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 Travel Article Travel Article Archive  
December 2009 Email this to a friend

Tampa and St. Petersburg

By John V. Behr

Nobiz, Tampa/St. Pete Area

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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.

Neighborhoods
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 aficionados.

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 hotel.
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 Alibi.
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 parties").

Getting here
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.

Getting around
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.

Local media
Publications serving the gay community include Watermark, OMG, What's Happening and Hot Spots, all of which feature local news and information.

In Focus

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 find alluring.
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.

Pride Day
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.

Top experiences
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.

Chelsea (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.

Keith's Bar (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.

Metro (2606 N Armenia, basement), men's bar formerly on Dale Mabry, now below the 2606, has popular Wednesday karaoke, and Sunday football afternoons.

Valentine's (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.

Crow Bar (1812 N 17th St) has a mixed crowd, live music, and 18+ nights.

G Bar (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.

Spurs (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.

Streetcar Charlie's (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.

The 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.

Ybor Eagle (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).

Detour (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.

Club Nautico (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.

The 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.

Accommodations, Tampa

The 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

Club Tampa (215 N 11th St) has sauna, whirlpool and sun court, with weekday $7 locker specials.

Rainbow Cabaret (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.

MC Film (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.

Urban Body (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.

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