Bar review: Big Bamboo Bayside is a room with a view

JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times
The Big Bamboo is the signature drink at the Big Bamboo Bayside bar located within the Sailport Waterfront Suites at 2506 N. Rocky Point Drive in Tampa.  It is rum and punch mixed with pineapple and orange juice and is half off an hour before sunset.
JAMES BORCHUCK | Times The Big Bamboo is the signature drink at the Big Bamboo Bayside bar located within the Sailport Waterfront Suites at 2506 N. Rocky Point Drive in Tampa. It is rum and punch mixed with pineapple and orange juice and is half off an hour before sunset.
Published June 28 2018

Even I, an avowed humidity hater, have to admit that catching a Florida summer sunset is an experience worth having now and then. Apparently, others find this notion agreeable, judging by the size and popularity of our many beachfront bars and restaurants.

Iím not much of a beachgoer ó I have the high-contrast farmerís tan to prove it ó but Iím a big fan of tropical cocktails in the shade. If I can see the water, thatís good enough.

Iíll take that one step further and suggest that it doesnít even need to be a proper beach. Cue Tampa Bay, which is where I discovered a hidden gem tucked away on Rocky Point along the eastern shore.

Thatís not to say this area is unknown to residents. Itís typically jammed with visitors and locals alike, tearing around the bay in personal watercraft, dancing to DJs in the sand and tossing back fruity rum drinks in cabanas at the bars and restaurants on the small island.

Still, I suspect most people might not think to look for a bar scene at the Sailport Waterfront Suites; youíd need to know where to look to find it. Iíd just as gladly leave the crowds behind for something more low-key, and thatís where the hotelís bar, Big Bamboo Bayside, comes in.

Between the bright turquoise, lime-green and tangerine color scheme and a bamboo wall and bar faÁade, Big Bamboo could easily be mistaken for an actual beach bar. That it overlooks the bay rather than the gulf is no issue ó the sunset views are spectacular. The guest swimming pool is between the bar and the water, which can be a bit distracting, but the bar area is self-contained enough to maintain the beach vibe once you tune out the kids doing cannonballs a few feet away.

The space can fit maybe a couple dozen, which is a welcome contrast to the larger resort bars nearby. Big Bamboo, cooled by a few ceiling fans and the breeze coming off the water, is decidedly more casual. Just a few small tables make up the dining area, and thereís room for six at the granite bar. Thereís a kitchen window behind the bar, much like a permanently parked food truck.

Despite its modest size, thereís lots to choose from on the menu.

I ordered a vegan burger (tasty) with a side of fruit and opted for a classic ó a Salty Dog ó from the cocktail menu. Big Bamboo makes its Salty Dog with vodka instead of gin, giving guests the choice of which vodka to use. Thatís easy for me: Banyan Reserve, a corn-based vodka from St. Petersburg Distillery.

Big Bamboo stocks several of that distilleryís products, including Tipplerís orange liqueur and Oak & Palm coconut rum. Thatís not all of the local selection, though, as a handful of the dozen-and-a-half beer options are bay area-brewed. Thereís Big Storm Wavemaker amber ale, Cigar City Jai Alai IPA, Cigar City Cider & Mead Homemade Apple Pie Cider and 3 Daughters Beach Blonde ale.

The cocktail list is the place to look for a cool summer drink. The house specialty is The Big Bamboo, a hefty rum punch smoothed out with OJ and pineapple juice. If youíre there for the sunset, the drink is half-off ($5!) in the hour before the sun calls it a day. There are seven other house cocktails and another 10 classics, including things like Mai Tais and Bloody Marys.

If youíre in the mood for a laid-back summer evening, Big Bamboo Bayside is worth a look. Itís small and not particularly fancy, but it comes with a nice slice of Tampa waterfront and panoramic views of the pink and purple skies during sundown. My advice is to get there early, as time has a tendency to fly when youíre sipping cocktails in the shade with a breeze coming off the bay.

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

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