Tampa! America's next great city! The Gators are Outback bound, which would have seemed disappointing at the beginning of the season had the words "Music City Bowl" not appeared to be well within the realm of reality at one point. That means we'd have to crank out an entire column on Nashville, which even under the guise of the hip-hop moniker "Cashville" is still just a few wrinkles shy of being Cincinatti South. Take away Painter'sPrinter's Alley (and we grew up there!?!) and a few bars on the strip, and our recs for entertaining yourself in Nashville would be heading out to an empty field, downing a half a bottle of whiskey, and ripping donuts through the cornrows until the sound of sirens announced the end of the evening. (It kept us amused well enough in high school.)
(True story: on a visit, we once asked a member of the Chamber of Commerce in Nashville what to do in the town. She paused, looked off at a corner of the ceiling, and sputtered, "Aw, lord, I have no clue, honey." 'Nuff said.)
But the wheel of fate spun our way, and now Florida fans can make the commute to a town loaded with intrigue, suspense, and a camera crew from C.O.P.S. on the ground at all times. We logged a fair bit of time in the area, and provide you with the insider's guide to amusing yourself in Tampa during a bowl game stay, presented Lonely Planet style in three parts.
Tampa: what's your adventure?
At A Glance:
The welcoming city of Tampa presents a grungy, strip-mall counterpoint to the grungy, strip-mall stereotype one might have of urban Florida. Populated by a vibrant mix of midwestern and northeastern transplants, Hispanics, and a strong contingent of odds and ends subsisting on government checks of one sort or another, its cornucopia of humanity share one common thread: a love for football, the year 1987, and the other official sport of the area, drunk driving.
Sprawled across a large expanse of land, Tampans also share values, like a common hatred for trees, urban planning, and a madness for widening roads whenever possible. As a result, rent a car to make your way around the city, but beware: a large retiree population and an aggressive driving style favored by youth averages out to near chaos and frequent spectacular traffic accidents. Picture a herd of woozy elephants with a clutch of sprinting cheetahs attempting to run under their feet and you've got the picture.
What to see, in order of arrival:
---First, the airport, which may be the best thing about Tampa.
No, really, that's sincere--it's an efficiency freak's dream. How a city so intent on creating gridlock and traffic could adopt such a briliant, sensible design for their transportation hub is beyond us. So easy you swore you walked out of the plane and into the steam-tray hot parking garage.
---Then spend the first night in Ybor City. The entertainment hub of Tampa, Ybor's one of those reclamation projects that scarcely needed to happen: the old Cuban neighborhood loaded with unusual old shops (including a men's clothing store straight from Ricky Ricardo's surplus warehouse) that underwent the grand transformation into a long strip of bars, clubs, and apartments salted away in the streets surrounding the area. Was once a place where local DJ "Bubba the Love Sponge" poured kamikazes off strippers' fake tits into waiting listeners' mouths. Now has a movie theater, dine-in restaurants, ample parking, and people of all ages and tan lines shambling around wasted and hooting on Saturday night. One of those places that's not so good, got not so great in its second life, and will make hipsters weep on sight if visited. In other words, go just to people watch, if only to prove to disbelieving friends that a woman who needs gastric bypass surgery can and will wear a belly shirt.
Ybor: it can get ugly.
--Clearwater Beach. Located to the west of Tampa on the Pinellas county side, a short drive to the American beachside haven for cheap Euros will lift your general opinion of humanity by showing that while America may have no hope, neither does Europe. Bonuses of going to Clearwater include enjoying the wide, attractive beaches, perhaps catching a Premier League game at one of the pubs catering to the largely English and German tour groups, and giggling at the Germans skulking around the bushes and alleys looking for hookers. Downsides will include flinching at the radioactive sunburns on the speedo-clad euros, looking at speedo-clad euros, and the horror of watching the occasional pasty Russian tourist amble into the water of the Gulf in their droopy tighty-whities.
--On the way back from Clearwater, be sure to hit another Tampa Bay landmark, the original Hooters in Clearwater. The wings are good, and if the idea of drinking where the '92-93 Philadelphia Phillies mullets 'n 'roids crew used to get plastered isn't compelling enough for you...well, what are you doing in Tampa in the first place? On the way back, feel free to mow down a pedestrian or two with the rental car, since everyone else seems to be doing it: the Tampa Bay area routinely ranks as the second most dangerous city for pedestrians in the nation, chasing only Orlando for the rank of America's least walkable burg.
--With a belly full of beer and wings, hide out for the afternoon in the Tampa Theater, a historical theater that plays first-run movies from all over the map. If the movie bores you, then gawk at the frippery; designed to look like a opulent Spanish villa, the woodwork and twinkling stars on the ceiling can make even a ultramarathon Chinese art movie like The Emperor and the Assassin bearable. It's allegedly haunted, too.
--For the evening, though bust out some of the change you skimped on spending by low-balling it at Hooters at Bern's Steak House. Less a restaurant and more a theme park on the hoof, the the bordello-decorated carnivore's fantasia is awesomeness for several reasons. First, everything you eat was either grown hydroponically under the watchful eye of Franciscan monks, or raised blissfully on a farm in Colorado, where it was massaged daily and fed beer until it died. (How many people do we know would happily trade places with pampered beef cattle, even knowing full well that it would all end in tears? About 30% of the people we know, we'd guess.) Second, the waitstaff all take their cool points from Clive Owen in Croupier; coolly efficient, supremely knowledgeable, and if they started whipping asses in a cross-table brawl across the restaurant, you'd be unsurprised to see them utilizing an unstoppable fighting style unknown to even your esteemed master. Third, the restaurant claims to have the largest wine cellar in the world, including intact bottles of brandy belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte recovered from the wreck of a ship bound for St. Helena. Combine that with the restaurant's unique ability to get you just drunk enough to order dessert and a nightcap, and it's all money well spent.
What's next? What Tampa Bay is know for around the world: strip clubs. We'll do the full review with our expert tomorrow.