Lots of shade, domestic beer and some Florida French Dip au jus.
Within most beach communities, there exist beach-adjacent tourist traps with jacked up prices and under-the-radar dive bars that cater almost exclusively to locals in the know. Johnathan’s Pub in Cocoa Beach just south of Cape Canaveral definitely falls into the latter category, home to long-time residents and savvy visitors along Florida’s Atlantic Coach.
Original owner John Souders founded Johnathan’s Pub in 1970 after a stint in the Navy, managing the bar for 40 years before sadly passing away in 2010. Leadership of Johnathan’s Pub has since transferred to current owner Barbara Brewer and though a handful of updates have been made, the brick-lined dive bar’s charm remains intact. The slightly off-coast location of Johnathan’s Pub helps hide it from “Space Coast” tourists, a benefit in preserving the divey vibe inside.
Thankfully, some of that Johnathan’s Pub charm has tumbled out into the Florida sun thanks to an extended patio that includes ample, much-needed shade. The fenced-in area houses covered picnic tables, multiple sun shades, a handful of palm trees and an elevated stage that serves as home to regular live music. The parking lot that surrounds the low building almost obscures the Cocoa Beach dive bar entirely, each car nearly as tall as the brick wall that peaks out underneath a long, low, sloped roof.
Slim, blacked out windows run along the upper edge of the bar’s exterior front wall, one inscribed with the name of the bar in a Renaissance-style font. A neighboring window hints at one of the longtime calling cards of Johnathan’s Pub reading “The Original Fresh Squeeze,” a reference to the fresh-squeezed juices used in many of the bar’s cocktails and mixers. Finding that kind of attention to detail is rare in a dive bar, let alone one that offers a menu with the phrase “World’s Worst Sandwich” across the top.
Cold and hot subs make up the majority of the limited menu, the unquestioned star the French Dip, subject of many an online review and more than one in-person recommendation on this reviewer’s first visit. Drawn by the location, vibe and potent au jus, the crowd during my visit was dense, wrapped around the bar rail that snakes through the slender but long space.
Ancient air conditioning can be found attached to the drop ceiling overhead, classic dive bar wood paneling running the length of the wall behind the bar. Because this is a dive bar in Florida, the standard issue mounted marlin can also be found behind the bar, joined by a custom Budweiser neon light that includes the name of the bar and a tribute to its 50-year anniversary in 2020. Another favorite dive bar amenity, the circular liquor display, can be found attached to one of the load-bearing posts in front of the bar’s limited tap beer selection.
A pool table anchors one end of the bar, but the interior entertainment here is no doubt focused on darts, original owner Souders a supporter of the sport through participation in local associations and leagues. A handful of boards can be found within the main space but the real dart-based attraction here is the dedicated dart room separated by an open, wooden divider. Dart boards can be found here, yes, but a visit to Johnathan’s Pub wouldn’t be complete without taking in the nearby manatee mural that surrounds the restroom doors.