Top 5 Tampa / St. Pete Dive Bars
Tampa and St. Pete and Clearwater and it’s worth it.
This list comes with a caveat right up front that some liberties have been taken with things like “borders” and “city limits.” It is likely frustrating for the cities of Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater and elsewhere to be continuously lumped into one big Florida stew, but this list does just that, partially to capture some of the best Florida dive bars in a single place but also because the travels to and from these locations is worth the mileage. The combination of sunny beach dive bars with urban classics like The Hub is a fair tradeoff for relaxing the limits on sticking with Tampa proper.
Where the term ‘Tampa dive bars’ capture downtown and near-neighborhood institutions, getting out to places like St. Pete Beach and Clearwater allows for some amazing wind-swept, been-there-for-decades, beach bum-friendly dive bars along the coast. And for those swept up into some of the tourist trap-like options out west, some of the suggestions below offer much needed escape.
The list below captures our favorites, but Tampa & its neighbors are full of great options, all of which can be found in our Tampa / St. Pete Dive Bar Travel Guide.
19201 Gulf Blvd, Indian Shores, FL 33785 | Google Maps
Walking into Mahuffer’s may be the dive bar equivalent of breathing fresh air for the first time. The atmosphere inside manages to smash together everything great about the beach, everything great about drinking and just enough Florida to make it interesting. Dollar bills, bras and fishing nets hang from the ceiling. The labyrinth inside transitions from concert venue to indoor dive bar to outside beach shack.
The level of visual interest is extreme, a new quirky dive bar feature around every corner. There’s the front half of a ship lodged into the bar’s wall and signed by layer after layer of dive bar drinker. There’s the red Busch beer lamp dangling dangerously from the bar’s low ceiling. There’s the broken blue jukebox filled with broken country albums. There is no end to the stimulation at Mahuffer’s or the reasons to make the trip west to Indian Shores.
2. Tiny Tap Tavern
2105 W Morrison Ave, Tampa, FL 33606 | Google Maps
Opened in 1934 as a gas station before a conversion to a life of alcohol sales in 1951, the roots show at this south Tampa dive bar roughly the size of an overgrown shoebox. Gravel lot surrounding a tiny building in the shadow of gentrified apartment complexes, it would be natural to worry about gentrification’s slow creep, but a recent sale mercifully kept the space in the hands of those that appreciate its dive bar roots.
Inside, a drop ceiling hovers over a worn-down green cement floor that may not be original but certainly looks it. The bathroom can be found outside, holding one of the finest collections of graffiti found in Tampa. And naturally, the ancient HVAC system isn’t just a source of cool air but a destination for all manner of stickers, because dive bar logic. Keep an eye out for the sign welcoming the arrival of wifi to the Tiny Tap Tavern.
3. The Hub
719 N Franklin St, Tampa, FL 33602 | Google Maps
Not only did The Hub come highly recommended by locals at dives throughout the city, visiting the downtown Tampa dive bar comes with a warning. Liquor pours at The Hub are generous, probably overly so, without the price tag that can sometimes come with that distinction. After watching a handful of mix drinks assembled behind the bar, leaving precious little room in the glass for the hint of a mixer, the distinction seems well-earned and entirely dangerous.
The space inside is cavernous for an urban dive bar, a sprawling room that meanders from bar to small live music stage to a liquor store embedded within The Hub. Among even the owners, the opening date for the bar is a bit of a mystery, numerous similarly-named locations potentially tracing the bars lineage back to anywhere between 1933 and the late 1940s. Any date within that range would make sense given the timeless nature of the bar inside, largely unscathed by the decades that followed.
114 8th Ave, St Pete Beach, FL 33706 | Google Maps
St. Pete Beach makes the list with Shadracks, a spot that feels like someone took a beach dive bar and flipped it inside out. From the shingled roof that is inexplicably inside the space, to the multi-room open-air layout, the illusion works in a very strange way but reinforces the beachy nature of the dive despite its off-beach location.
The bar’s sign says that good times and fine spirits have been found here since 1972, though some of the interior decorations hint at more than one incarnation of Shadracks, including a Beach Club with a giant metal marker to prove it. Where a typical dive bar might run wood paneling throughout a space, Shadracks keeps the inside-out theme going with wood slats that again resemble shingles. Cap the experience off with a rare bit of indoor pink neon and the appeal isn’t difficult to communicate.
5. The Shipwreck
701 647 Mandalay Ave, Clearwater, FL 33767 | Google Maps
Clearwater can be a daunting spot to visit during friendly weather, a time when tourists jam the expected locations and slow traffic through the city’s main stretch to a halt. The Shipwreck is the antidote, a handful of blocks north of where the tourist hordes largely congregate. The pirate statues out front tell a bit of the story, but inside what is probably really a pirate bar feels a lot like a tiki dive bar, in a very good way.
Christmas lights, mermaid murals, in-wall aquariums and fishbowl windows make very a very aquatic experience, the blue and pink lighting throughout the space accentuating the sensation of drinking heavily under water. Mix in a provocatively-named shot here and there and what could have been another Clearwater tribute to family commercialism is instead a beautifully-themed faux tiki dive bar just off Clearwater’s most populated areas.
Though lumping together a handful of cities into one dive bar basket is a little inelegant, the destinations are worth the journey here. That liquor stores can be found within some of these dives bars and other honorable mentions (like Smuggler’s Tavern on the very southern tip of St. Pete Beach) only adds to the fun of exploring the Florida coast. But whatever you do, across all of your Tampa dive bar travels…please keep an eye on that pour at The Hub. Courage.