Nothing says Saturday night like a stripper pole.
In full transparency, this reviewer’s trip to Tampa dive bar Hole in the Wall came at the end of an epic, 18-dive bar whirlwind through the city over an intense few days. Pulling into the parking lot and catching a glimpse of some off-putting Yelp reviews almost caused our group to end our tour one bar prematurely. Upon entering the bar and spending about 10 minutes inside, those thoughts felt foolish and our exhaustion lifted, a good sign for the type of dive bar Hole in the Wall represents.
As we learned from the bartender that night, Hole in the Wall is the only bar on busy Hillsborough Avenue in an area of Tampa dominated by Raymond James Stadium. The location feels a touch out of place in an area more typically associated with fast food, gas stations and vaguely industrial buildings. But the seclusion benefits the space, with those drinking at Hole in the Wall doing so for a reason.
Outside, a fresh paint job complements a massive reproduction of the bar’s logo, itself bordering a short patio that sits in front of the shotgun-style building. The space is long and narrow, running along an equally long and narrow parking lot, almost feeling like the building extends into the darkness behind the bar. The side entrance is framed by a drinking rail on one side, an outdoor cigarette machine on the other.
Inside, it’s hard to miss the stripper pole as stripper poles aren’t really meant to be subtle architectural additions. Beyond, a thin bar runs about half of the interior space, with pool tables, red leather seating and another cigarette machine commanding the other half of the room. The lighting is colorful throughout, a welcome dive bar feature, owed to programmable LEDs and a string of Christmas lights over the bar.
Out back, almost mysteriously, a beer garden of sorts extends further back than seems possible given the footprint of the building and its parking lot. Tables, patio furniture, a patch of fake grass and even a PBR-themed car hood are all packed into the space. Tent-style roofing was being worked on during our visit, adding another amenity to a small dive bar seemingly packed with features. Front patio, side rail, bar space, leather seats, back patio, there are even chairs along the narrow corridor to the beer garden, Hole in the Wall doesn’t lack for drinking spots despite the small stature of the building itself.
Though we were assured a new door was on the way, the men’s room during our visit was separated from the main room by a thin shower curtain. And it was a shame too given the artwork on the men’s room door was a picture of Bruce Jenner, the artwork on the women’s restroom door a picture of Caitlyn Jenner.
Stepping back and taking a breather from the drinking whirlwind we created for ourselves, it’s remarkable what Hole in the Wall was able to pack into such a small dive bar space. Beyond all of the amenities already mentioned, somehow a wall-mounted popcorn machine, a sit-down Ms. Pac Man cabinet, a dedicated Jell-O shot fridge and a Netflix-fueled TV screen behind the bar are all jammed into the space.
Every inch of the bar’s footprint is maximized, offering a comprehensive dive bar experience in a small package. And though the location may not lend itself to multi-destination bar crawls, multiple destinations aren’t needed when a stripper pole, a beer garden and a Netflix airing of The Patriot can all co-exist in the same comfortable dive.