Every local bar will be quick to tell you why it's the best — coldest beer, cheapest drinks, best wings, and so on. But the truth is that this type of bar is unlikely to stand very far apart from its peers a few miles down the road.
This is because the neighborhood dive is built on a premise that is consistent with drinking establishments of that order, and ultimately quite sound: Serving basic drinks fast, cheap and without much fanfare. It's a proven formula, and one that's hard to find fault with.
That's not to say that you can't throw in some extras here and there, and this is the strategy employed by the folks at the Niagara Tap. This Largo bar is a locals' joint all the way, but rather than slipping into the languor of a stagnant, standard-issue dive, the Niagara Tap seems alive, with a long list of events, specials and amenities.
The Tap's web site is colorful, lively, and features photos of extremely ornate fruit-based cocktails. So I was surprised at the contrast of the bar itself — a blue-collar watering hole decorated wall-to-wall with big-brand beer swag.
If the Tap is short on looks, it's long on activities. Live bands perform on Fridays, there's a free comedy show every first Friday, karaoke nights are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and customers can play tournament-style Texas Hold 'Em for bar tabs five nights a week.
In addition to the live entertainment, there's a classic arcade console, electronic darts, Buzztime interactive trivia, a claw game and a Megatouch console.
(If you decide to try your hand at latter, be aware that the Little Shop of Treasures game is set to difficult.)
But let's not lose focus — there's also a bar here. The long, horseshoe-shaped bar is home to a solid dozen or so taps, featuring all the big-name domestics, as well as a few nice craft brews, such as Alexander Keith Nova Scotia Pale Ale, Sam Adams Oktoberfest, Florida Ave Ale and Woodchuck Draft Cider.
Beers are a big draw here, with regular $1 10-ounce mug specials, cheap buckets and the most expensive options capping out at less than $4. But the cocktails aren't bad either, with wells as low as a dollar and calls for less than $4. Don't expect a world-class cocktail, but for the price, it's as fair a deal as one could hope for.
The Niagara Tap also serves a full menu of bar food, noteworthy if simply for the fact that the kitchen is open until 2 a.m. every day.
This means that your late-night cravings for a soft pretzel or Cajun boiled peanuts need not go unfulfilled.
I was surprised by the diversity of the clientele, which ranged from early twentysomethings to folks well into their retirement years. This worked out well for the karaoke night when I visited, as the selections ranged from Cee Lo Green to Sinatra and the Platters.
This is a nice illustration of the strength of the casual, neighborhood bar.
Since many of the patrons at the Niagara Tap are regulars, the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. It wasn't too crowded, too loud, or too smoky; it was just a decent place to hang out and have a drink or two.
It might not be the best, but who says it needs to be?