Three rooms of 1933 glory amid fading murals of fish.
Anytime the phrase “open since Prohibition ended” gets bandied about, the prospect of a high quality dive bar drinking experience gains considerable steam. Jacksonville dive bar Pete’s Bar in nearby Neptune Beach boasts one such pedigree, tracing its alcohol-soaked lineage to 1933. Further still, Pete’s Bar holds the distinction of first bar to open in the entire county after Prohibition’s repeal, a seemingly sound business decision these many decades later.
Of course, as with any timeless Florida dive bar faced with weathering a pandemic, fears around its continued longevity bubbled over the surface when news of a sale was floated in late 2021. As of this reviewer’s visit in 2022, all things seem dive bar-operational at Pete’s Bar, a good sign that a dreaded “modernization” isn’t yet in the cards for the property. And make no mistake, Pete’s Bar is a Neptune Beach community treasure, a beloved institution along a well-trafficked bend in the tourist-laden road that connects the city to nearby Jacksonville.
Family ownership since the 1930s not only ensures revered community status but the kind of consistency that preserves a space like this one. Outside, a simple neon sign and beach dive bar-standard white paint job are the only signals that beer can be found within. The Jacksonville dive bar’s interior unfolds just as you’re hoping it might with deep brown wood paneling surrounding a tiled floor ringed with all manner of dusty liquor bottle, ancient tools and a series of old rifles suspended from the ceiling.
Faded murals can be seen throughout the space, mercifully spared by the light so graciously snuffed out by the bar’s sparse collection of windows. Above the bar, an aquarium scene serves as backdrop to vintage, statuesque liquor bottles spanning both time and a vast array of décor choices. Along the pool room, a similar seen of animals in a single-file line can be seen, just above and surrounded by fading pictures of patrons from years gone by. Even the modern signage adds to the experience, one sign along the bar’s back mirror making clear that there are three wine choices at Pete’s Bar: red, white and pink.
And because this is a dive bar open since the end of Prohibition, Pete’s Bar has the luxury of a large footprint. The space stretches across three rooms, the first holding the bar and its collection of dusty firearms, the second featuring a pair of pool tables and a back room filled with foosball and additional seating. There is no doubt that Pete’s Bar gets crammed to the gills on a sunny weekend afternoon, the large space a welcome bit of mitigation to what is surely a crowded experience.
But even though the crowd may swell, and tourists certainly feature prominently in that mix, it’s hard to see Pete’s Bar as a dive bar forgotten by locals. The discussion sparked by the dive bar’s sale in December 2021 only underscores the community connection the dive bar has built over the decades, the kind of connection that ensures a healthy mix of locals, regulars and old guys sitting at the end of the bar in a seat they’ve occupied for a handful of presidential administrations.
There’s more to see here, of course, from the graffiti in the bathroom to the photography that lines all three rooms, but that’s the beauty of a dive bar like Pete’s Bar, where the space and history make for a kind of slowly consumed dive bar experience that unfolds over one or two or ten domestic beers. Though Pete’s Bar remains on high alert with a new owner and recent sale, the vibe and history and authenticity of the Jacksonville dive bar experience remain intact in Neptune Beach.