Bar review: St. Pete’s Garage is a dive with Pride

Published June 21 2018

Last yearís St. Pete Pride went smoothly, despite some behind-the-scenes drama involving the decision to relocate the parade to the downtown waterfront, rather than the Grand Central District, where it had traditionally been held.

After all, the Grand Central District has long been an LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood, and the Pride crowds of more than 200,000 ó equal to about three quarters of the cityís population ó have done much to generate revenue in the neighborhood, helping Grand Central continue to grow.

The compromise?

Move the parade to the waterfront and keep the Sunday street festival in Grand Central, where the bulk of St. Peteís LGBTQ-affiliated businesses are found. Places like Punkyís, Enigma, Lucky Star, Queenshead and Community Cafe are St. Petersburg standards, but thereís one popular spot that I had yet to visit: The Garage on Central.

You canít have a healthy bar scene without a good dive and thatís The Garage on Central. I donít use "dive" disrespectfully ó I think most people can appreciate a no-frills watering hole.

The Garage is loosely automotive-themed. There are diecast cars above the beer cooler, a large collection of old license plates on one wall and the top of the U-shaped bar is embedded with a mix of old spark plugs and tools, along with some fairly explicit male pornography. Nobody said bars are kid-friendly.

The combination of multicolored lights, terrazzo floors and dense cigarette smoke land the Garage firmly in a niche that you wonít find at places like Enigma or Queenshead. I appreciate a good dive, but the smoke wears on me more as the years go by. The tradeoff has to be very good drinks, very cheap drinks or a combination of both.

"Very good," of course, is subjective, but The Garage makes them strong, and there are options. There are some decent brews in the cooler, albeit the ubiquitous Sierra Nevada, Magic Hat and common imports. The wine is by way of Sutter Homes mini bottles. The beers are served in coozies, which is a nice touch.

The liquor selection is reasonable, although thereís nothing really high-end. No one is coming to The Garage to drink Champagne and single-malt scotch. Flavored vodka? Whiskey and Coke? Bud Light? No problem. And for the price, thatís fair enough.

Yes, The Garage definitely checks the "cheap" box. Itís happy hour runs generously late ó until 10 p.m. daily, and all night on Mondays and Tuesdays ó and even the non-happy hour pricing on the most expensive stuff (cognac) is no more than $7.

The Garageís interior is basic, with a few long tables and some scattered high-tops. A small mirror-backed stage sits along one wall. Karaoke is a big draw, with KJ Hank Lee hosting on Wednesday and Friday nights. Saturday and Sunday nights feature DJ Bill Kody, and Thursday is country music night.

The Garageís popularity as a karaoke and DJ spot brings in a diverse crowd. Throw in several TVs, a jukebox, pool table, dart board, video games ó and a spacious outdoor patio ó and youíve got a recipe for a solid neighborhood bar.

Pride is all about celebrating diversity, so on a meta level, it seems appropriate to recognize one of the cityís more popular gay bars, even if it falls on the dive end of the spectrum. The Garage isnít everyoneís type of place, but to regulars, itís reliable and friendly. Sometimes thatís all you need.

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