Right off South Howard Avenue, SoHo strip crawlers will find the Tiny Tap Tavern.
If they’re lucky enough (or unlucky enough, some might say), they’ll wander in.
The Tiny Tap sits incongruously at 2105 W. Morrison Ave. in an aged, yellow concrete building among higher-end Hyde Park haunts like SideBern's and its ilk. Yet this gas station-turned-neighborhood staple, one of the oldest bars in Tampa, is also one of the most beloved.
The cash-only dive is dimly lit, with walls coated in various beer-brand paraphernalia, a signed Joe Maddon jersey, and framed photographs from Bucs tailgating parties held outside the bar. Lines of small bagged chips hang above the bar top on display.
A little past 8 p.m. last Thursday, during my first visit to the Tap, we were greeted by blue-jeaned bartender Kasey Mitchell and an older man comfortably slouched on a barstool. The man, a regular, later told me — in between wisecracks directed at us and Mitchell, though no one seems to stand much of a chance against Mitchell’s sharp retorts — that he’s been frequenting Tiny Tap for 44 years.
There were about 15 patrons in the smoky bar, and the delightfully well-worn paths created below the two pool tables from frequenters’ footsteps were hard to miss. One TV set aired a baseball game, while another showcased hockey. Both, however, were silenced by the dive’s jukebox, which churned out stylings by bands like Ram Jam and Silversun Pickups.
A 20-something twosome sat at a table in the middle of the room. The three tables near them remained vacant until after 9; whiffs of SideBern's cooking filled the empty space, wafting from across the street. Bigger groups enjoyed their stays through countless rounds of pool and foosball, getting regular refills from Mitchell behind the bar.
Mitchell lives in Brandon with her 16-year-old daughter; she said she’s worked at the Tiny Tap for nearly six years. Regulars keep tabs on what’s happening in her life. Sometimes, they even grill her about boyfriends.
According to Mitchell, the Tap is mostly a late-night spot, but all different walks of life pass through at all times of the day. She said the dive picks up once the area’s restaurant and bar workers clock out, so she was surprised it had gotten busy an hour ahead of schedule.
“I usually don’t start seeing people until 10:30,” Mitchell said.
Best of all, there are at most four brews on tap. When we stopped in, Mitchell was slinging no-frills Yuengling, Bud Light, Shock Top and Michelob Amber Bock drafts. The Tiny Tap also carries bottled beer and wine, which we discovered after Mitchell pulled out a large bottle from underneath the bar.
“You couldn’t pay me to drink this wine,” she quipped.
Walking through the rugged parking lot back to our car, I understood what keeps regulars, and Mitchell, coming back.
Long after opening in the 1930s, the Tiny Tap has retained its neighborhood charm. It isn’t a place to avoid — it’s destination.
No one ever said there was anything wrong with a little grit.