friend here, and the bartenders will make you feel like they’ve known you for years.
The Doctor’s Office
5312 Holmes Blvd., B, Holmes Beach, (941) 213-9926, doctorsofficeami.com
We respect commitment to a theme, and so we salute how The Doctor’s Office leans into the annual checkup vibe. Each reservation starts with a “wellness shot,” a little dose of a little something to get your evening started before your “prescriptions” are delivered. Roll your eyes if you must, but we swear drinks like the “Preferred Remedy,” a potent blend of rye, black walnut liqueur, sweet vermouth and bitters, do indeed have healing powers. After a long hiatus, the bar recently returned to serving a consistent selection of sandwiches and dishes intended to be shared, and drinks can also be ordered to go.
By Cooper Levey-Baker, Lauren Jackson, Allison Forsyth, and Kim Doleatto Published in the July-August 2022 issue of Sarasota Magazine