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Trending in Tampa Bay

by Matthew Wexler
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Mar 13, 2018

It's no wonder that the 18th-century legendary pirate José Gaspar (more commonly known as Gasparilla) called the waters of Tampa Bay home. The strategic location played a vital role in early trade routes and became a settling ground for Cuban and Sicilian immigrants.

Gasparilla lives on in Tampa's collective memory through Gasparilla Season -- three months of parades, revelry, and festivals, culminating in a music festival (March 10 and 11, 2018) with a packed line-up that this year includes The Roots, Nikki Lane, and more.

Whether you're headed to Tampa to throw down the gauntlet with Gaspar or explore the city's burgeoning neighborhoods at your own pace, Tampa is a sun-bathed, easily accessible city perfect for a weekend getaway. EDGE offers our essential guide for exploring the best of this charming Gulf Coast enclave.


BIG BITES

It's no secret that more and more travelers are prioritizing the plate before the party when it comes to exploring a destination. Culinary travel is booming and Tampa is on trend with some exceptional options to explore local cuisine amid the city's historical roots.

Armature Works -- Newly opened, this massive multi-use space and food hall dates back to 1910 and once housed Tampa's streetcars. Developers Chas Bruck and Adam Harden of SoHo Capital saw huge potential in the 73,000-square foot space, which resides in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Tampa Heights and is perched alongside the city's beautiful Riverwalk.

But it's what's on the inside that counts. Vendors include a range of casual food stalls and the newly opened Steelbach, helmed by chef/partner Nathan Hardin. Described as a "Southern-inspired kitchen and chophouse," the restaurant is finely tuned both in terms of service and cuisine.

Exposed brick, filament bulbs, and industrial mid-century touches pave the way for Hardin's inaugural menu, which features many items cooked in the restaurant's massive Bertha wood-burning oven. Highlights include buffalo cauliflower; goat cheese, prosciutto, and berry tartine; and a roster of meats sourced from Double C Bar Ranch including a typically hard-to-find bone-in filet and Instagram-worthy porterhouse.


Columbia Restaurant -- Tampa's Spanish-Cuban history reveals itself in epic proportions at this family-owned restaurant that has been part of the city's culinary landscape for more than 113 years and claims the title of the world's largest Spanish restaurant.

Locals and tourists alike flock to the multi-room venue to experience the sprawling menu, which includes classics like the "1905" Salad (yes, iceberg lettuce is still a thing), an original Cuban sandwich, devil crab croquettes, chicken and yellow rice "Valenciana," and variations on paella served tableside.

The Hall on Franklin -- Your prayers have been answered if you've bypassed the food hall craze because you can't stand waiting in line and jockeying for a communal table. Investor Jamal Wilson took a risk on an industrial space that needed a major overhaul in Tampa Heights but the gamble paid off. The collective features seven different venues, which can be experienced in typical fashion, or better yet, cumulatively by ordering through traditional waiter service.


The ingenious integration of Toast's point-of-service order system enables servers to order from any of the vendors so customers can customize their meals to their bellies' delight. Must-eats include signature bowls from Poké Rose, loaded sandwiches from Heights Melts, and Liège waffles and other baked delights from Bake'n Babes.


STEP OUT IN STYLE

Oxford Exchange -- You may think you've stepped onto London's Picadilly Street when entering the beautifully curated Oxford Exchange, a multi-purpose restaurant, co-working space, and retail venue housed in former stables. The on-site restaurant helmed by Executive Chef Richard Anderson is bathed in light and serves up breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.

But don't dine and dash. Oxford Exchange's beautifully curated retail outposts include Warby Parker, Aesop, and a collection of thoughtful home goods such as Astier de Villatte French ceramics, Cire Trudon candles, and hard-to-find fragrances by Portugal's Musgo Real.


Hyde Park Village -- Stroll among the outdoor retailers within this revitalized shopping district and you'll find plenty of ways to re-imagine your wardrobe. Be sure to check out the latest fashions at London Philips and Brooks Brothers, or keep it sporty with a graphic T-shirt from Salt Pines. Of course, no trip to Tampa is complete without an authentic Cuban coffee, which can be had at Buddy Brew Coffee (along with some roasted whole beans to go).


WHEN THE SUN SETS

Tampa's diverse neighborhood of Ybor City flourishes all the time, but its vibrancy and character come alive at night. Explore all of the retail venues, cigar shops, restaurants, and bars along 7th Avenue and be sure to add these spots to your list:

GameTime -- Arcade games have been reimagined for the 21st century at this family-owned and LGBTQ-friendly business, which is packed with classics like Skee-Ball and multi-player Pac-Man along with driving simulators to kick it into high gear.

Bradley's on 7th -- This quirky gay bar and dance club was once a Rainforest Cafe and the owners chose to keep the floor-to-ceiling trees and river running through the bar. Tarzan aside, DJs spin great tunes and the bartenders and friendly and fast.


The Honey Pot -- Life is a drag in the best sense of the phrase at The Honey Pot, where Friday and Saturday nights bring out some of the area's best talent along with a diverse crowd that loves to dance.

Ybor City Wine Bar -- Jayme Kosar is the firecracker of a woman behind the neighborhood's ultimate wine bar. A strong community advocate, she was the first straight female to join GaYOBOR, the neigborhood's LGBTQ business coalition. Now that's worth a toast!

Hamburger Mary's -- Whether it's a night of charity drag bingo or a juicy burger and mammoth cocktail, we can't get enough of this high-energy venue where (almost) anything goes.



Where to Stay
Aloft Tampa Downtown -- Conveniently located on the waterfront, the hotel features a splash pool to cool off after a day in the sun as well as the popular W XYZ Bar. The lobby currently features a dynamic collection of pop art by Jason Skeldon including riffs on cultural icons such as Frida Kahlo and Madonna.


PICK YOUR PLEASURE

Mark your calendar for these upcoming events:

Tampa Pride, March 24 -- The fourth annual Diversity Parade will march down Ybor City's 7th Avenue, led by grand marshals Jane Castor, former Tampa Police Chief, and Reverend Jakob Hero-Shaw, Pastor at MCC Tampa. The city will be buzzing with rainbow pride and festivities also include an all-day street festival.

Pride and Passion, April 14 -- This year's theme is "Strange Beauty" at Tampa Museum of Art's 13th annual gala. Expect a surreal good time inspired by the famous 1972 Surrealist Ball.

Straz Center -- Head to Tampa's arts hub and catch one of these upcoming performances:

"The Bodyguard," March 20-25, inspired by the Whitney Houston film and starring pop diva Deborah Cox.

Randy Rainbow, April 13, the hilarious YouTube sensation performs his live show.

Megan Hilty, April 22, the Broadway actress and star of "Smash" delivers an intimate evening of song.


Matthew Wexler is EDGE's National Style and Travel Editor. More of his writing can be found at www.wexlerwrites.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.


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