20 legit Hillsborough County dive bars, and why you should get a drink at all of them
The local watering hole has long been a source of comfort for what ails you. There's just something about the sight of a neon sign that makes you want to shake it off and leave your worries at the door. You might be finishing off a bad week at work, dealing with a breakup, or just having “one of those days.” Regardless of why you’re there, you quickly feel a sense of welcome relief when you sink into a bar stool that helps you forget the world outside.
Hillsborough County has tons of bars where you can catch a buzz, but there are nuances about certain haunts that make you want to return. We’re talking about the kind of place where you’re likely to skip the museum tour or miss that dinner reservation because you’re just having such a good time. Chances are your bar stool neighbor will introduce themselves and, if you’re lucky, even buy you a round.
These spots have a special type of dynamic that aren’t always for the faint of heart. You may not get served the second you sit down, or the bathroom may not be as clean as you’d like. Quite a few of the bars listed still allow indoor smoking, so you’ll probably have some laundry to do the day after. The rules here are to be patient and tip your bartender so that you can continue coming back.
Here’s a list of dives across Hillsborough where you might just spend more than a few good nights. Insider tip: bring cash, as several of these locations don’t accept credit cards.
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119 W Waters Ave., Tampa, 813-932-1429
Buckle up for this one because it’s a true dive, nicotine-stained Nascar merch and all. The outside is very unassuming and to be honest, so is the inside. It’s beer-only, so you’ll have to make a choice between Bud or Busch, and pay with cash. Between the cigarette vending and coin-operated washing machines, you’ll find this is a place to have a strong opinion about one way or the other.
Photo via Honeysuckle Bar/Google
719 N Franklin St., Tampa, 813-229-1553
This downtown staple with an attached package store has been voted Best Dive Bar in the Bay on and off for several years. The Hub is about as iconic of a dive that you’ll find in the area, with a loyal following that up until recently included the late and dearly beloved regular of over 30 years, Texas Tim. Locals know that you never order a double here because the pour is probably the strongest in town, so don’t take it personally if you get cut off after your second Long Island.
Photo via The Hub/Facebook
2105 W Morrison Ave., Tampa, 813-254-3872
The Tiny Tap really cleaned up its act during the pandemic, including making the move to non-smoking indoors and giving every surface a good wipe down. The charm of a dimly lit bar with one of the few remaining Megatouches (IYKYK) is all still there, and now you can even pay with a credit card. Regulars here usually move between a barstool and the pool or foosball tables and are sure to regale you with tales of the old Tampa.
Photo via Tiny Tap Tavern/Facebook
1518 E 7th Ave., Tampa, 813-248-1442
If you’re a fan of this place it’s probably because you appreciate the “no BS” attitude that the bartenders and regulars all seem to have. The prices are extremely reasonable, the music is usually an eclectic mix and Reservoir Dogs is likely playing on loop. This is also one of the few spots in town where you can order a Malort, which you’re probably going to hate. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can add a dried scorpion to your order for just $2.
Photo via Reservoir/Google
3832 Britton Plaza, Tampa, 813-839-7845
If you can’t find a seat at the bar, the retro red booths make a great substitute. Tapper offers a varied food menu, including an absolutely delicious Ruben. If you’re lucky enough to catch Kay popping in and out then you’re in the presence of one of Tampa's longest running bartenders. On some occasions you’ll find the old school regulars involved in a TouchTunes war with the younger crowd, so be prepared to possibly never hear a song in its entirety.
Photo via Tapper Pub/Google