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Winter 2008 | Three Gay Days: Tampa Part Two

Winter 2008 | Three Gay Days: Tampa Part Two

The Sunshine State’s second largest metropolitan area, Tampa–St. Pete–Clearwater, is basking in an artsy urban upswing -- with LGBT flair.

Day 1
A.M. Start your tour east of downtown Tampa among the brick sidewalks, wrought iron balconies, and sprawling former cigar factories of Ybor City, one of only two National Historic Landmark districts in Florida (the other is St. Augustine). Housed in an old bakery building with original 1896 brick ovens intact, the Ybor City Museum (1818 E. Ninth Ave.; 813-247-1434) offers an in-depth look at the town?s Cuban, Spanish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants and its turn-of-the-century role as ?the cigar manufacturing capital of the world.?

Restaurants and bars now dominate La Setima (a.k.a. Seventh Avenue), Ybor?s main drag, but don?t miss the neoclassical L?Unione Italiana (1731 E. Seventh Ave.; 813-248-3316), an Italian social club completed in 1918. The third-floor grand ballroom, with its dramatic hand-painted ceiling, offers great urban views. Continue the Italian theme with crispy pizza at popular GaYbor District Coalition member Bernini (1702 E. Seventh Ave.; 813-248-0099), housed in a century-old bank lobby with baroque statues.

Or take away tasty black beans, rice, and Cuban bread from friendly, no-frills La Tropicana Caf? (1822 E. Seventh Ave.; 813-247-4040) for a quiet bite in often overlooked Jose Mart? Park (Eighth Avenue and 13th Street), dedicated to the Cuban poet-revolutionary whom gay actor Cesar Romero claimed was his grandfather. The park sits a few blocks west of edgy Gallery Live (1901 15th St.; 813-748-0069), a lumberyard turned exhibit space showcasing LGBT and queer-affirming artists. Gay historic guide Willy Emerson (813-774-1960) customizes 90-minute local walking tours that commingle sights vintage and LGBT.

P.M. Take the TECO Streetcar from Ybor City to downtown?s glass and steel Dick Greco Plaza and connect with the in-town trolley?s purple line to the opulent 1926 Tampa Theatre (711 N. Franklin St.; 813-274-8981), a still-in-use movie house where a Wurlitzer organ is played before most films, a faux night sky twinkles overhead, and queer events like the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival pepper the playbill. Once back in Ybor, head to gay-owned Streetcar Charlie?s Bar & Grille (1811 N. 15th St.; 813-248-1444) for Kobe sliders, baked mangoes with ice cream, great people-watching, and cocktails.

Continue the evening festivities at retro-glam LGBT hot spot G. Bar (1401 E. Seventh Ave.; 813-247-1016), which packs a visual punch with its brick archways, 17-foot ceilings, and funky fuchsia couches.

Day 2
A.M. Grab a cup of coffee from cozy, gay-owned Caf? Dolce (2444 Central Ave.; 727-327-3990) -- tucked among the rainbow flag?dotted businesses and antique stores of St. Petersburg?s Grand Central District -- then slide a kayak into the calm Gulf waters.

Downtown St. Petersburg?s gay-popular training gym The Fitness Studio (664 Central Ave.; 727-895-9593; CentralAveFitness.com) runs three-hour KaYoga and Kayakercise tours around the islands of 1,136-acre Fort DeSoto Park that combine paddling with yoga classes or full-body ?boot camp? workouts on the area?s sugary sands.

Visit downtown?s gay-owned The King and I Thai Restaurant (445 Central Ave.; 866-571-2731) for a post-workout curry reward before joining the unpretentious crowd at sea-oat lined Sunset Beach (at the southern end of Treasure Island), a long-running local gay favorite, especially on Sundays. Beat the heat among the palms, orchids, and bromeliads of the Sunken Gardens (1825 Fourth St. North; 727-551-3102), an early-20th-century tourist attraction whose kitschy retro signage belies the four-acre tropical oasis cradled in a drained lake bed 15 feet below St. Pete?s streets.

P.M. Slip up the stairway off St. Pete?s main drag to sip eclectic vintages and beers at lesbian-owned A Taste for Wine (241 Central Ave.; 727-895-1623), a New Orleans-style vino bar with balcony seating, gallery space, live jazz, and a mixed fan base. Then amble a few blocks west for dinner at chic, always bustling Bella Brava (515 Central Ave.; 727-895-5515), a gay-owned downtown staple serving contemporary Italian from its open kitchen. St. Petersburg?s reigning gay bar and Grand Central District anchor Georgie?s Alibi (3100 Third Ave. North; 727-321-2112) entices queers of all kinds -- including more lesbians of late -- to its pool tables, multiple video screens, and dance floor.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

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