TAMPA — The Hub is known for stiff drinks, PBR by the can, a haze of cigarette smoke and an eclectic cast of regulars wearing collars both blue and white.
But the corner watering hole in the shadow of the Tampa Theatre downtown has lost one of its regulars.
David Beard, known as "Cabbie Dave," died of brain cancer Sept. 23. He was 65.
"He was a staple here," Hub owner Charles Fox said. "It’s not the same without him."
A cab driver for over 35 years, Mr. Beard spent much of his time based out of The Hub.
He would park his car around front on East Polk Street — often illegally, Fox noted — then sit at the corner of the bar, near the door, puffing on cigarettes, sipping Coke and offering a safe way home to those who had drunk too much.
Then he’d return to the bar as soon as he could.
"He saved so many by giving them safe rides, even if they couldn’t pay," Fox said. "I’m not sure he ever ran a meter. You paid what you could."
During a memorial service Saturday at The Hub, many of Mr. Beard’s hundreds of loyal customers popped in for a drink in his honor.
A memorial plaque hangs on the back wall but Fox will move it soon, closer to Mr. Beard’s spot at the bar.
"The Hub was his office," said Jenny Giasante, a friend of Mr. Beard. "It was central to where he wanted to be. His base was the downtown bartenders, the wait staff, the late-night people. He loved his job. He worked seven night a week."
Hub regulars, Giasante said, recall the stories Mr. Beard would tell about his adventures on the road — drunken customers, dangerous situations and crazy parties where he stayed after dropping off a rider.
"He had an old-school, cowboy way about him," Fox said. "He spoke his words to a point. People loved him for that, his generosity and his honesty. That built him a big client list."
A native of Detroit, Mr. Beard worked for a time as a racehorse jockey in El Paso, Texas, before moving to Tampa in 1980, said Sam Hays, a friend and former cab driver.
A few years later, Mr. Beard got into the taxi business.
"That was such a fun time to drive a cab," Hays said. "We knew where all the attorneys drank, where all the pretty girls went, and who was running out on their wives. For a young man, it was very exciting."
Mr. Beard drove with Yellow Cab for decades.
As his client list grew and ride sharing became more popular, he went to work for himself, Fox said. Rather than buying a car, Mr. Beard would rent one for a few months, then turn it in for a new one.
Friends grew concerned in August when Mr. Beard quit showing up at The Hub. They found him at home, in bed and in pain, so they took him to Tampa General Hospital.
He was diagnosed with late-stage brain cancer.
"He was a special person," Hays said. "He had hundreds of clients in his phone and they all called him a friend."
Contact Paul Guzzo at email@example.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.