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John V. Behr
NOTE: This is an archive article. For an updated and expanded articles click Tampa, and St Petersburg at DailyXtraTravel
You don't have to look hard to see that the Tampa Bay area has much to
offer the gay traveler. From the beautiful sunrises and romantic
sunsets to the tropical weather (sometimes with awe-inspiring
electrical storms) to the ever-changing nightlife, there is always
something new to discover.
The Tampa Bay area is made up of two cities on opposite sides of
the bay. On one side is Tampa, which has a long and interesting
heritage. Across the bay is its sister city of St Petersburg. Not far
away are Clearwater and other cities with visible gay communities.
Tampa: Hispanic immigrants have added much to the cultural heritage of
Tampa, enriching the city's culinary, music, and architecture scenes.
Many of the old cigar factories remain standing, some of them still
producing stellar stogies.
Today's traveler will find that Tampa has a vast array of
cultural offerings such as the lovingly restored Tampa Theater, the
Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, the Florida Aquarium, and the soon-to-be-unveiled Tampa Museum of Art.
You will find a large concentration of gays in the South Tampa
area, south of Interstate 275. There are many gay bars, restaurants,
and businesses in this area.
Once a mostly Cuban neighborhood,
Ybor City has long been a
favorite for gays. It's especially popular after dark, when a wide
range of bars cater to everyone from goth fans to country and western
St. Petersburg: Once a bit down at heel, St Petersburg has enjoyed a real renaissance in the past few years. It's now home to many
theaters, art galleries, and museums. Here you'll find the incredible
Salvador Dali Museum, which houses the largest collection of works by
the mustachioed artist outside of his native Spain. The area also
offers several gay-friendly bed & breakfasts and a just-opened gay
Most gay businesses are located near Central Avenue in what has
become known as the Grand Central District. There are plenty of bars on
or near this historic thoroughfare, including the popular Georgie's
Historic Kenwood is quickly becoming gay central for St
Petersburg. The housing is primarily bungalows from the 1920's with
large front porches (the site of many gay "porch
Both cities host international airports. Tampa is home to the Tampa
International Airport, and St. Petersburg has St. Petersburg/Clearwater
International Airport, which makes for easy access to both sides of the
bay. Tampa's airport is larger, and often has less expensive flights.
If you plan to drive, you will find easy access via the
interstates to both cities.
Although public transportation is available in both cities, you're
better off driving. Buses also stop running fairly early, making them
unpractical for those interested in exploring the gay nightlife.
When traveling around downtown Tampa and Ybor City, take
advantage of the trolley lines, which run on rails and are powered by
overhead cables. But make other arrangements for your return trip if
you plan to stay past their scheduled transit times.
Taxis are usually readily available at all times day or night,
but can become quite costly.
Publications serving the gay community include Watermark,
What's Happening and
Hot Spots, all of which feature local news and information.
Tampa Bay's best beaches
It's nearly impossible to think of Florida without imagining
palm-shaded beaches. And many of the best happen to be on the gulf
coast. In fact, three in the Tampa Bay area are consistently ranked
among the country's top ten.
It's no coincidence that one of the country's most beautiful
beaches, Fort DeSoto Park, is located at the entrance of Tampa Bay.
It's a stunning destination, made up of five interconnected islands.
From many vantage points you have fantastic views of the soaring
Sunshine Skyway Bridge. You will also find secluded areas that many
How to find the gay spots? Upon entering Fort DeSoto Park, just
follow the signs to North Beach. Park in the last lot and cross the
"rainbow bridge" and wade across the shallow lagoon. Once at the beach,
head to your right until you see the gay folks sunning.
Pass-A-Grille is located south of St Pete Beach. Although only a
block wide, this island has a long history within the gay community.
Decades ago, Pass-A-Grille was one of the first beaches in the area
where gay men and lesbians could feel comfortable. Although long closed
now, The Lighted Tree was one of the first gay bars in the area.
Pass-A-Grille is still a favorite retreat among gays for the laid-back
atmosphere and pristine shoreline.
The area also includes numerous other beaches popular with gays.
Sunset Beach, on Treasure Island, is considered by many to be the gay
beach. Gays congregate at the south end of the beach. Madeira Beach,
with a reputation as being "kinda gay, kinda redneck and kinda
touristy" has one of the oldest gay bars in Florida, the Back Room Bar.
Other beaches of interest include Honeymoon Island and Caladesi
Island, just north of St Petersburg. The two state parks, featuring
turquoise waters and white sandy beaches, are undeveloped nature
refuges that are almost always rated among the top five in national
beach rankings. Caladesi is the more secluded of the two, accessible
only via ferry. Honeymoon Island's northern tip is also very remote and
quite gay friendly.
You may be surprised to learn that that the largest Pride celebration
in Florida is in St Petersburg. Known as "Pride in Paradise," St Pete
throws a party that draws in excess of 75,000 participants. St Pete Pride takes place at the end of June.
Caught On Film: The Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
offers some of the best new films by and about gays and lesbians from
around the world. There are screenings over a 10-day period at theaters
on both sides of the bay. The next film series kicks off on January 23, 2010 and the full festival dates are October 7-17, 2010.
Learning Curve: Just west of downtown is the University of Tampa, now
ensconced in the grand building that was the original Tampa Bay Hotel.
It has lovelty architecture and a star-studded history of its own.
History 101:, Historic Ybor City has enjoyed a revival, of the gay
community thanks to the efforts of the Gay Ybor Coalition. This group
of gay and lesbian business owners has helped to promote businesses in
this historic area north of downtown Tampa.
Piers To You: The St Petersburg Pier is a delightful experience,
offering shopping, dining and entertainment, along with breathtaking
vistas of the bay and the gorgeous sunsets from the enormous deck.
Bars and clubs, Tampa
If you like to go where getting some is a good bet, then 2606 Club
(2606 N Armenia) is the favorite Levi-leather bar for Tampa men, home to Tampa Leather Club, and housing the Hog House leather shop. Mondays get touchy-feely for their underwear night. Downstairs is the relocated Metro bar.
(1502 N Florida Ave) has seven nights of dancing, strippers and drag shows, and never cover charges or attitude.
Longtime favorite local bar, City Side Lounge
(3703 Henderson Blvd) thrives as one of Tampa's friendliest bars, with video and sports lounges, outdoor patio bar, and dance floor. Special nights include Thursday amateur strip, and Buccaneers on the tube Sundays with free BBQ from 5pm. They have free Wi-Fi access too.
(14905 N Nebraska Ave) celebrates 30 years with darts, karaoke, bingo and a Friday night stripper.
Ki Ki Ki III
(1908 W Kennedy Blvd) old school unadorned gay drinking and pick-up bar with juke box and pool games.
(2606 N Armenia, basement), men's bar formerly on Dale Mabry, now below the 2606, has popular Wednesday karaoke, and Sunday football afternoons.
(7522 N Armenia Ave) is a nightclub and showbar with Latin nights Saturdays; Monday, Tuesday and Thursday go-go boys; and Fridays for women. Hip hop and drag shows pack the house on Sundays
Bars and clubs, Ybor
In Ybor City in Tampa (known here as GaYbor!) there are several gay spots to check out.
(1812 N 17th St) has a mixed crowd, live music, and 18+ nights.
(1401 E 7th Ave) has Tuesday amateur 18+ strip contests, CD release parties, all-gay male Sunday revues, and other special theme events in an every-day weekly schedule.
Reservoir Bar (1518 E 7th Ave) a "hole in the wall" neighborhood bar mixes a diverse crowd of locals of every kind.
(1701 E 8th Ave), the area's only country-western bar, with line dance lessons on Tuesdays (for beginners) and Fridays.
Steam Fridays (1507 E 7th Ave) with three floors of dancing in the middle of Ybor City, is one of the area's biggest 18+ gay parties. Male dancers, drag shows, porn star guests, roaming performers, a plush lounge and great sound and lights make this a hot night out.
(1811 North 15th St) bar and grille has outdoors seating and friendly staff who welcome all. On the menu are fresh tapas, and a dozen varieties of gourmet hamburgers along with their own special Latin, Thai and Jamaican influenced sauces. They have a new home theater system too, so catch dinner and a movie here, Wednesday nights.
Ybor City Social Club (1909 N 15th St) 18+ cocktail lounge and dance club has Friday night "Gorgeous Guys" dancers and Saturday drinks discounts for leathermen; open 5pm to 3am.
(1909 N 15th St) is a "real leather men's bar" in the basement below the YC Social Club, with leather parties and porn star guests.
Bars and clubs, St Pete
A half-hour drive south on I-275 from Tampa brings you to downtown St. Petersburg, home of the Dali Museum (with a fantastic new building soon to be completed).
(2612 Central) sports pub and party bar, patio, live music and shows, dancing, karaoke and free wi-fi.
In the historic Kenwood section, Georgie's Alibi
(3100 3rd Ave N) video/sports bar and cafe has weekday happy hours 11am to 9pm, and burgers and hot meals daily 11 to 1:30am. Regular events include drag bingo and contests, and cabaret shows. On Fridays and Sundays (following brunch and evening beer bust), out come the sexy male dancers. HD satellite sports of all kinds are on the many big flat screens.
A new place for women and their friends, the Gemini Lounge (2315 Central Ave), opened in the Grand Central District.
(4900 66th St N) big gay dance club with 18+ nights, weekend Vegas style shows, drag, and amateur talent shows, hot-body dancers, theme parties and live bands.
Recently opened, the
Queens Head (2501 Central Ave), an affordable contemporary lounge restaurant and pub has a diverse European menu, wines and Champagne. Their Sunday brunch, 11am to 4pm, is followed by a traditional British Sunday Roast. Creative Loafing Mag rated them "Best New Restaurant" of 2009.
Sporters Biker Bar
(187 Martin Luther King St, at 2nd Ave) bear and leather men's bar charges bare chested men just a buck a beer Fridays and Saturdays, and cash prize amateur strip contests take place Sundays from 9pm.
Accommodations, St Pete
Chateau Le Rouge (3023 1st Ave; 727-290-9576) a gay B&B in the heart of historic Kenwood, a short walk from gay bars and restaurants with pool, spa and queen-size beds.
Flamingo (4601 34th St S; 727-321-5000), a gleamingly renovated 130 room hotel around a kidney-shaped pool and brand new cabana bar, is the area's newest gay luxury resort. They feature non-stop entertainment and fine dining too.
Grayl's Historic Hotel (340 Beach Dr NE; 888-508-4448) a 1922 Spanish Mission style building with private courtyard, shore and city views, cocktail lounges, covered verandas, and Gatsby's Restaurant. Close to beaches, aquariums, restaurants, shopping, nightlife, and museums.
St. Pete Gay Guesthouse
(4505 5th Ave N; 727-365-0544) has inexpensive, full-service facilities including a large, lavish pool, and a hot tub with fun late-night action. The poolside rooms have private entrances, bath, DVD players, refrigerators and microwaves.
Hampton Inn (1301 E 7th Ave; 813-247-6700) is a gay-friendly general public hotel, convenient to the local gay scene.
Steam Heat, Tampa
(215 N 11th St) has sauna, whirlpool and sun court, with weekday $7 locker specials.
(4421 N Hubert Ave) men's club, has a sauna, jacuzzi, TV lounges, internet access and patio with an outdoor maze.
The Ybor Resort & Spa (1512 E 8th Ave; 813-242-0900), Tampa's newest all-gay private club and resort, has a clothing-optional courtyard, hot tub, dark room with maze, sauna and steam room. Their "Bunk House" dorm-style room has beds, private showers and a big-screen TV.
Tampa-St Pete Shopping
Craftsman House (2955 Central Ave, St Petersburg) is good for coffee, fresh pastries, and they showcase American crafts from over 300 local and national artists.
(1901 N 15th St, Tampa), Mark and Kerry's great gift and gay video store, has both adult and general titles, plus a wealth of other stock: calendars, t-shirts, jewelry and sexual accessories, even pet supplies.
(715 S Howard Ave, Tampa) is the area's premier clothing and accessory boutique with all the top desinger labels.
In the vicinity
In Clearwater, on the coast to the west of Tampa, there's the Pro Shop
(840 Cleveland), a long-time gay pub with beer, wine and sandwiches. In Largo, the Christopher Street Bar
(13344 66th St N) with dancing, drag shows, and both pros and amateur male strippers, on Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays. Thursdays here are for bears.
On the way to Orlando from Tampa on I-4, passing through Lakeland, check out Pulse
(1030 E Main St) "Florida's oldest gay bar," a diverse gathering place for all.
Just off I-75, an hour north of Tampa, the Sawmill Camping Resort
(21710 US Highway 98, Dade City) has clothing-optional camping and swimming in tranquil and spacious grounds. They have cabins and space for for tents, or your RV, Woody's bar with entertainment, games and pool tables, plus their Splash Bar and Grille at poolside with free WiFi. Membership here is $10 a year.