'Pub on the edge" reads the motto painted on the threshold of The Dirty Shame, a dive of sorts in Ybor, a place more known for its large-scale clubs and party atmosphere. The motto can be interpreted literally — The Dirty Shame is located near the absolute end of the Seventh Avenue strip — but it's also a nod to the celebration of fringe culture that the best dives represent.
I knew I was going to like The Dirty Shame even before I stepped inside. It seemed far removed from the polished, slick vibe that permeates much of the heavily trafficked areas of Ybor, and Cheap Trick's Gonna Raise Hell was playing inside.
From the street, it's a blank — a dark, nearly featureless exterior, only identifiable as a bar by a few beer neons inside the windows. There is an outdoor patio with its own tiki bar and café seating, but as it's open only on really busy nights, you might not even notice it. Inside, it's a classic dive: copious amounts of beer and whiskey; pool tables; steel-tipped dart boards; big round, wooden tables; a polished, long bar lined with stools — the works.
Well-worn as it may be, The Dirty Shame is surprisingly well-kept; the bar is clean, the pool tables have nice felts, and the carpet that covers most of the floor space is surprisingly free of grime. You probably wouldn't want to lie down on it, but it doesn't look like you're going to get fleas from it, either. The massive, wall-sized mirror behind the bar is spotless, and the bottles in front are carefully arranged by style.
While many bars of a similar ilk seem cramped, smoky and claustrophobic, The Dirty Shame is large, roomy and contains reasonably breathable air, the result of high ceilings and ventilation from the open front door. The walls are all brick, giving it a classic, sturdy look. The floor plan is spread out, and there's even a traditional nook in the corner near the entrance.
There's an art to this kind of selective seediness. The Dirty Shame looks and feels like a crusty, no-frills neighborhood bar, but it's good style and culture. It seems more likely to be frequented by thoughtful, Bohemian types than by blank-faced daytime drunks. It's a rare breed: a real-deal dive bar that's sketchy in all the right ways, while still managing to be utterly pleasant to hang around in.
While a cool interior and hip vibe go along way to making a bar a winner in my book, there's also got to be something good to drink. No issue there — The Dirty Shame has a diverse selection, including 19 beers on draft, nearly 40 more in bottles, a few house wines and an extensive spirit selection, including many small-batch Bourbons and single-malt Scotches.
The beer list — divided into "pints" and "not pints" — is impressively current, including new releases from Founders and this year's release of Pumking (I'll stop griping about pumpkin beers now that August is over). There are four traditional beer engine taps, serving Fuller's beers and Magners cider. I wanted to keep it light and ordered a Gaffel Kölsch, a somewhat uncommon find.
Many would consider a tallboy of PBR and a shot of bottom-shelf whiskey enough of a choice at a classic dive, but there's nothing wrong with offering a little something extra, so long as the atmosphere is authentic and unpretentious. The Dirty Shame hits these marks dead on.