The right kind of nautical beach vibe.
Downtown Clearwater is everything that a tourist-heavy Florida beach town promises: expensive restaurants, cramped quarters, parking that is more expensive than the meal you’re about to eat. And that can be a real drag on a night of drinking, fighting crowds and lines for the privilege of paying $12 for a watered-down cocktail. But just a few blocks north, The Shipwreck Grill is the perfect dive bar antidote to all of that, even if you’re never too far away from a jello or novelty shot.
And I’ll get that part out of the way first. The Shipwreck Grill is, you guessed it, nautically-themed, and with that theme comes a handful of custom cocktail creations, the most prominent of which is a shot called the Pink Pussy. Were we talked into it by an engaging and persuasive bartender? Yes. Was it worth it? Well, it’s given me a paragraph of this review and a morally-questionable phrase within it, so it was probably worth the indeterminate amount of money dropped on a mysterious pink liquid.
Pulling up, Shipwreck is everything a Tampa dive bar (or Clearwater dive bar in this case) should be. The visual appeal is instant, with a wood plank-heavy façade that fits the theme. Two pirate mannequins offer ample opportunity for drunken selfies. Piercing neon signs adorn every window. There’s even a fake fish above the front door. The name of the bar itself carries the theme even further, spelling out Shipwreck in faux driftwood. It’s an impressive vibe.
Inside, the nautical party continues. The bar stretches the length of the space, lit with what feels like some kind of rainbow Christmas light string, supported by what looks like half of a pergola sticking out of the wall behind the bar. The coolers behind the bar take on the look of below deck-style storage and the rear wall doubles as a mermaid-heavy painted mural.
Opposite the bar, a handful of nooks with secluded hightop seating are divided by short wooden walls, providing ample opportunity to carve out a private space. Each nook overlooks the secondary room, mostly deserted during our visit given the more impressive vibe of the main bar area. Surrounded by a handful of aquariums, that space features a pair of pool tables and a handful of bar arcade games. A nook around the corner (that’s right, a tertiary room) includes some relaxed seating and, for some reason, no lights.
But the action is up front, with the narrow distance between the bar and its supporting nooks creating the kind of cozy but not cramped vibe that a dive bar thrives on. The bar staff moved quickly, pushed the good stuff without overdoing it and were quick to shut down the handful of already-drunks that stumbled into the dive bar. It’s hard to ask for much more.
And maybe importantly for the tourist area-adjacent location of the bar, there’s just enough of that beach bar / “hey I’m in Florida on vacation” feeling without the negative aspects that can come with places a little too touristy to be fun. Get the fancy fresh seafood dinner a few blocks down the street, but skip the $15 martini. Novelty shot or not, The Shipwreck Grill occupies the right part of the Venn diagram between Tampa beach bar and classic dive.