One of the more interesting outings I made last year was to the Anclote River Boat Club in Tarpon Springs, an impossibly shabby riverside dive that has been a well-kept secret amongst locals for decades.
Imagine my delight when I discovered its Hillsborough counterpart, efficiently named the Beer Shed. Like the Boat Club, the Beer Shed has a longer "official" name: The Alafia River Beer Shed. Naturally, it's located right on said river, which permits traffic by boat.
This is unquestionably a locals bar — a neighborhood bar. In fact, it's located in the middle of a neighborhood, right behind a row of trailers, and the view from the river is of sleepy waterfront residential properties.
And, also like the Boat Club, you need to know where you're going to find this place. From the main road, the only indication that a bar is nestled a block back on the banks of the river is a small sign that informs the passer-by that at ATM is available at the Beer Shed, with an arrow pointing toward the water. Drive past the homes and you'll arrive at a real-deal Florida river bar.
Whether or not that's a legitimate genre of bars is arguable, but if you've been to one, you know what I'm talking about. These are authentic, uniquely Florida dives, located far outside of hip, urban areas. You're more likely to be bitten by a snake while sitting on the Beer Shed's dock than you are to run into a group of fashionable college kids doing shots. There's a jukebox, but if it has any non-country or radio rock on it, no one's told the patrons.
Inside, the Beer Shed is pretty spacious. It gets busy on the weekends, when every bar stool is occupied, but there's ample seating in an area that doubles as performance space for a popular weekly karaoke night, as well as live music.
But the bigger draw for the Beer Shed is its fantastic location on the banks of the Alafia. There's a sprawling three-tiered deck out back, with umbrella-covered cafe tables, picnic benches and a place to dock your boat. A large oak tree juts from the raised patio level, providing additional shade. Take a friend, grab a bucket of beers, and lounge on the river. If you're lucky, you'll spot a manatee. If you get bored, there's foosball.
The Beer Shed could get by on location and authenticity, but it's not a bad place to get a beer in this neck of the woods. Based on looks, you might expect the "Beer" part of the name to refer to the fact that it carries both Icehouse and Bud Heavy, but there's a number of good brews to choose from.
There's Goose Island IPA and Strike Blonde from Tarpon Springs' Silverking Brewing on draft, as well as bottles and cans from Cigar City, Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, Sam Adams, and Guinness. If you're a wine drinker, there are half a dozen house varieties, as well as sangria.
There's a sign near the entrance: "adults only after 9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays." In a smoky old dive this like, no kidding, right? Well, it turns out that the Beer Shed is considered by many to be a family-friendly place, and some of the patrons have been coming for decades. Our bartender, who I'd guess was in her mid to late 20s, said she'd been coming to the Beer Shed since she was 8.
The Beer Shed started out in the 1940s as a bait shop known for supplying fishermen with free beer. It morphed into a full-time bar in 1960. Despite a few modern trappings, it still feels like a bar from that era — a pretense-free place on the river where you can enjoy cheap, cold beer and some colorful company, courtesy of the friendly folks from the neighborhood. There aren't a lot of unspoiled places like this still around — it's always a treat to stumble across one.
— [email protected]; @WordsWithJG