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