So you’re going to the GOP convention in Tampa. Whether you’re going for work or “pleasure” (we need to compare definitions of that word), you’re likely going to want to unwind after a long day of riveting political happenings. So what’s there to do in the lighting capital of the world? Below is a break down of bars for every taste.
First, some words to the wise. In Florida, most bars maintain an “18 to chill, 21 to spill” policy, especially for women, so be careful about who you buy drinks for. If you’re going to get in trouble with TPD, at least make it for something cool – like riding an alligator. Additionally, fakes are abundant in the 813, so be careful about who you take back to the (Hotel, Motel) Holiday Inn. Ladies, the creeps come out in full force in Ybor especially. I’m not sure if it’s the warm breezes or the Cuban sandwiches that draw them in, but the 35 year old Latino men lurk in droves. If that’s your thing, you’re set. If it’s not, invest in a fake engagement ring… A large fake engagement ring. “Boyfriend” doesn’t mean anything to them, but if they think someone put a ring on it and that person could pay to have them killed, they’ll USUALLY leave you alone. Also, everyone will tell you going to Ybor will get you shot. That’s a rumor that got started to keep tourists away. It’s not any worse than U Street.
Hipster bar: Czar
With its Soviet kitsch decor and it’s specials on PBR, Czar in Ybor is the home base of the Tampa hipster scene. If you’re not into tattoos, dyed hair, anorexia, and questionable definitions of “clothing,” you don’t belong here. Each of the three bars/dance spaces has a different feel and music style, so it’s got that going for it. It also has a $5 cover, so there’s that if you’re poor. They also have some really great photogs, so you can relive your memories of your night until the end of time (as evidenced by a formerly brunette Brenna in the photo below).
Best Bar for Regrettable Decisions: Dallas Bull
If you want proof that Florida is the South, I present to you the Bull. Yeah, every town has a country western bar, but only Tampa has a country western bar populated by the rednecks I went to high school with. Not the place to have an intelligent or regularly volumed conversation, but if 18 year olds and college sophomores in short shorts are your thing (quarter life crisis?), I won’t judge. I myself have not been to the Bull because I’m classy, but if you want to take a “what happens in Tampa stays in Tampa” attitude, this is the place to live that out. Cover is about $10, depending on what’s going on that night.
Douchebag Bar/Megaclub: Prana
If you enjoy waiting in lines for hours and watching drunk girls pull each others’ weaves, Prana in Ybor is your place. From that description, it just sounds like a mix between Disneyworld and the Real World, but it is so much worse. If 21st bdays and bachelorette parties are your thing or you’re into the anonymity of a megabar, Prana is calling your name. At last check, there were 5 levels of dancing and bars, so really, even though I’m not the biggest fan, it’s at least not boring. At the very least, it’s an interesting case study in humanity. Cover varies. Women can get in for free, and they seem to keep bumping it up for men. Probably depends on how pretty your female companions are and how many you have.
Dive Bar: Crow Bar
Crow Bar is a proper dive bar on the edge of Ybor. On any given night they’ll have a band come in to play anything from rock to pop to folk. It’s pretty chill and decently priced. Last time I was there, there was no cover for the shows.
Say hello to….. all of my friends who are in bands!
DC Equivalent: it’s like a dirty Blackbyrd
Beach Bar: Shepherd’s
If you want to live it up by the shore of the Gulf, take a quick drive across the Howard Franklin bridge to Clearwater for a night out on Shepherd’s deck. A popular site for tourists and townies alike, it is open all week. If you just want to chill, stop by on a week night. If you want to party, it goes all night on the weekends. As mentioned, it’s on Clearwater beach, so you can stick your feet in the sand and consider Romney’s veep choice.
Say hello to…. Tampa’s beach bums.
DC Equivalent: Beach Bar
Tampa Experience: Green Iguana
GI is a Tampa chain, so it’s not hard to find it. Any location is a great place to grab a drink and some tacos If you’re there for dinner. If you’re there on the weekend, it gets a little more bar-like, and is definitely a good place to chat about political strategy with your closest friend. GI is a townie place, so rub elbows with the Tampanians. Just, whatever you do, don’t talk about the Bucs.
Say hello to…. all of Tampa
DC equivalent: Tortilla Coast
Fun and Games: Splitsville
If you’re looking to unwind with some friends, Splitsville in Channelside (walking distance from the conference center) is a great place to start. The bar boasts bowling lanes as well as a full bar, menu, and various other distractions. It’s a great place to loosen your tie and roll your sleeves up for a few frames. You can talk here with relative ease, and it’s somewhere where you don’t have to worry about picking up a teenager by mistake since the clientele is relatively yupptastic (21+ after 8pm).
Say hello to… your Tampa twin.
DC equivalent: Spider Kelly’s
A-list Haven: Hyde Park Cafe
I’m not sure why, but young famous people with winter homes in Tampa all flock to this bar. It’s not really something special, but if you’re into star gazing, I’d head over here. I’m sure young GOP stars will be herded here by the City of Tampa on nights when they aren’t super busy, so if you want to go prospecting for future ex-husbands, my grandmother has never been more proud of you. If you want to know where, say, Gov Scott will likely be herded, I would try Fly Bar (not to be confused with Crow Bar) since it draws in a slightly older demo. I hate them both. We aren’t friends if you go with these options.
Say hello to…. my mom’s neighbors.
DC Equivalent: Every bar on the Hill? Is that too general?
Other places of note:
-Taco Bus: It’s exactly what it sounds like. If you don’t go, we aren’t friend
-Jerk Hut: amazing food. There’s a small storefront downtown you should hit up.
-Cubans in Ybor: If you wind up in Ybor, the best drunk food in the world (or so I have been told) is the Cuban sandwich. Lucky for you, the best Cubans north of Miami can be found anywhere in Ybor.
-Tampa Theater: A gorgeous movie house dating back to the 1920s. They play a variety of films, usually smaller openings, and still have someone play the organ before some shows. Seriously, it’s one of my favorite places in town and walk able from the convention center.