I spent the past weekend in Sarasota, Florida with my mother-in-law, who imports all of her opera-loving relatives (i.e., me and her daughter) for the Sarasota Opera season every spring. We see four operas in three days, and then return to Tampa to be resuscitated by my father-in-law.
While we’re in Sarasota, we pretty much only have time to eat between operas, and it’s a testament to my mother-in-law’s good nature that she agreed to have two of those meals at the dog-friendly O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill. It turned out to be a superb choice, despite the name. There were tiki torches, sure, and there were grass huts, but I have a soft spot a mile wide for a tiki torch and a grass hut. Add in a central, waterfront location, very decent food, and a sincerely dog-friendly policy, and you have a fan for life — make that two, since my mother-in-law, not a dog owner, also loved it.
The restaurant is located on the marina (if you’re driving south on Tamiami Trail, look for it just south of the landmark Marina Jack restaurant). It’s within walking distance of downtown. At this time of year, we had no trouble finding parking in the lots right next to the marina, but in the summer season you might well want to walk from downtown.
It’s on the water, so you eat overlooking a little harbor of boats as well as a tiny beach belonging to the restaurant, which dogs can play on. The restaurant itself is a collection of spaces — there’s an indoor area; there’s a large grass hut sheltering tables and, on both of our visits, an acoustic guitar player; there’s another grass hut for the bar; and there are many tables with umbrellas on the restaurant’s beach.
All of the outdoor spaces, including both grass huts, are dog-friendly. If you plan to eat at the bar, or at the tables next to it, order your meal at the bar (this would be my choice, since your dog can keep you company while you’re ordering). If you plan to eat in the big grass hut or at the beach tables near it, order your meal at the indoor counter (there’s a hook to tie up your dog while you’re ordering). I wouldn’t eat inside unless it was really dreadful weather — it’s harmless, but why would you?
On our first visit, I had a very respectable cheeseburger, but the second time we went I joined my mother-in-law in ordering the grilled fish bun — excellent fish, perfectly cooked, served with a lemon wedge, a tub of tartar sauce, and darned good curly fries. Both times we had Landshark beer (love that name!), and I have no plans to order anything else on future visits. The mid-20’s group next to us on our second trip were from Sarasota (“That canal right there? My parents live three houses up.”), and spoke highly of the shrimp, but we had already ordered when we heard them.
We visited without Chloe, but our neighbors at the outdoor bar tables were accompanied by their excellent dog Mullet (named after the fish, not the hairstyle, her owners assured me).
There were water bowls sprinkled around the property, and when the bartender saw me studying the posted dog dining rules, she cheerfully summed them up as allowing dogs anywhere outside except on the tabletops. Chloe would have loved it, and she would have loved, too, leaving the restaurant and walking around the waterfront park it’s next to (in the absence of squirrels, she’s perfectly ready to be fascinated by gulls and pelicans).
O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill
5 Bayfront Drive
Sarasota, FL 34236
Serving breakfast, lunch & dinner