Thanks to downtown Orlando's obsession with bumpin' bodies and endless rows of test-tube shots, there's a dearth of craft-beer bars in the core stretch. But if you look hard, which you're going to have to do to catch the newest one downtown, you'll find them. Located at 59 W. Central Blvd., across the street from the expansive glamour of Ember, is Tap & Grind, situated in a little half-moon storefront with just a parking garage as its neighbor.
The outside patio is packed with picnic tables and smoker-friendly seating, which expands the capacity of the predictably cozy interior. Granted, Tap & Grind makes the most of its limited space, packing the bar stools (which I hereby crown The Heaviest Bar Stools in All of Orlando, until someone proves me wrong) in along the beautiful curved bar and even squeezing in some standing counter space along one wall. Gorgeous wooden spokes extend along the ceiling from the center of the half-moon, promoting the illusion of more depth to the joint, which is augmented by spacious painted scenes of waves on the wall. Despite gratuitous displays of surf and skater culture occupying the space (including a ginormous TV, which sometimes shows surfing footage), this is no beach burnout's hang. The vibe is animated and alive, and it's very jazzed about beer.
Sixteen taps hold sway over the bar, each boasting an awesome, unique craft brew (and on my visit, six taps dispensed Florida suds), including selections from Anchor, collaborations between Dogfish Head and Stone, and Gainesville's own Swamp Head. Select brews are sometimes filtered through a canister of flavor-enhancing ingredients (past flavors have ranged from peach and vanilla to hot chili peppers). But good selection is worth nothing without an equally impressive staff, which Tap & Grind has in excess: The bartenders are ebullient and well-versed in beer lingo, and if you so much as mutter a name off the beer list to yourself, they're on the spot to fetch a sample for you. The pricing is pretty fair, especially for a downtown spot, with most drafts weighing in at $5 and rarely tipping north of $7. (This latter price usually indicates the beer is a liver-smacking 10 percent ABV or more.)
After downing all those samples and suds, you're going to have to pee eventually, which brings you to one of the most pleasant surprises at Tap & Grind: the bathroom. Lit with black lights and scribed with mosaic-tiled proverbs and witticisms, it's unlike most any other bar bathroom in Orlando, in that you'd be happy to pass out drunk in there – or at least less likely to catch an exotic flesh-eating infection if you did so.
While the “Tap” portion of this spot is handled soundly, the “& Grind” part is still in the works. A couple of coffee and espresso machines sit quietly in the back of the bar, and they're only started up if a regular is jonesing for a cuppa. According to a bartender, plans are in the works to serve coffee (and perform inebriated experiments with coffee/beer mixtures) soon, though no solid date has been set. Regardless, the consistently impressive beer selection and top-notch service is enough to keep me coming back, if only to make sure they make good on the promise of future Russian Imperial Stout/Sumatra combos.
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