Man, the weather this past week has been exactly the kind of thing you need to survive in the Sarasota off-season. I, along with my Survival Guide compatriots, have been touting a lot of outdoor activities in the summer time, but sometimes the fun of summer is…getting away from it.
I admit it feels a little counterintuitive to tell people in Sarasota to spend time inside. But summer takes a different kind of mindset, a kind of heat hibernation to get away from, as I’m fond of calling it, the relentless, oppressive sunshine. This isn’t the energetic, event-filled hustle and bustle of the season, which gets kicked off with Thanksgiving and Christmas shopping and theater openings and galas and long busy nights of crowded restaurants and bars spilling out into the streets. There’s fewer people around in the off-season, everything moves a little slower, and so many days seem bleached and blinding with bright, white heat. Makes me long for a cool, dark cave.
The Hi-Way soothes me.
I’ve made no secret of my love for a good dive bar, college pizza joint or backdoor sandwich shop, and those are the best kinds of places to hide away from the summer—where it’s cool and dark and there are neighborhood-y people there, but not so many people that it feels like they’re stealing your air and upping your body temperature.
The Hi-Way in Bradenton is my ideal dive bar—scary enough that you’d drive by it a thousand times and never considering going in. And that adventurousness is part of the fun of a good local joint. (See also: The old Broadway, now long gone, facing 41 north of downtown with a tiny parking lot and bars on the windows.) I love the low ceiling, the minimal lighting and the low-key friendly crowd. Ask for Becky; tell her Hannah wants some chicken livers.
I lived two blocks away from Gillespie Park’s Maximillian’s Cafe for a year and a half and couldn’t summon the courage to give it a try. The building looks like a combination of a body shop and the frat houses at Stetson. Turns out, it’s a local go-to. Awesome sandwiches, equally popular with utility workers, Ringling College employees and downtown professionals. Another place where the close quarters make you feel safe and comfortable.
CCB surveys the menu at the Flying Dog.
The Flying Dog, in Mark Famiglio’s string of newish warehouse-type buildings abutting the airport on Tallevast Road, is too mod and too high-ceilinged to be a dive, but like Maximillian’s, it’s on the corner of an un-restaurant-y building, and it draws as many manufacturing employees and businesspeople as it does folks who live in the neighborhood across the street. Plus: no windows. And the vastness of the airport area makes for some pretty intense sunlight, so you can look out through the glass double doors, take a bite of turkey-on-rye and sip from your pint of Flying Dog (so good) and think, “I’m sure glad I’m not out there.”
CCB at Rico's.
Rico’s on North Tamiami does killer delivery and take-out service to its neighborhood of college students, sitting as it does between New College, USF Sarasota-Manatee and Ringling College. But I like to eat in—it’s a big space with lots of…stuff. Pizza boxes and old arcade games and…whatever, just sitting around, like a restaurant-in-progress. You can watch the cars zooming by on 41, as though people are frantically looking for you, but you’re safely hidden here. Fantastic pizza, too—some of the best in town.
Of course, Sarasota’s quintessential slightly scary hideaway is just a bit south of Rico’s: The Bahi Hut. Everybody talks about it, which you’d think would steal away some of its neighborhood flavor, but it still feels absolutely local: The low lights and tiny space, half filled by a horseshoe bar; the kitschy décor and rock garden display through a sliding glass door. And the crowd, usually more boisterous than the other places I listed—blame the mai tais. I have to admit, I don’t feel right going to the Bahi when the sun’s still out. But even at night, it’s a cool little oasis that lets you feel safely tucked away from the hot summer air.