Where the shadow of the overpass touches the neighborhood bar.
Any time the description of a dive bar starts out with the term ‘underneath the overpass,’ the makings of a great dive bar experience are never far behind. Jacksonville dive bar Harbor Tavern emobodies the promise of that phrase completely, a short, squat white building found in an in-between part of town known more as the place you go through on the way home from Jacksonville’s string of beaches east of downtown.
In another location, the single story brick building might look a little bit more like a beach town family diner, but Harbor Tavern probably can’t quite walk that line. Outside, a marquee above the door features the name of the bar and a rotating message (the ever-appropriate “Stay Safe” the selection during this reviewer’s visit). Beer signs illuminate the two windows facing the small parking lot in front the building, stretching around to the side for overflow. The sharp including of the short roof on top of Harbor Tavern and the rustic look of the singles really completes a look best described as if the third piggy opened a dive bar after standing up to the big bad wolf.
Inside, though two windows face the Florida sun, light seems to be absorbed into the bar and its surroundings, the wood paneling and drawn blinds creating a shut-in type feeling, in a good way. The space is divided into two main rooms, one including the classic bar setup along one wall, the other holding a pair of pool tables with an open divider lined with stools separating the two areas. Were a dive bar template ever created for some SimCity-like game of repetitive world building, Harbor Tavern probably has it nailed.
Along the walls, plaques are interspersed with novelty signs just exactly as you picture that description. Some nautical in nature, some reflective of sporting achievements, the visual appeal against the vertical wood paneling cannot be understated. Sitting just a handful of blocks away from the Atlantic Ocean, Harbor Tavern feels more like the Jacksonville dive bar version of your aunt’s basement rather than gateway to the sea. And that suits the space well. This is a space made for hiding from the world, not necessarily engaging with it.
All that being said, the elements within funnel all focus to the line of stools along the bar, prompting the kind of conversations that, on this reviewer’s visit, turned to current events, geopolitical stability and the climate crisis. Just kidding, we talked almost exclusively about Pokemon Go and I have to say, I was compelled to download it just to be part of the discussion and I’m not upset about it. Who knew Jacksonville’s beach community was overrun with Bulbasaurs?
Harbor Tavern is the classic, neighborhood Jacksonville dive bar built not around any kind of gimmick but rather the simple elements of a dive bar that make it a collection point for the surrounding area. Pool tables, long bar, friendly staff, Pokemon in the air, what’s not to like? And all of it found safely under a Florida overpass to boot.