“Life isn’t a cabaret. It’s a dive bar.” – Woody Paige
“I don’t have a drinking problem ‘cept when I can’t get a drink.” – Tom Waits, “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart”
“Drinking is a way of ending the day.” – Ernest Hemingway
Tired of frequenting one of those generic, sanitized Florida bars that serve overpriced microbrews and are as completely devoid of character as the mind-numbingly dull patrons that frequent them? Perhaps it’s time to bring some adventure into your life and head out to a dark and gritty Florida dive bar! Don’t fall for any imposters – the best Florida dive bars are true hole-in-the-wall shitholes that basically serve as subterranean retreats from everyday reality (and if you actually have serious reservations about actually entering, you know for sure that you’ve arrived at a bona fide Florida dive bar!). When seeking the ideal Florida dive bar, look for such telltale features as early morning hours, cheap drinks and generous pours, terrible lighting, filthy bathrooms full of graffiti (and the occasional dried vomit), dollar bills stapled to the ceiling and especially colorful beer-addled customers (AKA barflies). In other words, the kind of place where Charles “Poet Laureate of Skid Row” Bukowski would feel right at home. According to Bucket List Bars: Historic Saloons, Pubs and Dives of America (2013) by Clint Lanier and Derek Hembree, “Today’s dive bars are usually dark, run-down, with odors of questionable origin, ever-present beer signs and sports flags, and Christmas lights haphazardly hung on the walls and fixtures.” Without further ado, here are the top 15 essential Florida dive bars (in alphabetical order, of course, since each has its own unique personality!).
Anclote River Boat Club – Tarpon Springs
Way off the beaten path down a dirt road lies a somewhat decrepit shack that looks like it’s about to collapse into a river. There’s even a dilapidated boat stuck in the branches of an old oak tree to signal your arrival. Welcome to the Anclote River Boat Club! Variously described as everything from the “dumpiest bar in the world” to “THE dive bar to end all DIVE bars,” this Tarpon Springs landmark and classic Florida dive bar offers cold beer (served in a plastic cup, of course) in a friendly atmosphere with occasional live entertainment, a pool table, car seats as benches, and a jukebox full of classic country and southern rock tunes. What more could you ask for from an authentic Florida dive bar? Oh yeah, the place is completely filthy and covered everywhere with graffiti. By the way, this is a cash-only bar and no food is served except for the occasional free pulled pork dinner on Tuesday nights. A word of warning: Don’t even think of using the bathroom unless you’re truly desperate. Anclote River Boat Club is located off of U.S. 19 (turn onto Beckett Way behind the Tarpon Animal Hospital). Don’t miss it!
1761 Beckett Way, Tarpon Springs, Florida 34689 · (727) 938-9566
Bahi Hut Lounge – Sarasota
A roadside dive masquerading as a South Sea Island-style tiki bar, the Bahi Hut Lounge is attached to the Golden Host Resort on North Tamiami Trail. Established in 1954 by Bill Johnson, this Sarasota landmark is one of the oldest tiki bars in United States. It is known for its strong drinks (don’t miss the opportunity to sample the Famous Mai Tai and Sneaky Tiki cocktails), friendly atmosphere and tiki-style décor, complete with teak wood walls, vintage art, Polynesian masks, carved statues and the like. Sample a cherished piece of Sarasota cultural history at the Bahi Hut Lounge!
4675 North Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Florida 34234 · (941) 355-5141
Churchill’s Pub – Miami
Nestled in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami is this “Pub and Grub Punk Club” that’s been around since 1979 and has evolved over the years into an essential staple of the Miami music scene. According to Southern Living, Churchill’s “is equally as filthy as it is full of character … it’s quite the opposite of the glitz and glamour of Miami’s South Beach scene.” Another publication called it a “beloved shithole.” Often referred to as the “CBGB of the South,” Churchill’s has hosted live entertainment from the likes of Iggy Pop, Marilyn Manson (who reportedly performed his first-ever gig here), Social Distortion, the Mavericks, Dick Dale, Michale Graves, Agent Orange and many other notable performers over the years. In fact, Churchill’s claims to have hosted more performances than any other venue in the United States (about 20,000 musical acts at last count!). In addition, Churchill’s served as a filming site (doubling as as a sleazy strip club) for the 1998 Farrelly brother comedy There’s Something About Mary. You can’t miss Churchill’s Pub – just look for the double-decker British bus in the parking lot and the imposing portrait of Winston Churchill above the front door. Bottom line: It’s about as far away from the glitzy, pretentious and fake South Beach scene that can be possibly imagined!
5501 N.E. 2nd Avenue, Miami, Florida 33137 · (305) 757-1807
Elbo Room – Fort Lauderdale
A legendary Fort Lauderdale dive bar and longtime favorite of Spring Breakers, the Elbo Room first opened its doors in 1938 at the corner of Las Olas Boulevard and State Road A1A. One of South Florida’s best-known landmarks, the Elbo Room appeared in the 1960 romantic comedy Where the Boys Are, which starred Dolores Hart (who later became a nun!), Paula Prentiss, Yvette Mimieux, Connie Francis, George Hamilton, Jim Hutton, Frank Gorshin and Chill Wills. Known as the “World’s Best Beach Bar,” the Elbo Room is a Florida dive bar institution that offers daily drink specials, occasional bikini contests and live entertainment. 241 S. Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, Florida · (954) 463-4615
Flamingo Sports Bar – St. Petersburg
Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) reportedly spent a lot of time in the last year or so of his life hanging out at the Flamingo Bar, a local dive at 1230 Ninth Street North where he shot pool and drank heavily from his corner barstool. According to legend, Kerouac even took his last drink at the Flamingo the night before his death at the age of 47 on October 21, 1969. Today, the Flamingo Sports Bar is little changed from Kerouac’s day but the establishment has made several efforts to celebrate Kerouac’s legacy such as adding a massive framed poster of Kerouac in the window and featuring a lively “Jack Kerouac Night” with folk music and beat poetry twice a year near the dates of the writer’s birth (March 12) and death (October 21). In addition, Kerouac-related photos and magazines cover the walls of the bar. The Flamingo even features a “Jack Kerouac Special”—a shot of whisky and a beer wash for $2.25. In addition, visitors can purchase a T-shirt with Kerouac’s image on the front and the famous “mad to live” line from On the Road on the back. Billed as “St. Pete’s Oldest Bar,” the Flamingo Bar dates to 1924 and was reportedly also frequented by Babe Ruth, who had a winter estate in St. Petersburg.
1230 9th Street North, St. Petersburg, Florida 33705 · (727) 821-9397
Flora-Bama Lounge – Perdido Key Billed as the “Last Great Roadhouse,” the Flora-Bama Lounge (AKA “the Bama”) gets its catchy name from its prime location on the Florida-Alabama state line. Opened in 1964 as a rowdy roadhouse and package store, the Flora-Bama has evolved into a funky beach bar, gulf front oyster bar, honky-tonk, Florida dive bar and Gulf Coast landmark all in one. Among the celebrities who have drank at the Flora-Bama Lounge over the years include the likes Jimmy Buffett (whose song, “Bama Breeze, is reportedly a homage to the Bama), Kenny Chesney (who wrote a song, “Flora-Bama,” about the legendary dive bar), Vince Vaughn and Peyton Manning, among many others. None other than football great Kenny Stabler dubbed the Flora-Bama as “the best watering hole in the country.”
17401 Perdido Key Drive, Pensacola, Florida 32507 · (850) 492-0611
Freezer Tiki Bar – Homosassa
A total Florida dive with a totally cool, laid-back vibe, the Freezer Tiki bar is housed in an old fish warehouse along a tributary of the Homosassa River and the bar itself formerly served as a walk-in bait freezer for Cedar Key Fish and Crab. It’s also one of the few Florida dive bars on this list that is actually known for its delicious food, including steamed shrimp, clam chowder, steamed mussels, smoked mullet and more. Wash it all down with an ice-cold beer at this cash-only establishment that has been described variously as everything from a “true hole-in-the-wall joint” to a “charming old Florida seafood dive bar.” According to USA Today, “Service and atmosphere take a back seat to the food at this dockside property; lemon wedges would be considered fancy, where ‘rural honkytonk’ is the uncontrived theme and grizzled fishermen in camo T-shirts are representative of the customer base.”
5590 South Boulevard Drive, Homosassa, Florida 34448 · (352) 628-2452
Green Parrot Bar – Key West
Billed as “A Sunny Place for Shady People,” the Green Parrot Bar is one of several classic Florida dive bars in Key West that visitors to the Florida Keys need to check out (the others being Schooner Wharf Bar, Captain Tony’s Saloon and Bull & Whistle). A local favorite with true Key West flavor, the open-air Parrot is stocked full of eclectic memorabilia, the bartenders pour stiff drinks, a weekday happy hour takes place Monday through Thursday from 4 PM to 7 PM and Friday from 4 PM to 5:30 PM, and live music can be heard most nights of the week. A Key West institution, the Green Parrot Bar first opened its doors as a grocery store in 1890 by Anthony Sanchez at the corner of Whitehead and Southard streets. It later morphed into The Brown Derby Bar, a raucous hangout frequented by submarine sailors after World War II. By the 1970s, the bar had become a refuge for hippies, free spirits and bikers, and the name was changed to the Green Parrot Bar in 1980. Ideally located at 601 Whitehead Street, the Parrot is the first and last bar on U.S. 1. The Monroe County Courthouse is across the street from the bar and the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum lies just down the street a couple of blocks away. Oh yeah, be on the lookout for the resident mascot known simply as “Smirk”
!601 Whitehead Street, Key West, Florida 33040 · (305) 294-6133
Harry’s Banana Farm – Lake Worth First opened in 1954 and formerly known as “Harry’s Open Door Bar,” Harry’s added the “Banana Farm” moniker after a local little league team refused to accept the Florida dive bar’s sponsorship. In addition to its classic dive bar atmosphere, Harry’s is known for its edgy (and sometimes controversial) slogans displayed on a sign out front such as “We’ve Got Beer Colder Than Your Ex-Wife’s Heart,” “More People Read This Sign Than Your Stupid Blog” and “Cremation: The Only Time You’ll Ever Have a Smokin’ Hot Body.” Sometimes referred to as the “Sloppy Joe’s of Lake Worth,” Harry’s was once dubbed the “sleaziest bar in the country” by none other than Penthouse magazine. The “Home of the Big Ass Beer,” Harry’s is the ideal “shot-and-a-beer” type bar and draws regulars who have been swilling beers here for decades. There’s even a resident bar cat named “Speedbump.”
1919 North Dixie Highway, Lake Worth, Florida 33460 · (561) 540-8300
Last Resort Bar – Port Orange
Looking for the ultimate Florida dive bar? Head out to The Last Resort Bar, a tiny brick biker bar in Port Orange that became notorious as the place where female serial killer Aileen Wuornos enjoyed her last beer before being arrested on January 9, 1991 (to set the record straight, she was not apparently a regular at the bar). In fact, the cash-only bar’s motto is “Home of Ice Cold Beer and Killer Women.” The story of the hitchhiking prostitute was documented in the 2003 drama Monster starring Charlize Theron (she deservedly received a Best Actress Oscar for her chilling performance). Scenes from Monster were reportedly filmed at the Florida bar, which sells T-shirts of Wuornos being arrested along with “Crazed Killer Hot Sauce.” By the way, Wuornos’ last words before her 2002 execution by lethal injection were “Yes, I would like to say I’m sailing with the rock, and I’ll be back, like Independence Day, with Jesus. June 6, like the movie. Big mother ship and all, I’ll be back, I’ll be back.” In addition, none other than Hank Williams Jr. name-drops The Last Resort Bar in his song “Daytona Nights,” which can be found on Bocephus’ 1995 album, Hog Wild: “Now the Boothill Saloon/And the Last Resort/That’s a few of the sites/You need to be looking for.” Hours are 10 AM to 2 AM daily at this cash-only bar that that serves beer and wine only. Don’t miss the garden of motorcycles dangling from an old oak tree out back. When you pull up to this “quintessential dive bar” (as described by the Orlando Sentinel) you will probably be (quite understandably!) wary about going inside. Enter at your own risk!
5812 South Ridgewood Avenue, Port Orange, Florida 32127 · (386) 761-5147
Mahuffer’s – Indian Shores
An authentic Florida dive bar on the Gulf Coast (but light years from ever being described as a “beach bar”!), Mahuffer’s has been variously described as a “pigsty,” “craphole” and filthy scum hole” – and those are the positive reviews! One observant reviewer even remarked, “If you’re a prick or an entitled snowflake go elsewhere.” Mahuffer’s made it on the “Top 10 Best Bars in Florida” list by The Guardian: “A lot of bars have offbeat décor. Mahuffer’s takes it to the extreme. While not quite on the coast, it bills itself as the worst place on the beach in the Tampa Bay area.” With its smoky atmosphere, cheap drinks, loud music, nautical artifacts, bar cat, dirty (occasionally vomit-covered) bathrooms and dollar bills stapled everywhere, Mahuffer’s serves as a textbook Florida dive bar!
19201 Gulf Boulevard, Indian Shores, Florida 33785 · (727) 596-0226
No Name Pub – Big Pine Key
Billed as “a nice place if you can find it,” the award-winning No Name Pub on Big Pine Key (not on nearby No Name Key as you might expect it to be) is the perfect spot to grab an ice-cold beer and some pub grub on your way to or back from Key West. Every inch of this colorful Florida dive bar is plastered with thousands of autographed dollar bills, so be sure to bring a dollar bill or two to add to the collection (according to legend, the tradition started after some desperate patron years ago posted a dollar bill with his phone number on it to get the attention of a waitress). Formerly a general store/bait & tackle shop, the actual restaurant/pub was opened here in 1936. In those early days, the bar even featured an upstairs brothel (although “the venture failed after several years as the fishermen were reported to be better looking than the ladies,” according to the official No Name Pub website!). Today, this laid-back, ramshackle hangout features a nice selection of draft and bottled beer, wine, delicious pizza, grouper sandwiches, chicken wings, nachos, conch fritters and more, as well as outdoor seating and a small shop full of T-shirts and other memorabilia for sale such as souvenir pint glasses. As an added bonus, you may even be lucky enough to spot an elusive Key Deer casually grazing across the street from the bar before heading back to the Overseas Highway. Don’t miss a chance to check out this true Florida Keys landmark!
30813 Watson Boulevard, Big Pine Key, Florida 33043 · (305) 872-9115
Pete’s Bar – Neptune Beach
Opened in 1933 by former bootlegger Peter Jensen, Pete’s is Duval County’s oldest bar. A legendary landmark, Pete’s was featured in John Grisham’s 2000 novel, The Brethren, and has been frequented by the likes of Ernest “Papa” Hemingway, J. D. Salinger and Mick Jagger. However, the typical crowd at Pete’s includes a loyal following of regulars and barflies, as well as surfers and beachgoers. The cash-only bar hosts an annual Thanksgiving community block party known as “Pete’s Giving.” The Guardian included Pete’s among its list of the “Top 10 Bars in Florida,” calling it “a dive with a lot of history.”
117 1st Street, Neptune Beach, Florida 32266 · (904) 249-9158
Showtown Bar & Grill – Gibsonton
In South Hillsborough lies the small unincorporated community of Gibsonton (AKA “Gibtown”) – the “Carnival Capital of the World” and home to the landmark Showtown Bar & Grill. Starting in the 1930s, Gibtown gained fame as “Freak Town” starting in the 1930s as a winter retreat for sideshow attractions and/or human oddities such as the notorious Lobster Boy, Percilla the Monkey Girl and her husband the Alligator-Skinned Man, Sealo the Seal Boy, Human Tornado, Poobah the Fire-Eating Dwarf, and Al The Giant Tomaini and his wife Jeanie The Half-Girl. The late great showman Ward “King of the Sideshows” Hall reportedly used to eat breakfast here almost every day. Don’t let the rundown appearance and colorful (and sometimes raunchy!) murals on the outside (and inside) of the bar dissuade you. Just head on in for a cold draft and tasty bar food such as the chili cheese fries, while soaking in some genuine local atmosphere. Florida singer-songwriter Al Scortino referenced the Florida dive bar in his song “Gibtown”: “If you’ve got some time to kill/Check out the Showtown Bar & Grill/The clowns down there will serve you with a smile.” Bottom line: The Showtown Bar & Grill is the kind of watering hole Bukowski was thinking about when he wrote, “When your drank the world was still out there, but for the moment it didn’t have you by the throat.” As for Gibtown itself, perhaps Doc Rivera, founder of the International Independent Showmen’s Museum, said it best in a 2015 article by The Guardian: “Gibtown today is a sad old lady, in her finery and her makeup, that has seen her better years … It is an anachronism in the sense that it is more a city in someone’s imagination. Everything wears out; everything goes away.”
10902 U.S. 41 South, Gibsonton, Florida 33534 · (813) 677-5443
Tradewinds Lounge – St. Augustine
Originally known as “The South Seas Lounge,” the Tradewinds Lounge first opened in 1945 and has evolved into one of the best spots in St. Augustine to hear live music. The tropical-themed décor is somewhat similar to that of the long-defunct Big Bamboo Lounge that used to cater to Disney World employees on U.S. 192 in Kissimmee. Notable acts that have taken the stage at Tradewinds over the years include Jimmy Buffett, Gamble Rogers, Nigel Pickering from Spanky and Our Gang, the Byrds and Odetta, among many others. Billed as “The Oldest Lounge in the Oldest City,” this laid-back Florida dive bar lies in the heart of downtown St. Augustine. According to Lonely Planet, “Tiny bathrooms and big hairdos rule this nautical-themed dive … Crowds tunble out the door during happy hour, and there’s live music – mostly Southern rock or ‘80s – nightly.” Premier spot for live music in St. Augustine. Modeled after Caribbean Island bars. Relaxed tropical feel. Solid teak bar adorned with bamboo. Local institution. Live music, beers and cocktails. Quirky. Tropical-themed. Similar to the long-defunct Big Bamboo Lounge in Kissimmee. Historic bar established by two sailors in the 1940s. Still contains the original décor. Island-infused atmosphere blends with vintage charm. Relaxed bar. Heart of downtown St. Augustine. Extremely small dance floor. South Sea Island. Exotic charm of island bars. Solid teak bar.
124 Charlotte Street, St. Augustine, Florida 32084 · (904) 826-1590
BONUS: Wally’s Mills Avenue Liquors – Orlando
Seeking a legendary Florida dive bar in the Orlando area? Check out Wally’s Mills Avenue, which closed its doors in 2018 and recently reopened with a “refreshed” look. Don’t worry though – this popular local watering hole retains the same quirky charm it has had ever since opening back in 1954 (as Orange Liquor No. 2). Wally’s (named after former owner Wally Updike, whose ashes are located in an urn near the bar) is known for its stiff drinks, friendly hospitality, eclectic jukebox, lively crowds, early hours (although it is no longer open at 7:30 AM) and “booby” wallpaper. A package store is attached to bar.
1001 North Mills Avenue, Orlando, Florida 32803 · (407) 440-2800
“Life isn’t a cabaret. It’s a dive bar.” – Woody Paige