It’s difficult to find people who can share memories of The Hub.
The Tampa Bay Times sought reader recollections but received just a few.
That’s not because the watering hole lacks patrons.
Located at 719 N Franklin St., The Hub has long been a beloved downtown Tampa dive bar known for nicotine-stained walls covered in graffiti.
That popularity was reflected in the dozens of responses to the Times’ request. Yet, rather than providing memories, most shared the same joke.
“Let me guess,” laughed The Hub’s co-owner Charles Fox. “No one can remember what they did here. Yeah, we are known for our strong drinks.”
The bar’s age is as hazy as its patrons’ memories after a long night.
Plenty of cocktails are expected to flow when The Hub celebrates its 70th birthday this weekend with live music and drink specials.
Except maybe it’s not the bar’s 70th birthday, admitted the owners, who purchased the Hub in 2008 from the Deyoria family.
“We are not positive," co-owner Ferrell “Skooter” Melton said.
Added Fox, “We’ve heard maybe it was opened in 1933 at a third location."
So, the Times looked into it.
The city directory in 1933 reports a Hub Hotel at 212 1/2 Franklin Street in downtown Tampa, but it makes no mention of a bar at the establishment. One year later, The Hub Travel Agency appears in the city directory at that same address.
The Hub Saloon is listed in 1935 at 801 Tampa St. downtown, and it remains there through 1943. It was originally owned by C.E. Chesire, according to city directories, then William Confoy and finally Matthew Roscile.
The 1947 city directory includes a bar named The Hub at 904 1/2 E. Broadway Ave., at the edge of downtown and Ybor City. It was owned by Phillip and Rose Albano.
Still, because it’s unclear if those bars are related to today’s, the current owners said, they stick with the known history.
Their bar was founded in 1949 by Pio Guerra Jr. at 901 N. Florida Ave., where he initially operated Elite Cigar Store.
In 1956, Guerra sold to Pasquale Deyoria, whose creed, according to his grandson Mike Mixon, was “make a stiff drink at a reasonable price and people will come.”
That, Mixon added, is still the reason for The Hub’s popularity.
The 1950s was a vibrant time for downtown Tampa. It boasted a thriving shopping district and a number of hotels.
The Hub was right in the middle of the action with a clientele that included a who’s who of judges, attorneys, bankers, professional athletes and mafiosos, all dressed in their finest evening wear.
The regular musician throughout that decade, according to newspaper ads, was “Klink Lemmon, pianist sensation.”
As downtown shifted from swank to quaint in the 1980s, The Hub transitioned into an “everyman bar,” said current co-owner Melton, who started working there 30 years ago.
Former owner Deyoria’s grandson Mixon said they “went after the University of Tampa crowd” who “labelled it a dive bar.”
Graffiti was sketched on walls and the piano was replaced by a jukebox.
Drinks were still held in well-manicured hands but clinked glasses in dirt-stained grips. The peaceful mix between blue and white collars remains a calling card.
In 2002, when The Hub’s landlord, First Presbyterian Church, decided to turn the building into a parking lot, the bar moved a few blocks over to Franklin Street.
But the old building has not yet been demolished, and The Hub’s name remains etched in the front window.
The new, larger location provided space for bands to perform.
Making the move from the old to the new spot was the horseshoe-shaped bar and a block of graffiti-covered wood panel.
“The only devil is the one inside of you,” reads a passage on the panel that hangs near the bar.
Pointing out that newer scribblings are mostly random curse words, current co-owner Fox quipped, "The graffiti was much more prolific back then, but we allow it. It’s who we are. Sometimes I paint the bathroom wall white and say, ‘Here is a brand-new canvas.’”
It’s the embrace of the dive bar image, the current owners said, that has allowed The Hub to outlast other establishments and remain a popular spot as downtown has emerged this decade as a hip place with upscale lounges.
“Dive bar is not an offensive word,” Fox said. “To me it means no BS and good conversation.”
And while The Hub might be Tampa’s oldest bar of any kind, Fox is not ready to embrace that as fact.
“I would go with one of the oldest,” he said.
Nor does it matter.
Ultimately, it’s not the age that keeps regulars coming back, co-owner Melton said. “You go to the restaurants that have the best food. You go to the bar that has the best drinks.”