Why go to the beach if you can get Jell-O shots inside?
Barefoot Billy’s Friendly Tavern is the kind of dive bar name that jumps off the page, either because it’s an accurate depiction of the neighborhood vibe within or because it’s an ironic name for a bar a little more divey than the name lets on. In this case, Billy’s is, in reality, a friendly neighborhood spot with a uniquely impressive collection of pirate mannequins offering an array of drunken photo opportunities.
Located in south Tampa a few blocks off the bay, the first impression of the bar comes from the amazing mural along the roof that depicts a happy I’m-going-to-say-gecko with a beer in hand underneath the hand-lettered name of the dive. That colorful palette extends to the front of the building, with a vaguely tropical array of pastels adding an uncharacteristic amount of life as far as dive bars go. The rope-connected wooden stumps and the sandy looking driveway gravel make for a faux-beach scene. What I’m saying is there’s a theme and Billy’s Friendly Tavern runs with it.
Inside, an open layout provides ample space for the dive bar staples like a pool table, dart board, etc., but more importantly for even more pirate mannequins in various states of drunken antics that make for both good photo opportunities and even better role models. A winding bar stretches two walls of the space, offering an amazing view of the Jell-O shot-filled refrigerator, one of the hallmarks of a Florida dive bar.
On the whole, the space is, to be clear, aggressively clean, which can be good or bad depending on your opinion of what a dive bar should be. Lights are bright, the beer signs were built sometime after 1990 and even the pool light looks to be up to date. The wood paneling that rings the space isn’t the cracked and fading dive bar-style paneling but rather the modern, clean and, get this, almost shiny variety.
Out back is, you guessed it, another manifestation of the beach vibe, with a porch overseeing a gravel yard dotted with surf boards, umbrellas and whimsical signs pointing to far off locations. It’s a real Key West situation out there, in a dive bar-friendly, enhanced by Jell-O shots kind of way. Christmas lights ring the space, hanging from the porch, offering the right kind of Florida evening glow to the outdoor drinking.
So if it’s the rustic, dusty dive bar that you’re looking for, Billy’s might be a little too friendly for that vibe with its modern, clean interior. But if you’re looking for a pleasant beach bar feel without the pesky requirement of traveling to the actual beach a handful of miles away, Barefoot Billy’s and its collection of pirate friends offer just the south Tampa trick.