I often peruse review websites in search of new or interesting bars to check out. While on TripAdvisor, I came across a post by user "Tiki lounge112" that described the scene at the Anclote River Boat Club. It began:
"First of all, this is without a doubt the dumpiest bar in the world."
The verdict? 4 out of 5 stars. Sold!
The reason I mention this seemingly contradictory praise is to weed out the faint-of-heart right off the bat. If the prospect of the "dumpiest bar in the world" doesn't excite you, then you're not going to like the Boat Club. Read on if you'd like, but don't follow that hidden path through the woods along Tarpon Springs' Anclote River, because you won't be happy with what you find.
For us dive bar aficionados, however, the Anclote River Boat Club is firmly in can't-miss territory. It's a crusty, decrepit spectacle that is, at once, both charming and offensive. It's unspoiled by current trends, or any semblance of modernity whatsoever. It would seem to be the preferred haunt of the common dive bar hipster, but no — the Boat Club is far too seedy to be enjoyed ironically. If you can enjoy the Boat Club for what it is, though, you'll find plenty of reasons to come back.
The first step is actually finding the place. If you rely on GPS, you'll never make it. Instead, head down U.S. 19 and look for the Tarpon Animal Hospital. There's a little wooden sign on the adjacent street: Boat Club, with "Club" nearly scratched off. Follow that road into the woods and stop when you see a dilapidated, ruined dinghy perched atop the lower branches of an old oak tree.
That boat's been up there since the "no-name storm" of 1993, designating the high water mark of the flooding that left it stuck in the tree where it has remained ever since. It's also the primary signage for what is perhaps the ultimate dive bar, and what some would consider to be a Tarpon Springs icon.
The place itself has been around for just under 90 years, and in its current incarnation as the Boat Club, for about 30. The boat in the tree is a lucky coincidence: the name comes from the bar's accessibility by boat, a preferred method of arrival for many regulars (the other being motorcycle).
Once inside, it's not hard to believe that the Boat Club has been around for so long. There are torn, stained office chairs and car seats as benches, and the amount of crude graffiti and scrawled obscenities per square foot, including on the ceiling, is nearly on par with the infamous CBGB's bathroom, may it rest in peace.
There's a pool table next to the well-worn jukebox, both near a small stage where bands play every Sunday and Monday in the fall. One of the more popular acts are the Michigan Misfits, who perform monthly and draw capacity crowds, filling the front parking lot and boat dock out back.
The boat dock and attached patio are hilariously rickety and clearly not far from sinking into the Anclote. But it's also a peaceful, scenic spot, where the chatter and laughter of patrons inside co-mingles with the chirps of various birds and insects in the surrounding marshes and mangroves. There are occasional appearances by manatees, and alligators lazily swimming upstream are a common sight. Look over the side of the dock and you'll see dozens of tiny crabs shuffling around.
Despite its long history, the Boat Club has a very undiscovered feel. The bar's regulars would probably prefer to keep it that way. While I'd hate to spoil anyone's secret hangout, I think the risk here is minimal. Most people who decide to check out the Boat Club after reading about it will probably turn right back around after seeing it up close.
The truth is that it's easy to mock a place like the Anclote River Boat Club. It's dingy, it's sloppy, and it's worn probably beyond repair. But it's a real-deal Florida dive that's as genuine and unforced as any in the world, and you can't intentionally create that kind of authenticity. If you're not easily turned away by a little bit — okay, a lot — of grime, then you'll find the search for the "dumpiest bar in the world" to be well worth the effort.