Let’s get one thing clear: Being called a dive bar is an honor. Good dives are beloved for generations. Order another round and keep these heavy-pouring and character-driven establishments going strong. —CL Editors
AMERICAN LEGION SEMINOLE POST 111 6918 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, 813-236-2281. From the wood paneling to the dance hall nights and karaoke, this neighborhood favorite offers cheap drinks and isn’t exclusive to veterans of foreign wars. Local punk rockers and young folks mix with old-timers — only in Seminole Heights.
BRANDY’S 7220 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-528-1510. Get all the cold beer, cheap cocktails and people-watching you need without going anywhere near downtown St. Pete. There’s no typical Brandy’s regular; it’s always an interesting mix, whether there’s karaoke on tap, a cover band playing, or the juke’s just blaring under the dull roar of conversation. Folks who demand a little pretension with their libations definitely need not apply.
CORNER CLUB 502 E. Sligh Ave., Tampa, 813-231-5010. For Seminole Heights, it’s a Cheers “everyone-knows-your-name” bar with lots of nice folks from all walks of life — from Vietnam vets (our favorite goes by the nickname “Animal”) to trendy college-age kids to the yuppies next door. The decor is mid-’70s with low ceilings, earth tones and a fine illustration of Willie and Waylon. Karaoke nights are the most popular, every Friday and Saturday evening. No website but they have a page on Facebook.
FLAMINGO BAR 1230 Ninth St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-821-9397. St. Petersburg’s Flamingo Bar is known for being the spot where beatnik manifesto On the Road writer Jack Kerouac gulped down his final drink. Enough said.
MASTRY’S 233 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-822-3070. The archetypical downtown dive, Mastry’s is a St. Pete institution — if you haven’t been going there since before Justin Bieber was born, you shouldn’t be calling yourself a regular. Polo-shirted bar-hoppers might be put off by the smoky old-school environs, but screw ‘em. The staff is friendly, and there’s always an opportunity to sit out back and get a free earful of whoever’s playing Jannus Live.
SCREWY LOUIE’S PORPOISE PUB BAR AND GRILLE 8701 Seminole Blvd., Seminole, 727-393-7616, screwielouiesbarandgrille.com. Look past the cumbersome name to visit a historic, kitschy landmark. The octagonal-shaped bar was once a porpoise tank, home to a finny roadside attraction back in the mid-20th century — before PETA and general humane treatment toward animals. A mind-boggling array of sporting activities and beach sand volleyball courts earned it Best Sports Bar honors back in the days of Weekly Planet. Now it’s grown to offer live music, climate control and three full liquor bars.
SHIPWRECK BAR 647 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach, 727-446-3581. Seventy years old and on the north end of Clearwater Beach, it’s one of those rare locals-frequented dives that haven’t been gentrified out of existence. On our last visit, we experienced a Jimmy Buffett sing-along, and ticky-tacky marine décor hangs throughout the establishment with private booths and lighted aquariums. Statues include a Viking goddess and sexy pirates. The signature shot is called the Pink Pussy ($6.25) and it’s a refreshing aperitif after a day in the sun — watermelon liqueur, Bacardi Limon and sour.
SKIP’S BAR & GRILL 371 Main St., Dunedin, 727-734-9151. Skip’s Bar & Grill is home to one of the Bay area’s last true jukeboxes. The Dunedin beer bar is a haunt of locals of all walks of life daily. Pints and pitchers are the main game. Dog-friendly outdoor patio, too.
THE STINGER BAR 2222 49th St. S., Gulfport. 727-327-9100. For five decades the cute, homey neighborhood bar by the border of Gulfport and St. Pete was known as the Blinker. A pool shark by the name of Jesse Jackson bought it a few years ago and renamed it. Along with pool leagues, the bar features karaoke, live music, and a truly happy hour: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday (from 11 a.m. on Sunday).
THE EMERALD 550 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-898-6054. A seasoned mix of whiskey-sipping punk rock young guns, salty old so-and-so’s, and everything in between since 1950.
THE HUB 719 N. Franklin St., Tampa, 813-229-1553. Tampa’s Hub houses a killer and true jukebox, Galaga and foosball. Opened in 1946, the bar remains a fixture with its strong and cheap drinks, smoker-friendliness and utter divey-ness. On the final night of the Republican National Convention, police, politicians and protesters filled the dimly space for a communal drinking extravaganza. Just another testament to the power of the dive.
STONEY’S 1305 S. 22nd St., Tampa. It looks like an Old Florida beach shack with tacky colorful murals of palm trees, but Stoney’s is in Palmetto Beach, a neighborhood amidst the industrial trappings of the Port of Tampa. Bands like Poetry N Lotion play there, so there’s a youthful contingent along with the die-hard drunks. But it can get dark in there. Really dark. One friend of CL was puked on without noticing at first.
TINY TAP TAVERN 2105 W. Morrison Ave., Tampa, 813-254-3872. This holdover from wayyyy before Soho was cool offers everything that makes a dive a dive, from the cheap drafts in the cheaper wax-plastic cups to the knots of retired card-players who only grudgingly give the tables up to the hipsters after dark.
WILSON’S SPORTS LOUNGE 3030 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-895-4219. Like Brandy’s, Wilson’s gets billed as a bit of a sports bar, but this is a dive at heart for sure. One of the best places in town for karaoke, Wilson’s attracts everyone from wrestling fans and bikers to the just-out-of-college set and middle-aged ladies out for a rare night on the town. It was also used as the setting for several scenes in the Chippendale-tastic Magic Mike.