Thursday, July 19, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: Gigglewaters is a modern speakeasy in Safety Harbor

Every time I think the speakeasy theme is dead, I run into a place that breathes new life into it. This time, it’s Gigglewaters Social Club & Screening Room, a new addition to downtown Safety Harbor.

The term Gigglewaters was Prohibition-era slang for cocktails. But that period is only the starting point for a bar and restaurant that brings something remarkably fresh to the concept.

Like a true speakeasy, Gigglewaters doesn’t look like anything from the exterior: It’s just small blue canopy over double doors. Inside is a single room with low tables that cozy up to a wooden L-shaped bar built in the late 19th century. A plush booth anchors one of the entrance corners.

The look and feel is that of a time capsule retrofitted with modern flair. Ornate red and gold wallpaper, tin ceiling tiles and mini-chandeliers give the interior a speakeasy swank, while hanging Edison bulbs and lounge versions of pop songs playing over the speakers plant it firmly in the 21st century.

Instead of more period décor, the Gigglewaters folks opted for framed photos of film and music icons — Jack Nicholson, Prince, Barbra Streisand, Bruce Lee, Lucille Ball, Janet Leigh, among others — reimagined with full body tattoos. Why? I have no idea, but a photo of a tatted Leonard Nimoy as Spock is something I didn’t know I needed until I saw it.

The art is perfect for the overall aesthetic. It’s a fun riff on an otherwise vintage look. Imagine ordering a cocktail — one you could find at the type of bar that takes itself too seriously — while saying Giggle Dippers with a straight face.

It’s also a segue into the other side of Gigglewaters: a 32-seat screening room that will feature full bar and kitchen service when it begins screening classic and cult films starting in July. First up: The Goonies.

That Gigglewaters is significantly smaller than your average neighborhood bar makes the whole space doubly impressive. The owners have done a lot with very little.

Even more impressive is the service. The newness — it opened in late May — surely plays a part, but I haven’t experienced such enthusiastic and attentive service in recent memory. You’d think the owners must have an extensive hospitality background to create this workplace culture, but they’re actually from the television industry. Some people just get it.

All would be for naught if the drink program couldn’t pull its weight, but — surprise — that’s not an issue. True to its speakeasy roots, Gigglewaters presents a list of smartly crafted cocktails that make their base spirits go down much too easily.

The spirits are of a much higher caliber than the bathtub gin that Prohibition-era cocktails originally were designed to mask, of course, but the approach is effective nonetheless. Drinks like the Wooden Kimono (bourbon, yuzu purée, fresh sours and club soda) are simple but subtly exotic, while drinking enough like a soft drink to get you in trouble if you’re not careful.

The drinks are downright fun, too. There are punchbowl drinks, coffee cocktails, a root-beer flavored boilermaker and a selection of five varieties of wood planks to choose from when ordering a currently off-menu smoked cocktail like an Old Fashioned. This fun approach would grant a mediocre cocktail program a pass, but these drinks are top-tier. Again, some people just get it.

I was surprised by the buzz surrounding Gigglewaters after just a few weeks in business, but after visiting, I understand it. By mixing elements both new and seemingly played-out in such a creative way, Gigglewaters has delivered an inspired food and drink experience.

Rarely do all of the pieces of a bar and restaurant concept come together as perfectly as they do at Gigglewaters. This one’s a true crowd pleaser.

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

Comments
Nitally’s set to reopen at a new, more intimate, South Pasadena location

Nitally’s set to reopen at a new, more intimate, South Pasadena location

Folks who have missed testing their taste buds with a St. Petersburg eatery’s famous inferno soup will get a chance to do so once again.Nitally’s ThaiMex Cuisine, which closed its downtown St. Petersburg location in May, will open soon in a smaller l...
Published: 07/18/18
Tampa Bay is a perfect place to make your own food tour. Here are our suggestions.

Tampa Bay is a perfect place to make your own food tour. Here are our suggestions.

There are many good reasons to eat at four or five places in one night. A near overwhelming number of new restaurants in the Tampa Bay area can provoke anxiety in a certain kind of diner, the one who wants to try everything but doesn’t have th...
Published: 07/18/18
Food tours offer an informative, and delicious, look at different areas of Tampa Bay

Food tours offer an informative, and delicious, look at different areas of Tampa Bay

There is a running list on my phone of restaurants to try. A romantic evening at St. Petersburg’s Reading Room. The Safety Harbor double date night, so we can finally take our friends to Pizzeria Gregario. Splurging on the chef’s tasting ...
Published: 07/18/18
Where to get a good hot dog in Tampa Bay for National Hot Dog Day

Where to get a good hot dog in Tampa Bay for National Hot Dog Day

Monday, July 23, is National Hot Dog Day. I don’t know precisely why, but I think some major lobbying from the sausage board was involved. It’s baseball season, it’s barbecue season, it’s I-don’t-feel-like-cooking season. Those are plenty of reasons....
Published: 07/18/18
Where to eat and drink around Safety Harbor: Gigglewaters bar, Parts of Paris, Sno Beach and more

Where to eat and drink around Safety Harbor: Gigglewaters bar, Parts of Paris, Sno Beach and more

Not that many years ago, downtown Safety Harbor was a little lean on places to eat. Green Springs Bistro had been an anchor, Whistle Stop and Cello’s Char House, too. But no one would have called it a dining destination. It was too bad: The city of 1...
Published: 07/18/18
Eat and drink your way through Tampa Heights with stops at Hall on Franklin, Armature Works and more

Eat and drink your way through Tampa Heights with stops at Hall on Franklin, Armature Works and more

Five or six years ago, if you were to stand on the steps of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and look north along the Hillsborough River, there wouldn’t be much to see. Just a couple of old warehouses and some rubble in the area ...
Published: 07/18/18
In South Tampa, create a dinearound with stops at Bern’s, Haven and the Epicurean Hotel

In South Tampa, create a dinearound with stops at Bern’s, Haven and the Epicurean Hotel

I had a specific vision for my 35th birthday.Relaxation mostly. Bathrobe. Wine. Maybe a massage or a pool. Food, food, food. A handful of close friends. I did some research at beach hotels in Clearwater and St. Pete Beach and found the price range ou...
Published: 07/18/18
Bowled over: From acai to poke, the top 10 bowls in Tampa Bay

Bowled over: From acai to poke, the top 10 bowls in Tampa Bay

Why, exactly, are bowls the new plates? The Wall Street Journal declared it so. Tableware companies like Fiesta have reported serious double-digit growth in the sale of bowls, salad bowls, cereal bowls, you name it. Fast-food restaurants have jumped...
Published: 07/17/18
Fantastic French red wines for just $15 a bottle

Fantastic French red wines for just $15 a bottle

We usually don’t expect red wines from Anjou, a small subregion of France’s Loire Valley, to be any good, but here’s an example that will persuade even the most cynical wine skeptic to scour store shelves for obscure wines. I also recommend a refresh...
Published: 07/17/18
This simple shrimp dish lets summer vegetables shine

This simple shrimp dish lets summer vegetables shine

o the Washington PostThis meal of crisp vegetables and plump shrimp is light, fresh, flavorful and fast. It is just the thing to whip up when you need to reset from a weekend of typical summer party fare, heavy on the grilled meats and mayonnaise-y s...
Published: 07/17/18