Tampa Bay was discovered by the Europeans over 400 years ago, but it was the opening of a military base, Fort Brooke, at the mouth of the Hillsborough River two centuries ago that caused the region to grow. A number of cities across Tampa Bay were formed: Tampa was first, then Clearwater (home to its own base, Fort Harrison), then Bradenton, and finally St. Petersburg.
The military helped the region grow, and businessmen from the North who invested heavily in the area helped it thrive. Now, over four million people live in Tampa Bay, with much of the action centered on its two largest cities: Tampa to the east, in Hillsborough County; and St. Petersburg to the west, in Pinellas County. Everyone in Tampa Bay has a “side” they prefer: St. Petersburg residents consider Tampa too fast-paced, while Tampa residents consider St. Petersburg a bit slow-going. Both of these energies, such a short distance from each other, ensure Tampa Bay has the best of both worlds. In this issue and next issue, I’ll let you, the LGBT traveler, know what there is to see and do in Tampa Bay.
WHERE TO STAY
Hampton Inn & Suites Tampa/Ybor City/Downtown offers the best value for the location. Located just two blocks from the heart of GaYBOR on 7th Avenue, each room and suite is delightfully plush. Each morning, a complimentary hot breakfast, including eggs and bacon, is served, and businessmen will love the quiet, spacious workspaces that look out onto the swimming pool. The shuttle will take you to the airport and other sights. (1301 E. 7th Ave., Tampa, 813-247-6700)
The Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk is located right on the Hillsborough River, across from the WFLA/Tampa Tribune building in the heart of downtown Tampa. The 277 guest rooms are tastefully decorated and many feature great views of the river. Don’t miss the special “social hour,” which is a wine tasting event held twice weekly beginning at 6 p.m. This hotel offers great amenities and an even greater location. (200 N. Ashley Dr., Tampa, 813-223-2222)
The Flamingo Resort is Tampa Bay’s LGBT-friendly hotel and nightclub complex, and it has entertained thousands upon thousands of people since it opened in 2009. The resort features 120 guest rooms, a swimming pool, six themed bars (including a leather bar and a cabana bar), a dance club, and a grill serving basic American fare for lunch and dinner. In the dance club, their fun and inventive drag shows take center stage most nights of the week at 11:30 p.m. (4601 34th St. S., St. Petersburg, 727-321-5000)
Hotel Zamora is a new boutique hotel with a Mediterranean flair. Since it burst onto the scene, it has earned a number of accolades, such as the Florida Readers’ Choice Award by Condé Nast Traveler Magazine. The rooms are beyond luxurious, featuring king or double queen beds, soaking bathtubs, and Terry bathrobes. If you like your experience, you will help future guests earn dining perks at the on-site Castile Restaurant simply by leaving a positive review on Yelp or TripAdvisor. (3701 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach, 727-456-8900)
The Loews Don CeSar Hotel is affectionately called “The Pink Lady,” and has been a local landmark since it was built in the late 1920s. A year-long renovation recently wrapped up, with rooms now decorated in light colors to emphasize the Florida beach ambience. Deluxe suites feature balconies that open up to breathtaking views of the beach and the Gulf. You can relax in one of their two heated pools, in a nearby cabana, or in their award-winning Spa Oceana. (3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach, 727-360-1881)
WHERE TO EAT
Hamburger Mary’s Tampa is centrally located on 7th Avenue in Ybor City, making it a popular place to eat and have a drink before going out on a night of partying and adventure. In addition to delicious American fare, great desserts and a variety of cocktails, there’s the entertainment, featuring multiple drag shows per week, as conceptualized by show director Desiree DeMornay. Be sure to call ahead to reserve a table for their weekend shows; they are very popular! (1600 E. 8th Ave., second floor, Tampa, 813-241-6279)
After Hamburger Mary’s Tampa became such a success, another franchise opened across the Bay. Hamburger Mary’s Clearwater offers many of the same dishes that made Hamburger Mary’s nationwide famous, including some unique menu items like the “Mermaid Mary on a Raft” (ahi tuna served on top of fried wontons with a soy Wasabi reduction). Entertainment ranges from live team trivia on Tuesdays to drag queen bingo (hosted by Melanie Minyon) to weekend drag shows directed by Alicia Markstone. (28910 US Hwy. 19, Clearwater, 727-400-6996)
Columbia Restaurant is the oldest restaurant in Tampa, having served crowds authentic Spanish and Latin American food since 1905. Enjoy your food while listening to live music and watching a Flamenco dance show. (There is at least one show every night except for Sunday.) The 1905 Salad, featuring garlic dressing and julienned baked ham, has won awards for decades, and they are equally famous for other dishes, such as the “Bambino” Prime New York Strip sirloin and the casserole “Snapper Alicante.” (five locations in Central Florida, main location at 2117 E. 7th Ave., Tampa, 813-248-4961)
Cristino’s Coal Oven Pizzeria is famous for using the freshest ingredients to make some of the most delicious dishes from the Apuglia region of Italy. Their coal oven pizzas are very good: I hear the pizza Italia, with mozzarella, tomato sauce, prosciutto and arugula, comes highly-recommended. Stop by their gelato bar, where they feature over twenty flavors of gelato, freshly-made on-site each day. The chocolate, peanut butter and Nutella-flavored gelatos go well together! (two locations, 1101 S. Fort Harrison Ave., Clearwater, 727-443-4900, and 1701 E. 8th Ave., Tampa, 813-248-2056)
Taco Bus has been seen on quite a few Food Network programs over the past few years, and it’s easy to see why this restaurant chain has such a large fan base. You can mix and match from a selection of tacos, tostadas, burritos (some of the largest in Florida!), quesadillas and tortas and make yourself a meal very quickly. Originally a simple food truck, the chain has grown to include brick-and-mortar restaurant locations, with some even offering live music and a selection of beers on sale. (seven locations across Central Florida, including four in Tampa and one in St. Petersburg, taco-bus.com/bus-finder)
Next week, Discover Gay Florida will bring you back to Tampa Bay, as we tell you about the places to party at and all the sights to see.