Where 2 for 1 drinks refers to liquor content, not pricing.
Traveling in and around Tampa, asking bartenders and locals about the best Tampa dive bar, the words “The Hub” seemed to follow me around. The bar’s reputation loomed larger and larger, fueled by a consistent follow-up comment in every conversation I had about The Hub mentioning some combination of the words “liquor pour,” “watch out” and “drunk.” Let me tell you, the stories proved true and the warnings legitimate.
Downtown Tampa can, strangely, feel like an overlooked part of the city, with the persistent pull of the beach cities just over one of the many causeways persistently dragging people toward the coast. And while there are many reasons to visit downtown Tampa, The Hub may be at the top of the list, a phenomenal downtown dive bar that looks to have changed very little since opening in 1949.
The years have worn well on the space, a corner plot tattooed with vibrantly red neon proclaiming the name of the bar and its chief calling cards “bar” and “liquors.” In grand Florida dive bar tradition, The Hub doubles as a liquor store, facilitating drinking needs both inbound and outbound. But the liquor pour rumors are true and might cancel out any need to take an extra bottle home, with this reviewer personally witnessing a Bloody Mary pour conservatively 90% liquor and 10% mix.
Any suggestion that The Hub has changed with the times is easily disproven about 30 seconds into entering the space, checkered tile flooring extending throughout the open layout connecting walls that the Tampa Bay Times lovingly referred to as “nicotine stained.” A legitimately beautiful bar just juts out of the near wall, a small horseshoe with an array of illuminated liquor commanding center stage. The bar’s coloring conjures up images of a 1950s diner layout, employing the dive bar’s history in a way that enhances the atmosphere.
The vast majority of the interior space is dedicated to low seating at simple tables amid graffiti-filled walls. While the action centers around the bar area, the extended space offers a chance to drink absurdly powerful mixed drinks in peace, barring the concerts that sometimes travel through. The stage itself is more a part of the room that gets cleared out rather than an elevated platform, but that kind of approach fits with the rest of the space.
The bathrooms carry the theme, located down a graffiti-lined corridor and at one time were so distinct that they inspired a dedicated Instagram account (over 2,000 followers) tracing the coming and going people, obscene sayings and decorations within. An honest-to-God, non-Touchtunes, analog jukebox neighbors a Ms. Pac-Man machine along one wall, an amazing 1-2 punch if ever there was one.
Of course it doesn’t hurt for “stiff pours here” to serve as the running reputation of the bar, but there are lots of places to get drunk that don’t feel nearly as authentic or as time-tested as a downtown dive bar miles from the closest tourist beach that opened in 1949 and still plays CDs in a real jukebox. It is the sum of the parts that makes something more, here. The hard tile floor, the objectively aged fixtures, the non-ironic graffiti, the drop ceiling, the yellowing wall art, the iconic downtown location that ties it all together.
I cannot recommend The Hub more highly, as both a classic urban dive bar and a reason to stick around downtown Tampa.