Expand those Clearwater stopover horizons.
Florida can be a state of stark contrasts from one block to another, with each step toward a beach resulting in a more and more tourist-polluted drinking experience. Thankfully, a few steps away from the beach has the reverse effect, uncovering dive bar opportunities in greater quantities. Pro Shop Pub is an example of the phenomenon, just a few short blocks away from Clearwater Beach, but on the opposite side of a tiny downtown, just far enough to pick up the layer of dust that makes a bar worth visiting.
Pro Shop Pub is a Tampa dive bar + gay bar combo that makes for an interesting level of ambiance that tows the line between some classic gay bar décor (see the picture of the giant stuffed teddy bear just off the bar) and a handful of dive bar greatest hits (the fenced-in, Christmas light-illuminated porch for an example). The entrance is a welcoming one, off the parking lot (always a good sign) and signaled by a faux gas lamp just above the doorway.
The transition from dark parking lot to slightly less dark interior is a positive one, with a sprawling, zig-zag of a bar traversing the fullness of the space, with enough spare rooms and offshoots to make you take a second in order to comprehend the layout. To the right, a winding corridor runs past two bathrooms that are least intended as single-use (we don’t judge) and a phenomenon I’ve come across only in Florida dive bars, a set of ticket-style arcade games complete with a claw machine.
While we didn’t stay long enough to get inebriated to the point of absolutely requiring a stuffed penguin, I can see the appeal, and it’s always good to have options late at night. The path continues to the bar itself, a snake that provides ample corner spots and semi-secluded seating sections to make the space more interesting than a standard bar.
The bar itself is painted red and isn’t so much littered with signs as it is dominated by a prominent declaration of “Gays Always Welcome.” Behind the bar, the beer-heavy but liquor-friendly selection fits the vibe, and the bartender during our visit confirmed that he was about as classic as the dive bar itself. Rope lighting runs underneath the bar itself, ensuring a very classy aura around your knees.
A few steps around the bend and the room opens up to a stage-like area, and I say stage-like because it wasn’t so much a raised floor as it was simply sectioned-off space that could ask as a performance area if the night’s entertaining required it. The classic beer sign pool light over the accompanying table completes the tour. Outside, the space is relatively low key, bar the rainbow flag attached to the roof and the simple “Pro Shop” neon sign in the window.
Pro Shop Pub is the perfect Tampa dive bar stopover, an antidote to some of the sickening commercialism a few feet away along the beach and an open floor plan with enough twists and turns to provide a handful of secluded drinking opportunities.