Saturday, July 21, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Bar review: The Shipwreck in Clearwater Beach

Spring break!

Depending on how you read that phrase in your mind, you may or may not want to head out to Clearwater Beach right now. I wanted to wrap up my three-week coverage of TripAdvisor's best beach in America with a bar that might appeal to a range of those voices, from bar-hopping spring breakers to those looking to get away from the tourist epicenter without being removed from the action entirely.

I picked the Shipwreck, a well-regarded Mandalay Avenue dive that has been a local favorite for decades. The Shipwreck can get a little rowdy during spring break, but it's definitely more laid-back than the beachfront party zones a few blocks down the road — and it's wonderfully free of tourist pricing that comes with that territory.

The Shipwreck is loosely themed, with a sort of pirate/tropical vibe. It's smoky and dark, with low ceilings, almost as if it's built into the hull of an old ship. In a word, it's eclectic.

The decor consists of mannequins decked out in pirate gear, a booth-mounted fish tank, neon lights, tiki thatch and ornate ceiling tiles. Above the bar, hand-crafted light boxes glow brightly, each with a different, bold color.

There's a game room with pool, darts and foosball, as well as a small dance floor in the sunken area adjacent to the bar. A DJ performs every night, spinning an impressively diverse range of music — there's reggae, indie dance, Top 40 hip-hop and dubstep.

It may have been partly due to the spring break effect, but the weeknight scene on the night of my visit was pretty happening, with a group of girls from Kentucky getting the most out of their Clearwater Beach vacation, downing shots and Hula Hooping on the dance floor. If this was the scene on a Tuesday, I can only imagine what it would look like on a Saturday.

Still, the Shipwreck works even if you're not in party mode. I wasn't, so I only intended to pop in for a quick drink. An hour passed before I even thought to look at the time. Part of this was due to the fact that there was a lot of activity in the bar (great people-watching) and the other part was the above-average service.

Jeff, the head bartender at the Shipwreck, ran a remarkably efficient one-man show — improvising cocktails, making beer recommendations and shooting the breeze with regulars, all while managing a steady stream of customers at the bar. It turns out he's also the inventor of the house drink, the Pink P*ssy. If you go, make sure to order one — it's pretty good, and they're okay with you calling it the Pink Drink instead.

Drink-wise, the Shipwreck is your typical modern beach dive, with a decent spirit selection and a few solid craft beer options. If you're in a beer mood, look out for the lone Cigar City tap hidden at the end of the bar. Otherwise, see what you can come up with in the liquor department. There's a small cluster of bottles on special — there are bargains here, so don't overlook them.

The Shipwreck is an odd duck, but it's a nice diversion from the usual Clearwater Beach fare. A mason jar of beer is half the price of what it will cost you a few blocks away, and you won't have to wade through heavy crowds. Hit the beach in the afternoon and walk to the Shipwreck after — it's funky, unpolished and very lively.

[email protected]; @WordsWithJG

   
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