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Friday, July 07, 2017

Tampa’ll Tempt’ya

Written by  David Placher
It’s like a welcome mat It’s like a welcome mat

Florida with a cool, crisp edge.

The Tampa Bay Area sits on the west coast of Florida, including Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and the cities of Tampa, Saint Petersburg, and Clearwater. Its population is over three million and continues to grow. Spirit, JetBlue, Delta, Southwest, and other airlines offer nonstop service for the two-hour flight, with competitive prices. The sunny and warm city of Tampa has a beautiful downtown that’s filled with hotels, high-rises, and historic old quarters, such as Ybor City and Old Hyde Park. Check out the famous tourist attractions – and of course its thriving gay scene.

Busch Gardens Tampa is an African-themed amusement park that features wild roller-coasters, live music, theatre performances, and displays a multitude of exotic animals. The park also offers a “Serengeti Night Safari,” which allows people to get to see some of the big animals up close. More of service to those animals directly is the Big Cat Rescue, a wildlife sanctuary for abused and abandoned big cats. It’s a nonprofit organization that has hundreds of fearsome felines, including leopards, tigers, and bobcats. Your admission fee helps support their work.

Speaking of endangered animals, the Electric Manatee Viewing Center at Apollo Beach is a sanctuary across from a power plant. (A manatee is sometimes called a “sea cow.”) The manatees are drawn to the warm water from the power plant, and sometimes you can see them in large numbers.

The Lowry Park Zoo features more than 2,000 animals in natural habitats, and has recently expanded its collection of wildlife.

Take a step back in time by visiting the Henry B. Plant Museum, with original furnishings from 1891. It was part of the luxury Tampa Bay Hotel that used to be a Victorian palace and was once owned by railroad tycoon Henry Plant.

Ybor City is a National Historic Landmark District and is home to Tampa’s Latin community. It’s named for founder, cigar baron Vincente Martinez Ybor. Seventh Avenue in Ybor City, known in Spanish as “La Septima,” features some of the district’s most historic buildings, many are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ybor City is also home to shops, galleries, restaurants, cafes, and the area’s gay bars and clubs.

The Honey Pot is a gay nightclub with a large dance floor, great DJs, and strong drinks. The Reservoir Bar is a gay bar that shows some of the newest and hottest videos, with great drink specials and an environment that allows conversations, not to mention cool bartenders. South Nights Tampa is a gay dance club that expanded from its original location in Orlando. It has great DJs, awesome lighting, and strong drinks. City Side is a gay bar that has billiards, darts, and plays the latest videos. It offers a relaxing environment, especially if you just want to socialize with strangers.

Ybor City has the famous Hamburger Mary’s Bar & Grill, a gay-themed and LGBT-friendly burger restaurant chain that started in San Francisco in 1972. Its motto is “an open-air bar and grill for open-minded people” and “Eat, drink, and be … Mary!” There are several Hamburger Mary’s in the U.S. and most are located in major city gayborhoods. Baltimore does not have a Hamburger Mary’s. (It’s hard to imagine Baltimore’s HONFest without a Hamburger Mary’s.) The menu items include funny named foods and the restaurant décor is flamboyant.

Saint Petersburg is the second-largest city in the Tampa Bay area. The weekend of June 23rd to 25th was its Pride (Stpetepride.com) event, with logistics that recall Baltimore’s. On Saturday, its parade route was in downtown Saint Pete by Bayshore Drive and it attracted a crowd of 30,000. On Sunday, Saint Pete’s Pride moved to the historic Central Avenue. (For Baltimore’s Pride weekend, Saturday the parade route is in Mount Vernon and on Sunday the festivities are moved to Druid Hill Park.) Many Saint Pete businesses proudly display the rainbow flag year-round. But like with all Pride parades, there were a few protesters, mostly just ignored.

Tampa is great for a weekend trip. Check out the LGBT Welcome Center for more info and the latest events.

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