1. Bars & Breweries

At the Double D Saloon, don't let the smoke stop you

There's no need to sugarcoat it: Dive bars are a dime a dozen, and the reason many of them stay in business has zero percent to do with ambiance and drink selection and 100 percent to do with folks in the neighborhood looking for a quick, cheap drink.

I sometimes find myself in what appears to be just another anonymous dive, wondering how I'm going to write 800 words about frozen mugs of Bud Light, a jukebox blaring Steppenwolf and a tortured smoke filtration system that sucks in more Marlboros in a day than a dedicated chain smoker can manage in a month.

This is the predicament I thought I had got myself into when I visited the Double D Saloon, a crusty, strip-mall dive on U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park. But as usual, there was more beneath the surface.

I've noticed Double D for a good while now, even back when it was Z Bar, and a sign out front proclaimed that live music was on tap nightly, which seemed already to put it into more ambitious territory.

Walking into Double D, the first thing that struck me was unquestionably the smoke. I'm no stranger to smoky bars, but Double D makes the Emerald seem like an O2 bar in an upscale shopping mall. I'm sure that simply opening the front door is not the best solution, especially on U.S. 19, but man, there's got to be a better solution.

Once my eyes adjusted, I took a look around. Double D is a small, modest dive — the kind built by locals, for locals. Wood-paneled walls; a small, L-shaped bar; a pool table, claw game, Megatouch, Ms. Pac Man/Galaga console and even some bizarre '90s slot machine terminals designed to award players with phone cards, from when that used to be a thing.

Behind the bar, four beer taps — Budweiser, AmberBock and Bud Light, twice. There are some more beers in the bottle, but aside from Sam Adams Oktoberfest (a very good beer, for the record), Stella Artois and Woodchuck, much of the selection is in wine cooler form: Seagrams, Smirnoff Ice and so on.

Speaking of which, Double D has a wide selection of one of my favorite bizarre novelties — those wine-based imitation liquors. I tried the Kahlua and amaretto versions, and they were not too far from the real thing, although a bit overly syrupy. For a bar that doesn't have a license to serve hard liquor, these do present a good, though underutilized, option.

Now, if I've undersold the Double D Saloon, understand that this is just that kind of place. It's nothing fancy, but it's genuine, which is what keeps places like it alive. If you were just to walk in, breathe in a couple packs of cigarettes, and walk right back out, you'd miss the fact that this place is actually somewhat of a thriving community for its regulars.

There is indeed live music several nights a week, as well as karaoke on Tuesdays, and a popular open-mic night on Wednesdays. The bar has held benefits for patrons who have been hit with astronomical medical bills, as well as a motorcycle ride to commemorate the passing of another. When I visited, the vibe was fun and welcoming, with openly friendly patrons and staff. The bar's Facebook page is updated more regularly and features more patron interaction than most.

It's not the kind of place that is likely to make converts of the average passerby, but that's just fine. For such a tiny, modest bar, a solid cast of regulars is a great start. But if you're in the market for a bar that's a little rough around the edges, the Double D seems like the kind of place that would be happy to have you.