99 problems, but a bar ain’t one

Nichola BellLakewood Ranch Diary2 Comments

There has to be a good reason to leave the bubble. Lakewood Ranch has great restaurants, bars, parks, trails, gyms, pools, schools, a mall, and a movie theatre. Apart from hitting the beach, all in all, you could quite happily exist in the Lakewood Ranch bubble and never leave. Sometimes, however, it’s all a bit suburban. Suburban is fine, I’m not a too cool, above it all, live off the grid, choose the blue pill hippy, but sometimes you just want some urban grit.

When I used to break out the bubble I would only go to St Pete’s—Beach Drive. With its strip of rooftop bars, alfresco restaurants, and clubs, all within walking distance of each other, it feels youthful, liberal, cosmopolitan. Either well planned or well evolved, the nightlife is adjacent to the marina so you can sip your white Sangria, listening to good beats, as you gaze out at the water, reminiscent of a Mediterranean resort.

My husband always groaned at the Uber ride. Why can’t we just go to Sarasota? Because it’s like Cocoon, that’s why! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ageist—I don’t think. Old people have survived, all power to them, but I’ll be at Del Webb in good time, enjoying happy hour with my golden gals. I just don’t want to be there yet! When we first went to Sarasota, ten years ago, we found a fairly decent Italian by the theatre, but all the diners had one foot in the grave. I kid you not, the table next to us had two oxygen tanks and a walker. Ok, I get it, the elderly have every right as any to hit the town. It’s just I craved options. Most restaurants attracted all this clientele because, to be frank, the cruise ship decor, food, and ambiance suited them. That’s fine, but where could I go?

You can’t beat Jack Dusty’s to feel like you’ve arrived, sipping a Siren cocktail as the sun sets, but I haven’t arrived, so at twenty-five bucks a cocktail, I won’t be a regular. Yes, there is Madisons and the Gator club, which many love because of their fantastic live music, but Madison’s is super casual and the Gator club is a dark, smoky, meat market, which is a good night if you’re already wasted and want to get laid. Each to their own, but this is about me — I like cocktails, white light, and dance tunes. My only hope, I suppose, was Clasico, a restaurant by day, turned disco at night— moving the tables to make room for the Lakewood Ranch moms to dance around their handbags on someone’s birthday night, but we can get that in the bubble. Therefore, if someone suggested heading to Sarasota, the night always began with deflated groans when suggesting venues. A first world problem, but a problem none the less. So, as a rule, we always turned north on 75—until now.

It was a slow turnaround, but a noticeable one for sure. Trendy restaurants, with really good chefs, started popping up — State street, Shore, Social—their pizza is the best, Boca—I love for its split level warehouse ambiance and farm to table food. Many of them really channeling the Miami vibe with DJ’s unobtrusively blending their beats with the cacophony of chatter and glass chinks. With urban decor and bi-fold doors leading to alfresco dining, these restaurants nail my vibe. Going out for dinner downtown was becoming a choice rather than a logistical convenience.

The gorgeous Bramble cocktail at State Street was a good reason to hit the hay before midnight, and there wasn’t any other venue beckoning me to do otherwise, but all of a sudden, rooftop bars have started popping up left right and center. What’s up Sarasota! There’s The Westin, Art Ovation and Sage. The views from The Westin are spectacular, but—and I need you to sit down for this one—they serve Prosecco in a plastic cup! That’s just rude. Chinet cups, not even Crystal cut! I understand rooftops can’t have glass, but the Art Ovation has splashed out on reusable melamine flutes, providing the glamor one expects when they are sipping bubbly on a rooftop in a low cut dress. That, along with a great Dj, makes Art Ovation my favorite. Sage, isn’t really fair to compare, it’s not part of a hotel pool. The roof of the restaurant, it’s more of a pre-drinks destination. Intimate and cozy, it feels like a neighborhood gathering in a Brooklyn summer.

Sometime’s though, I don’t want a whole sit down meal. I just want some apps and a cocktail with the girls. My go to, I guess, was Jack Dusty, and now possibly Art Ovation, but I prefer to end my night’s there. Some bars in Sarasota are a bit too testosterone filled for me. Either sports bars or dive’s, where when I walk in I expect to see Jodie Foster dancing by the pool table. Hard pass for me! I suppose I sound high maintenance, and I”ll own it. I even traveled across the Atlantic to be at my happy place—Cafe Mambo— for my birthday, so what you gonna do!

So, I’m excited about the new high-end bars in town embracing the urban, trendy wave. My favorite by far is 99 Bottles. We beeline there for dessert after dinner, as they do a raspberry crumble cake that’s so scrumptious why waste the calories on anything else! It’s a stunning looking bar, with floor to ceiling windows; a long, white, quartz bartop stretching before an array of beer taps. The staff behind it know their product and are happy to educate, which is not often the case in trendy places. The music is easy chill tunes, allowing the conversation to dominate. It’s cool and light, yet the wall art and comfy window nooks keep it warm and inviting. The wall art paying homage to Sarasota’s art culture is what reminds you that you’re not in Manhattan. Serving craft beer on tap you may assume it’s not for me, but the fact they kindly have a drink’s holder in the ladies toilet, says it all. The genius about this bar is both Jon Snow and Khaleesi would feel comfortable there. With Veuve, Don Perignon, Provence Rose and a delicious Charcuterie board, why ever leave? Actually, I’m still here, you’ll find me in the window nook to the right.

So, what can I say! It’s not sleepy Sarasota so much anymore! St Pete’s, maybe, still has the edge for me because of it’s walkability, but with Uber and this fabulous, cute, rideshare service I came across in Sarasota—Gotcha— a flat fee electric shuttle around the city, I’m not as eager to make the trip over the Skyway Bridge.

And you know what else? Shame on me, because I tell you what I’m seeing plenty of in these great new venues…Seniors! Looks like they appreciate Sarasota’s revamp just as much as me.

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