Bar review: Revisiting a dive leads to a surprise

Published July 26 2018

It pays to keep tabs on the local bar scene, and that requires some extra digging beyond word of mouth and social-media updates. Iíll check back on a bar off a hunch, such as when I notice an exterior quirk that makes me wonder whatís new inside.

Several years ago, I went on an extended bar tour of Pinellas Park. My goal: find a diamond in the rough ó a memorable bar in an area known for smoky dives. One of the livelier places on the tour was Bottles Pub, which you may have spotted while driving on Park Boulevard, thanks to the sign proclaiming it as home of the coldest beer in town.

I didnít have a thermometer, but I found the beer to be reasonably cold, so Iíll give that to them. I doubt many patrons were disappointed. For me, Bottles was mostly in the rough category, revealing no perceivable diamond hidden beneath the clouds of cigarette smoke and yellowed plastic Budweiser signs. And thatís the category I kept Bottles in until a recent drive when I noticed the addition of a back patio lit with string lights. Note to self: Whatís up at Bottles?

It turns out that the Bottlesí recent history included a modest expansion ó some plastic chairs in a small patio overlooking the parking lot. Itís not much, but itís certainly an enjoyable add-on for those who are ready to give their lungs a rest. Heck, it was enough to get me back in the door.

Inside, I was surprised to learn the bar has been dabbling in the craft side of the cold-beer business. The list of a dozen drafts still features Bud Light for the unconverted, of course, and thereís Stella Artois as the classic middleman. But there are now a few real-deal crafts on tap, including big guys like Sam Adams and Kona, as well as a healthy addition of Florida-born brews of various styles from Cigar City, 3 Daughters, Tampa Bay Brewing Co., Motorworks, Coppertail, Funky Buddha and Swamp Head.

Best of all, perhaps, is the fact that these beers are priced Pinellas Park-style ó at $4 a pop.

Itís an interesting contrast, as you rarely see a robust local craft selection at what appears to be a neighborhood dive. After all, all the draft-bar trimmings can be found at Bottles: pool table, shuffleboard, darts, a Megatouch, Power Putt, a claw game and even one of those coin games where you hope there are enough coins to push the front row off the edge.

Because of the aged nature of much of the barís decor, the newer and thoughtful touches stand out even more, such as a hub of USB chargers at the bar or the tower of wine taps next to it.

Thatís right: wine on tap. These are Italian wines, packaged by Wine Stream, a kegged-wine company out of Tampa. The selection includes pinot grigio, chardonnay, cabernet and a prosecco. The kegged wines prevents oxidation, meaning that you can now enjoy a fresh glass of Italian wine at a smoky, Park Boulevard dive known previously for the temperature of its beer.

The bar also features sangria, as well as cocktails made from wine-based faux spirits. Thereís a surprising amount of drinks to choose from, especially considering the lack of truly hard stuff. Itís not all cold Bud Light anymore.

In some senses, Bottles Pub feels like a bar in transition, shifting from an old-school watering hole to a more modern, craft-centric pub. But in reality, itís an improbable merging of the two that manages to work. Perhaps Pinellas Park is the only place where such a combo could succeed.

Iím glad I left the book open on Bottles, as the improvements and added amenities have had a polishing effect, of sorts. No doubt about it, thereís a little bit of diamond in there after all.

ó Contact Justin Grant at Follow @WordsWithJG.