Strange visiting a bar you knew from another lifetime. Start mixing the memories and the whiskey and, if you’re not careful, everything becomes dreamlike. All those old neon signs are recognizable, sure, but the scene doesn’t register quite the same. I’m having a pleasant trip down memory lane, though, on a recent visit to The Old Main Pub in downtown Bradenton.
Sipping a Jameson and soda just like the ones I used to drink here, I study the faces barely visible through the blue clouds of smoke. Most of the patrons seated around the large, three-sided, wood bar clutch a cigarette or at least keep a pack strategically placed nearby. The front door is closed and there are no windows allowing in any sunshine; or fresh air.
Patrons enjoy a variety of cocktails and beer specials. The jukebox blares with classic rock receiving the most enthusiastic responses. Everyone looks content; content to sit and unwind in a familiar setting surrounded by familiar faces, plus a dozen or so flat-screen TVs showing sports and trivia.
We had been at the Old Main for about an hour when our friend Sharla Gregrich arrived around 7 p.m. A fun, smart, respected bartender, she has presided over the place for at least a decade, probably longer. She’s adored by the regulars and has a deft touch with the rowdier ones who fill up the place later in the evening, guzzles drinks with names such as “strawberry kamikaze” and happily eat their dinners after closing time from the vendor who sells grilled munchies right next to the entrance of the Old Main.
We ate our dinner at Fav’s Italian Cucina around 5 p.m. The oldest restaurant on the bustling strip of Old Main Street north of Manatee Avenue, the family-friendly trattoria opened in 2000.
“This place has been around 63 years,” Sharla says of The Old Main. “Judy has owned it for the past 25 years.”
Oh, yes, Judy Susie. She’s done a fine job in recent years renovating both the exterior and interior, which, I’m told, used to be lined throughout with shag carpet. Susie has upgraded the Old Main, allowed video games to augment the pool tables and installed a digital jukebox, but she hasn’t killed the character of the place.
It’s a bar I know well.
I moved to Bradentonin early 2004. I lived and worked in its still struggling – but now booming – downtown district. It’s also where, in my early to mid-20s, I did almost all of my socializing, from a bar stool at the Old Main Pub. For nearly three years I was a regular. I brought coworkers there and even, on one especially fun and memorable night, my dad.
My days of being a regular at any bar are over. Joined by my amazing wife Kristin, I prefer exploring the numerous drinking destinations of Southwest Florida and putting my observations into this Bar Tab column. Sipping on a cold one at home, poolside, accompanied by Kristin and our three dogs, is another favorite pastime of mine.
Every now and then, though, usually after dinner at Fav’s, we explore Old Main Street. When we do, it seems only natural to grab a drink or two at the Old Main Pub. After all, the bar is a Bradenton classic filled with many memories: My memories, yes, but also the memories of several generations of Bradentonians.
Old Main Pub
313 Old Main St., Bradenton; 748-7795
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