Dark, bright. Masculine, feminine. Sugar, spice. Champagne, beer.
Tiger Bar Exotic Eats and neighboring Champagne Room are a study in both contrast and balance.
“There’s definitely a sort of yin yang between the two places — dark and masculine over there and ultra-feminine over here,” said owner Tricia Coyne, pouring a glass of wine and gesturing to the Champagne Room’s high ceilings, spotless white bar and refreshing aqua-colored trim. “In here, I created a bar that I wanted to hang out in, with a focus on bubbles — by the bottle and glass.”
Next to the sparkling bar, a comfortable lounge area welcomes guests who are free to sit on couches, in a hanging swing or at a high-top table. A progressive happy hour occurs from 3 to 6 p.m., offering $3 glasses at 3 p.m., $4 glasses at 4 p.m. and $5 glasses at 5 p.m.
The Champagne Room, 500 Truman Ave., has hosted bachelorette parties, wedding and baby showers, birthdays and random Tuesday happy hours. “Some of the nursing students from College of the Florida Keys always come in to have a glass of wine and do their homework,” Coyne said.
Charcuterie boards and other small items are available in the bubbly space.
But right next door — with a curtain separating the two experiences — Tiger Bar Exotic Eats offers Asian-inspired small plates created by chef Russ Ferstle, who has worked with Coyne since she opened her first Key West restaurant, Firefly, about eight years ago on Petronia Street.
The juxtaposition of the two aesthetics is akin to reading Hemingway and Jane Austen at the same time.
“Tiger Bar Exotic Eats is a modern, small-plate restaurant inspired by international street food where every guest is treated with the intimacy of a chef’s table dining experience,” says the restaurants’ website, “while the vintage lounge of the Champagne Room next door features a rotating boutique wine list and artisanal hors d’oeuvres.”
The study in contrasts between the new neighboring spaces is intentional — and entirely enjoyable.
Tiger Bar has an almost underground, or beneath-the-surface, atmosphere. Its interior feels as if a 17-century schooner and a hideaway bar in Southeast Asia somehow combined to create the coolest man fort. Ever. There’s something strange or surprising to see in every nook of the place — a schooner’s figurehead, a shrunken head and a life-sized tiger on the front door.
Ferstke also keeps stacks of cookbooks around the restaurant, not as props, but for his own inspiration and reference.
“Russ is one the most research-oriented chefs I know, and it’s amazing to watch him at work,” Coyne said.
The magic happens at an open kitchen in full view of the bar and dining tables. With a full beer and wine selection and an adventurous menu, Coyne and Ferstle provide an exciting experience on every visit.
Ferstle is constantly updating the menu, but on a recent Friday, the offerings included homemade Lumpia, the Filipino egg rolls with ground pork, cabbage and carrots and a spicy, homemade sauce; Korean fried chicken with hot honey or soy garlic sauce, and Asian sticky balls — pork meatballs in a sticky glaze and zucchini noodles. One of Coyne’s favorites is Ferstle’s “Gunpowder Tofu and beetroot rice — Indian-spiced tofu with beetroot jasmine rice.”
All small plates are $7 to $14.
Coyne opened Tiger Bar and The Champagne Room in February 2020 — 36 days before COVID forced her to close the new spots that share a divided storefront at the corner of Truman and Duval.
They reopened in July 2020 and have been providing guests with an epicurean adventure and a bubbly breath of fresh air with every visit.
The Champagne Room is open from 3 to 11 p.m. and Tiger Exotic Eats is open 6 to 10 p.m., but closed on Mondays.