I find that sometimes it's best to keep things simple. This is the hallmark of the neighborhood pub — that classic drinking establishment where you may not be able to order an elaborate signature cocktail, but you can always get a cold beer and unwind for a bit without having to worry about crowds, a high-pressure atmosphere or a bunch of hype.
You may have noticed that I visit a lot of bars, so I don't often have a chance to settle down at the local. I generally forgo convenience and reliability in favor of adventure and discovery, and although you won't hear me complaining, I do sometimes feel like I'm missing out on the neighborhood pub experience.
Despite my labeling, these bars are rarely located entirely within the confines of a particular neighborhood (Old Northeast Tavern in St. Pete is a notable exception). Rather, a neighborhood bar is usually a place with few frills, a regular clientele and plenty of drinks on hand.
Located right on the side of U.S. 19, the Hot Ticket Pub isn't likely to get a lot of foot traffic from the locals, but it definitely fits the bill when it comes to the neighborhood vibe.
What these bars lack in sophistication they make up for in simplicity. As trite as that may sound, it's actually quite crucial to their appeal. At a place like Hot Ticket, I don't need to pore over a cocktail list or wade through a crowd. I can simply order a basic drink and pull into a booth to have a chat and kick back.
But there's more to the Hot Ticket Pub than a few bottles of liquor and a bar top. An alternate name for the bar is the Hot Ticket Pub and Venue, and sure enough, there's a heavy emphasis on music. A stage and dance floor are prominent features of the far side of the bar, doubling as a dining area in the day. On most nights, Hot Ticket is host to live bands, ranging from blues on Bike Night (Thursdays) to classic rock, Americana and an open-mic night on Wednesdays.
Inside, the Hot Ticket is basic and effective.
A long bar sits opposite the stage, surrounded by booths lining one wall and a few high-tops along the other. In case anyone gets the itch to watch one of several sports being broadcast at any given time, there are a near-absurd number of televisions arranged on high shelves around the perimeter. Brick walls, a classic arcade console, and a charming Bud Light (quiet, now) neon sign in the shape of an alligator complete the motif.
At the entrance stands a vaguely menacing statue of a scalper with some "hot tickets" on display on the inside of his coat. This ties in with an interesting bar promotion.
By simply coming in and registering for a free drawing, you become eligible for ticket giveaways each month. Last month's drawings yielded a pair of tickets to the Vans Warped Tour and a pair to a Rays game. From what I hear, the tickets are often for prized (read, expensive) seats, too. It's a clever way to generate repeat business, thus building the cast of regulars.
And for all my lack of emphasis on the drinks, you won't find yourself stuck with substandard fare. There are 20 beers on draft, including several good craft brews, with entries from Florida Avenue, Magic Hat, Victory, Hofbraü (how did that get in there?) and Widmer. Low-rollers will enjoy the $1.50 PBR pints. The liquor selection, though not extensive, is solid enough to do the trick.
If you're a local in this part of Clearwater, you probably already know about the Hot Ticket Pub. But even when I'm just passing through town, I like to get a taste of the neighborhood pub scene, and the Hot Ticket is just that kind of a place. — firstname.lastname@example.org