Last week I introduced you to Tampa Bay. I’d like to think I’m a pretty good guide: I’ve lived in the Tampa Bay area for eleven years, and this is where I’d love to spend the rest of my life. Last week I made sure to tell you where you should stay on your vacation and I gave you a few delicious recommendations for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In this final installment, let me tell you where you should party and what places should be on your sightseeing itinerary. Away we go!
WHERE TO PLAY
In Tampa, a lot of the LGBT nightlife is centered around Ybor City, an area of town that used to be well-known for its cigar manufacturing and is now a nightlife hub for Tampanians both gay and straight. The area on 7th Avenue from Centro Ybor down to 14th Street is a budding area for LGBT-owned and LGBT-friendly businesses called the GaYBOR District. In this area, you will find Hamburger Mary’s Tampa, a restaurant that I recommended in last week’s issue. The restaurant serves up fierce drag and other fun events like bingo and talent night, all alongside some great food, drinks and ample customer service. Close by is a sports-centered spinoff, Hamburger Mary’s Pub House, which opened this month.
Walk down 7th Avenue and the first gay bar you will see is The Honey Pot on the left-hand side. A high-energy dance club, the owners routinely bring international DJs to spin for the crowds. Further up the street and back on the Centro side of the street is Bradley’s on 7th, a neighborhood bar featuring friendly bartenders, Amazon-esque decor (a holdover from when Bradley’s was previously known as The Jungle), a co-ed and drama-free clientele, a spacious dance floor, and popular drag shows each Friday and Saturday hosted by Joey Brooks. Next door to Bradley’s is Liquid Tampa, which is a dual-story nightclub featuring VIP booths and a small bar at the top level and a dance floor, drag stage, bars and lots of seating on the main floor. Friday drag shows are hosted by Lady Janet and Saturday shows are hosted by Anita Waistline. Many RuPaul’s Drag Race queens make their Tampa debuts at Liquid. One block away, on the other side of the street, is Southern Nights Tampa. The Orlando favorite opened in Tampa to rave reviews this year, and features a dance area, a smoking lounge, and lots of sexy go-go dancers. Check out talent night on Wednesdays, college nights on Thursdays, and “a night for men who like men” on Saturdays, the latter featuring a drag show by Roxxxy Andrews.
There are two LGBT bars in Tampa outside Ybor City: City Side, a lounge featuring a spacious patio, live DJ, drag shows on weekends, and a special event room; and The Body Shop, which has traditionally catered more to men than women, and is now specifically a bear bar. City Side is located in South Tampa, near the junction of Dale Mabry Highway (the north-south artery in Tampa) and Henderson Boulevard, and The Body Shop is close to the University of South Florida on Nebraska Avenue.
In Pinellas County, a lot of the LGBT bars and nightclubs are located on St. Petersburg’s Central Avenue. Coming from downtown, the first one you’ll get to visit is Enigma, located in the EDGE District. Enigma opened last year and quickly became popular, which is easy to see considering how much Enigma’s owner and their staff are involved in the local community. People love Enigma’s mellow atmosphere (including a walk-up street bar), the great music from noted DJs, and the live entertainment by Daphne Ferraro. There are a number of LGBT-owned businesses further down Central Avenue in the Grand Central District, including The Queens Head, The Garage on Central Avenue, and the Lucky Star Lounge. Away from Central, the Flamingo Resort in south St. Petersburg is a nightclub complex including six different bars, including two in a dance club, one poolside called the Cabana Bar, and a leather bar called Code. Iman is the show director at the Flamingo and she presents shows every Friday and Saturday.
There are a number of LGBT venues scattered across the west side of Tampa Bay that are away from St. Petersburg: Quench Lounge in Largo, a bar/club combo featuring a friendly crowd and lots of fun theme nights; Blur Nightclub in Dunedin, well-known for their shows starring Natasha Richards; Pro Shop Pub in Clearwater, the oldest gay bar in Tampa Bay, celebrating 40 years in business next spring; and Cribari Night Club, a small nightclub just over the Pinellas-Pasco County line in New Port Richey.
St. Pete Pride is the largest LGBT pride celebration in Tampa Bay, and is typically one of the largest in the state, bringing out over 150,000 people for the two-day parade and festival, traditionally held at the end of June. For more information, visit stpetepride.com. Tampa Pride triumphantly returned this past year after a 13-year absence. Over 30,000 people viewed the parade and festival in Ybor City. Next year’s celebrations will be held on March 26. For more information, visit tampapride.org.
WHERE TO GO
When you’re in Tampa, start sightseeing in the northern part of the city. Learn about science hands-on at one of the largest science museums in Florida, the Museum of Science & History (locally well-known as just “MOSI”). Just across the street is the University of South Florida, one of the largest public universities in the state (and my alma mater!). Within a five-minute car ride from MOSI and USF, you will find Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. If you’ve been to Busch Gardens in Virginia, you will find that the format of the parks are similar, except the theme here is not Europe, it is Africa. You can see lots of beautiful animals that are unique to Africa in between rides on some heart-stopping roller coasters!
While you’re heading down Dale Mabry to downtown, be sure to stop off at the Lowry Park Zoo, which features, among other attractions, a boat tour, giraffe feeding and camel rides. Raymond James Stadium plays host to many blockbuster concerts (Beyoncé, Taylor Swift), and is also the home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In downtown, the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning plays at Amalie Arena, as do many other entertainment acts. The downtown area has quite a few fun things to see, such as the picturesque campus of the University of Tampa, which includes the Henry B. Plant Museum. Originally a hotel, the Moorish designs inspired future buildings at the adjoining university. Walk back across the bridge and you will get to see the beautiful Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. The Straz Center for the Performing Arts, where the Broadway in Tampa series takes the stage (among other productions), is nearby.
Ybor City and Channelside are very close to downtown Tampa. Visit the Ybor City Museum to see how Tampa grew to become the multicultural city it is today. Channelside is home to The Florida Aquarium, the largest such institution in the state, featuring marine life exhibits and interactive dolphin tours.
St. Petersburg’s downtown is vibrant and home to so many things to see and do. If you love shopping, you’ll love Sundial, which was formerly known as BayWalk. There are many shops and restaurants in this complex, and there’s even a movie theater! If you want something a little more high-brow and cerebral, you can visit the Museum of Fine Arts and the Salvador Dali Museum (featuring the largest collection of Dali works and memorabilia outside his native Spain). Right next to the Dali Museum is the Mahaffey Theater, a performing arts hall located right on the water, yielding picturesque views. If you’re not done experiencing the beauty in the downtown area, Sunken Gardens bills itself as the city’s “oldest living museum,” featuring four acres of botanical gardens right in the heart of the city. Tropicana Field (known for its tilted dome) is home to the MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.
If you want to enjoy the beach the way the locals do, head on down to Clearwater Beach. The main pier hosts local entertainers and buskers every night at sunset. Ruth Eckerd Hall is a prominent performing arts hall, which hosts both national and international entertainment acts. Clearwater’s skyline cannot be commented upon without noting the formidable presence of the historic Fort Harrison Hotel. It was bought by the Church of Scientology in 1975 and has been the spiritual headquarters of the religion ever since.
Want to learn more about Tampa Bay? Go to Visit Tampa Bay’s website, where there is a section specifically devoted to LGBT travelers. The URL is visittampabay.com.