Every town needs a bar that specializes in craft beer. Neighborhood bars that sling Bud heavy, that is regular Budweiser, Bud Light and Shock Top are nice, especially when they establish a rapport with the local community. Great bars need not serve great. Some regulars like the stuff they grew up on.
But let's face it, variety is the spice of life and , 12500 Starkey Rd, fulfills that role for Largo’s nightlife scene.
The establishment is, like most establishments in Largo, wrapped within the warm embrace of a shopping center. As Largo residents know, Starkey functions as one long shopping mall interrupted only by traffic jams and construction. But like all good hole-in-the-wall joints, Willard’s uses that space to create its own niche.
The first thing that a patron of the bar notices upon entering is the large chalkboard of beers. Some brands, like Brooklyn Larger and Hoegaarden, are recognizable. Others are less well known.
I imbibed Dunedin’s Cigar City IPA. It was as deliciously brown and hoppy ale, and I enjoyed it more knowing that it came from a local brewery. Other options include, Brau Weisse, Highland Little Stump and Coronado Islander IPA.
After you order one drink, the bartender gives you a card with one of the forty numbers stamped. After you drink your way through one card, Willard’s bestows upon you a free t-shirt. With their exotic cadre of available hops, one is motivated to eventually walk away with the gratis garb.
Willard’s does not have much in the way of dining. However, I order chips and queso. I got a bag of tortilla chips and a Publix jar of hot cheese. Despite its no frills presentation, I enjoyed the snack, and even walked away with a half-eaten bag of chips. But those who visit Willard’s should do so for the beer.
On the weekends, there is live music and open mic nights. With regard to other entertainment, there are two large screen television sets-- one Panasonic is out-of-order and has a “should have bought Sony” tag attached to it-- that play games. I fervently enjoyed drinking my beer, eating chips and watching the Big East Tournament.
The bar itself is decorated with craft beer signs and other paraphernalia – there are also hundreds of glass bottles lining the walls. Enough to challenge anyone to "99 Bottles of Beer" song match.
When I was there Alien Ant Farm blasted from the stereo, but it is easy to imagine Arcade Fire, Frightened Rabbit or Soundgarden gracing Willard’s airwaves. In all, the bar had the same air as the cool kid sleeping in the back of your algebra class.
There is no place quite like Willard’s in the greater St. Petersburg region, not even in downtown. That it resides in Largo, well, let's just say it's our little secret.