In part one of our series on the destination for many a Florida Gator fan this New Year's, "America's Next Great City," Tampa, we outlined a few of the primo local highlights for a successful day's outing in the city. But Orson, you ask: what can I do in the Tampa Bay area when I'm primed with eight hours of straight drinking, giddy from watching the Urban Reclamation team put a whipping on Iowa, and all too happy to take the rent money and convert it into eight to ten hours of blacked-out bad behavior? Oh, now you're in the right place, kemosabe: Tampa is nearly unrivalled in its array of homegrown ways to get your tomfool on, covering the spectrum from gambling to drinking to paying disadvantaged women sums of money to take their clothing off to the tune of "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails. Unlike Las Vegas, none of it's slick, and much of it reeks of an illicit, dank underworld that subsists on the five food groups of porn, cheap hairspray, cash, booze, and wadded-up court summons rolling on the floorboards of the car. But that's exactly what you're looking for, right?
Gambling Nothing gets the soul rolling like a little fair wagering against the devil, right? And what better way to do that than by betting on packs of skinny dogs chasing an electric rabbit? Tampa's a mecca for those so gambling-addicted they'll bet on speed-jacked greyhounds at 2 in the afternoon with a lukewarm Miller Lite in one hand and the racing form in the other. Tampa Bay Downs in Tampa has actual horses, but go for local flavor and head over the Gandy Bridge to Derby Lane in St. Pete, a superb venue for the sweaty-palmed gambler, and an excellent way to begin the day's drinking and prime yourself for spending money without a shred of hope of every recouping your losses. Derby Lane in particular is our fave, both for it's glam design, titter-inducing "Dinner Club," and the fact that it's featured in Oceans 11. Everyone will tell you to bet on the dog that takes a shit just before the race. Don't believe them, and instead pick completely at random, since greyhound racing is just a tick or two shy of tossing rubles on the floor of a Russian basement at a cockroach race. Anyone who tells you different is about to knock you out with a blackjack and steal the fillings from your teeth.
Hangin' at Derby Lane: not exactly Parklife, but close.
Bonus points for the people-watching: seemingly destitute retirees in Members Only jackets parsing the racing forms through wraparound sunglasses, young men who really should be doing something else, and thick-necked men in silk shirts who really don't want you looking at them.
And if you see a woman, beware. We have no reason to say that, but since we've never seen one there, we'd have to assume she was either in trouble or was trouble.
Drinking. You can immediately pull the dipstick on a town's alcohol consumption meter by watching old episodes of C.O.P.S. In Tampa's case, half the incidents involve drunk driving; the other half involve poor decision-making clouded by alcohol. When at one dark point in our lives we waited tables in the Tampa Bay area, we had a sixtyish regular who referred to himself as the Cap'n. Cap would come in, drink eight Bud Lights in an hour and a half, eat six to eight chicken wings, and leave a dollar tip on the table on his way out to his Continental, which he drove home every night through traffic. The best part was that the waitstaff viewed him less as a public menace--which he was--and more of a local hero, since half the servers were working off the legal bills from their DUIs.
Point being: drinking happens at an astonishing rate in Tampa, as chronicled on the website Tampa Bay Drunks. Hell, they put concrete barriers on the causeways between the road and the bay, spoiling the view but preventing tipsy drivers from zipping off into the shallows with the same frequency. Where should you do it? Try the Hub, but do so at your own risk: drinks are Peter O'Toole intense and unless you're a public official or Burt Reynolds, they will take your drunk ass to jail in Tampa. If you're not into local color (read: dive bar dive bar dive bar), then any one of the Beef O'Bennigapplebee's will do, since that's what most of the locals do anyway. Just be sure to knock back a shooter you haven't done since high school to complete the Tampa Bay drinking experience, since locals have a fondness for vomit fodder like kamikazes and "Sex on the Beach."
Peter O'Toole: honorary Tampan.
SEX OR ONE OF ITS LESS FULFILLING SUBURBS. After you've gotten rip-roaring drunk and blown some money gambling, it's time to satisfy the third step in Maslow's hierarchy of masculine needs, getting some, or at least getting in the neighborhood thereof. And for that, we break down Tampa's burgeoning sex industry into two easily manageable departments:
1. Sex shops. Tampa could rightfully call itself the dildo capital of the universe, since we're betting that the local population could successfully fend off an invading army simply by arming itself with the contents of the top drawer of their nightstands. There's a wealth of sex shops in the Tampa Bay area, replete with "L.A.-sized" anal beads, stainless steel ben-wa balls, dildos of frightening dimension, vibrators with exhaust pipes, bondage gear, cages, condoms from the wee-ninesy to the elephantine, oil barrels full of lube, a porn selection the Library of Congress would envy, and blow-up dolls of ever imaginable variety, including sheep, which we hope to see being bounced over the Florida section at Raymond James on October 2nd.
So if you're going down there with a significant other, be sure to stock up at any convenient location. Considering that there's one on every block, it's wasting our time to even mention a single one, since most of them are exemplary both in selection and in...we use this word carefully...service.
2. Strip clubs. For all of the hullabaloo about Tampa being a strip club mecca, it's really a world revolving around the pole(s) (heh) of Dale Mabry: Mons Venus and 2001. Located across the street from each other, both are massive, amply staffed, and legendary past realistic expectations. You may, however, expect all of the benefits of the Sun Belt strip club: implants, militant waxing, and aerobicized bodies, mostly thanks to the fact that Joe Rednor, the strip club tycoon/free speech advocate of Tampa, also owns a gym that his girls are "encouraged" to attend. Absurd amounts of money are spent here, but the scuttlebutt is that Mons isn't as "hot" as it used to be, which in tittie bar parlance likely means that open prostitution is no longer tolerated by management or the abundant undercover police officers diligently "investigating" the premises. Either way, if you want to see emotionally scarred naked women of modest means, taking their clothes off, these are the two places most people will recommend, including the cabbies. (2001 also gets points for its groovy Lost In Space spaceship deck, which sits atop the club and is allegedly the site for lavish private parties.
We would make a secondary recommendation for those, like ourselves, who like a slightly diverse look for our strippers: the Tanga Lounge, which may or may not exist anymore on West Columbus. The girls aren't Radio Standard Stripper-looking, but you can avoid the desperate male hormone cloud that gets awfully thick in the other clubs. Not Clermont Lounge in Atlanta diverse--we find the idea of fifty year old truckers taking their clothes off as frightening as the next person, because we've seen it there--but more Vargas girl and less "coke whore." If a reader confirms that it exists in a new location or has a better alternative strip club rec, we'll feature it below.
THE HANGOVER MEAL. One and only one place: La Teresita, cheap-ass Cuban food loaded with the starch and the fat you'll need to not die sprawled out on the floor of the Comfort Inn you'll undoubtedly be staying at. Not only can you gorge yourself on the Cuban spread (three starches with each meal and a meat,) but the coffee is served hot, loaded with milk and sugar, and ready when the place opens at 5 a.m., which coincidentally is when many of the strip clubs close. An institution with many locations, but the W. Columbus location is our fave. Not all that bad on the way back up, either, just in case your system, despite your best efforts, feels the need for an immediate reboot following the debauch.