It doesn’t get much more neighborhood than this.
There is a fine line between a comfortable dive bar that’s been around for 70 years and serves unassuming Bud Light at $2 a bottle and a neighborhood bar in a not-so-great part of town that makes $2 Bud Light seem not worth the risk. Boardwalk Tavern, upon this reviewer’s visit, was filled with welcoming faces surprised to see a non-regular turn up, but the place definitely walks the line between destination dive and a neighborhood drinking institution best left to locals.
The stretch of land between the causeway from downtown Tampa and St. Pete proper can be a mixed bag, drifting between strip malls, fast food and rolling residential housing. The area feels a bit “in-between” for that reason, a piece of the area that no doubt serves as the part of town on the way to something else. And that’s where Boardwalk Tavern sits, a building that I have to say those with me were reticent to enter.
The vibe comes from the location, certainly, from the haphazard sign above the door, from the shallow gravel parking lot out front that had, somewhat mysteriously, no cars despite the packed nature of the bar within. This is a neighborhood spot. Boardwalk Tavern is the kind of place people walk to when they’re off work with the kind of regularity that manifests itself in an office chair rolled in clearly for a specific regular in a specific spot (accurate depiction of one such bar patron on our visit).
Inside, the space is as simple as it sounds, a short bar, a collection of coolers, a small island, a pool table. A handful of chairs are strewn about the back wall, accumulated over the years it seems, just below more than one framed photo of Elvis. Wood paneling rings the space, a drop ceiling hovers above and what used to be a carpeted floor is worn down to a light dusting of what used to be shag. Visually, Boardwalk Tavern checks every dive bar box.
But it would be a bit of a disservice to claim that a visit to Boardwalk Tavern is something for everyone. The location can be intimidating, the small footprint a bit claustrophobic when filled with regulars eyeing the newbies and the vibe felt like it could swing in a variety of unpredictable ways on short notice. Conversely, the people that greeted us were kind and welcoming, the beer was cold and the surroundings were nothing if not unassuming.
There are better dive bars in St. Pete and Tampa, to be sure. And there are probably more palatable destinations in the metro area as well. But for those with a bit of adventurous spirit and an interest in a neighborhood spot steeped in history and what seems to be a dedicated set of locals, Boardwalk Tavern fits the bill (but warn the people that come with you).