The Bar Tab: Familiar-feeling pleasures at the Tap Inn

Tapper

Mr. Bitters & Olive

The Tap Inn doesn’t pretend to be anything but what it is. Let’s just leave that alone.

What do you do when you find yourself without tequila on Cinco de Mayo? Go to the liquor store of course—but wait, it’s Sunday. This was the predicament we found ourselves in one fateful afternoon in May 2013.

We set out on a mission to find a bottle, and a small bar a few blocks away came to the rescue. The Tap Inn intrigued us with its dim lighting and cinderblock walls, but alas we had margaritas to make and to consume and we didn’t stick around.

We rediscovered this jewel on a recent evening and it was definitely worth the wait.

Sandwiched between a hardware store and a strip mall at 910 Broadwater Ave., the Tap Inn looks promising, like a good neighborhood dive. A vintage neon sign adorns the otherwise austere exterior, and patrons flank the front doors during near-constant smoking breaks.

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We entered through the side door and were greeted by suspicious stares from the eight to nine regulars seated around the bar. In short—we had been spotted. Outsiders beware; this is not a place you will casually fit in.

Undeterred, we took a seat on the north side of the horseshoe-shaped bar. While the barstools were almost fully occupied, we noted that no one was seated at the tables or gaming machines that filled the room. Still, attendance was pretty good considering it was a little before 5 p.m. on a Thursday.

Mr. Bitters sat in a seat that had a plaque stating it was reserved for someone named Bruce. We asked the bartender if we needed to move, not wanting to commit a faux pas. She informed us that Bruce was dead. So we figured we were safe.

Behind us, a door was open to Broadwater Avenue, which provided an unpleasant exhaust smell from passing automobiles. When two other seats opened up, we quickly moved to the east side of the bar.

Olive decided against taking a chance on the questionable wine selection and ordered a beer. Mr. Bitters asked, “Can I get an old-fashioned?” The bartender replied: “Sure, if you tell me how to make it.” This response is becoming a pattern; not wanting to have to explain what bitters are, Mr. Bitters settled on a gin and tonic. Both drinks were served promptly.

As we sat on our perch at the bar we could see no fewer than seven television screens. The cinderblock motif of the exterior carried its way inside, giving the space an industrial feel. The soundtrack of classic country was abruptly interrupted by a Grateful Dead deep cut; perhaps some hippie commandeered the jukebox. No one seemed to mind.

We sipped our drinks for a while as we took stock of the other patrons. The crowd consisted of mostly working class men—a few construction workers and (judging by their clothing) a couple of painters. Two men engaged in a vigorous debate concerning “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” while a few others reminisced about a recently deceased regular named Tracy.

There is a Golden Tee machine in the corner, next to the packaged liquor selection, and the current record holder is JEW. No comment. A bank of gaming machines in the far back completes the space.

Mr. Bitters’ drink had gotten low by this point, and the attentive bartender asked if he wanted another. It seems that the common order for regulars is a long neck and a shot, typically of whiskey. Being a little early for shots, he switched to a draft. Pabst or Bud Light are available, so it was an easy choice. Around 6, the bar had pretty much cleared out. There is no kitchen we could see, but pizza (likely frozen) is advertised as available. On weekends they do a potluck, which warmed these two Lutherans’ hearts.

In all, the Tap Inn is a quintessential neighborhood bar, and caters to their regulars. Guests aren’t unwelcome, but this is not your next stop on a bachelorette party. The patrons are friendly but guarded.

Draft beers are cheap and classic character abounds at the Tap Inn. But before you hipsters wax your mustaches and hop on your fixies, please don’t. The Tap Inn should not be the next dive hangout for cash-strapped college kids.

It offers a slice of life; a step back in time to where people met at the corner bar after work and commiserated about “the man.” Don’t wreck that. Let it be.

Pros:
Decent, affordable drinks
Good service
Classic, blue-collar atmosphere

Cons:
Exhaust smells can be overwhelming
Beers tend toward the macro varieties

Previous reviews

Chapter 1The Squire Lounge.

Chapter 2The Alpine Casino.

Chapter 3Buck’s Bar.

Chapter 4Stadium Club.

Chapter 5Bones Arcade.

Chapter 6Southern Empire Emporium.

Chapter 7The Tap Inn.

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