Normally, I wouldn't put a place like Blind Shark Tavern on my schedule. I don't have any particular prejudice against neighborhood bars, dives or plain old watering holes, but the fact is that they're tough to write about because there's not much to say.
I'm talking about bars that don't have a house cocktail list, that don't serve many — or any — craft brews and that don't have any distinctive look or theme. The places that lack drawing power beyond the fact that there are a number of thirsty people who live in close proximity.
But I make a point to do some research when I pass by neighborhood dives, in the hope that I'll stumble across a diamond in the rough. That's how I ended up at Blind Shark Tavern.
The tavern is the rare neighborhood dive that makes an active effort to maintain an online presence (both a Facebook page and an occasionally updated website, which is uncommon) as well as keep its clientele coming back with events and amenities beyond the bare minimum that keep many similar bars afloat. To me, that says that the owners of this business take pride in their place, and that makes me want to check it out.
From the outside, Blind Shark looks like any other anonymous strip mall dive. Inside is the same — a bar, a few TVs, various bar signs and knickknacks, dart boards and so on. But if you dig a little deeper, you'll find it's a modest cut above.
For example, the dartboard area — both electronic and steel-tip varieties are available — is neat and clean, which is probably due to the fact that the bar has an active dart league. There used to be a pool table in this area, I learned, but the darts were a bigger draw, so the bar decided to shift focus. Making changes to the business in order to appeal more to its customer base —- that's not your average dive activity.
It's not just the dart area that's kept tidy. For a no-frills, smoking-allowed bar, Blind Shark is surprisingly neat and clean. The smoking thing is definitely jarring, especially since food is served (presumably, the food makes up a very small portion of the bar's revenue), but it didn't seem oppressive, which I suppose is all you can ask for in a smoking bar.
One thing I need to work on is my go-to drink. In bars like this, it helps to have a default option, especially if you're as notoriously indecisive as I am. The closest I have is scotch and soda, which hits the spot about 75 percent of the time.
I scoped out the whiskey selection behind the bar and saw one I hadn't tried before: Old Camp, a peach- and pecan-flavored whiskey promoted by the country duo Florida Georgia Line. Naturally, I had to give it a try. It's pretty sweet by itself on the rocks, so a splash of soda may be advisable, but it wasn't bad.
The rest of the selection is pretty average, although the bar does have a list of specialty shots (check the website) if you're in that kind of mood. Beer is cold, cheap and 100 percent of the macro domestic variety. There are a few house wines. Other than the peach-pecan whiskey, there are few surprises in the liquor department, but it's reasonably well-stocked.
The table service is impressively attentive — something you don't even find at many high-end bars. I was ordering for two, and it occurred to me that we might be running up quite a tab. But when I closed out, I was shocked at how cheap the total was. Good service, a well-kept bar that also serves food and dirt-cheap drinks. That's a neighborhood bar done right.
On top of all this, The Blind Shark hosts weekly trivia nights, live music and other events. I'm not suggesting that any new visitors will be blown away by the Blind Shark, but if you're in the market for a quality yet decidedly un-fancy local watering hole, you'll have a hard time beating it in the immediate area. A little pride in one's business goes a long way.
[email protected]; @WordsWithJG