Dive Wine & Spirits' "Jungle Bird" cocktail.

Pop into Dive Wine & Spirits on Clark Road during the day and you'll find shelves stocked with tons of enticing bottles that will help you improve your home cocktails. Stick around into the evening, however, and you'll find something even more exciting: a cozy, somewhat hidden bar that is serving up exceptional mixed drinks.

The store was opened by Broc Smith, who also owns Liquor Locker on Fruitville Road, in March, and the bar, separated from the retail area by shelves, was officially inaugurated in May. But the vibe remains a work in progress. It's not a settled, established hangout, but more of an experimental play space, where James Dennis, a bartender who Smith calls a "master technician," can serve you one of his creations or put his spin on a classic that's near and dear to you.

The core drink menu is broken down by spirit, with cocktails built around bourbon, rum, tequila, gin and vodka. The tiki cocktails, in particular, are terrific. The rum-based "Jungle Bird," for example, is just sweet and fruity enough, and plenty strong, with a pleasant trace of bitterness. Dive also offers a rotating seasonal cocktail menu, and Dennis possesses what Smith calls a mental "Rolodex" of recipes.

"His repertoire is fairly limitless," says Smith.

In addition to the back bar, which is open from Tuesday to Saturday, Dive is also home to a second bar on the side that specializes in wine and is open on Friday and Saturday evenings. Smith says that space, which is still being worked on, will eventually be known as The Hive, and will specialize in tequilas and tequila cocktails, in addition to wine.

The back bar seats around 25 people, and Smith wants to keep it intimate. Its existence is not a secret (on a recent Wednesday evening, it filled up), but news of it has spread mostly through word of mouth. Smith wants to keep the space relaxed and unhurried, where the emphasis is on the drinks.

"Our mission is to make the best possible cocktails," he says.

Dive Wine & Spirits is located at 2881 Clark Road, Units 19-21, Sarasota. The retail store is open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday. The back bar is open 5-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The wine bar is open 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. For more info, call (941) 888-0382 or visit the store's website.

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