Traveler's USA Notebook
Tampa is a slow city with (usually) soft, sexy weather. Pretty, it aint, though they're trying, and the bay is nice. Interesting, it is. Still you must scratch hard to find any intellectually ecstatic experiences here. Maybe the hard-core intellectuals, beatniks, poets, artists, actors or writers here are in hiding. But when you find them, Tampa celebrates them. And hey, theres a Barnes and Noble with good coffee.
Credit: Tampa Bay CVB and Jeff Greenberg
And an Indigo Coffee, drive-thru. Here is the new middle America, with knobs on . and the endless sprawl of K-Marts, Wal-Marts and Sams Clubs to prove it.
growing fast. With that growth, there is the sense that Tampa is trying on new
duds. Maybe it'll be a pirate. Maybe it'll be good ole boy. Maybe it'll be a
grand dame. Maybe it'll be a button down biz guy. Tampa residents love the city
because "it's a slow and easy place to live in;" "it's
growing" and 'it's full of hidden treasures. That means a better range of
goods and services from hairdressers to human rights groups, more choices, a
growing international mix of people (so the food's getting better), and even -
hey, hey - a couple of art cinemas.
Meanwhile The weather (87° F in early November), and Tampa's bland, easy, sleepy ways seduce new immigrants, bubbas, and mall-loving middle Americans. If you have a laptop and a lot of work to do, this is the spot---because the various and diverse treats can be explored with great fun and much speed.
Oh, there is the Gasparilla
Pirate Festival (average attendance: 400,000). and the fantastic Barbara Forgione Salon, the only place to get your hair a brilliant cut, color and
condition in all of Florida, and there are concerts and plays---Cher was
here---and dont forget the twelve-plex movie malls---and the predictable dead
cow restaurants, but mostly its the Pizza Huts, Targets and cookouts in the
sunshine that appeal to locals.
And geez, we forgot to mention Busch Gardens. Oh well. But you and I and most of us are tourists and you may not want to sleep in the Busches. For that luxury touch click here. So, for the rest of us, before we go completely out of our minds, heres our list of.
ght:.3in;margin-bottom: 0in;margin-left:.3in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;text-indent:.5in"> Absolutely number one. Its gorgeous, well-located, and has a whiz-bang monorail. The flights here can be dirt cheap, like $49 from New York, one-way on Jet Blue. Flights even go overseas from here. There's a massage therapist at the shoeshine stand. Gosh! More details? Click here.
A wonderful bit of architecture here, sort of New Orleans-y, and a pleasure to walk around, especially in the evening where there are music bars and restaurants and weird shops. Weird for Tampa, that is. Were grateful. And so we click. One amazing shop is The Spitting Gargoyle (1717 E. 7th Ave., 813.247.7877). In business since 1994, it specializes in medievally inspired architectural accents and accessories such as gargoyles, cherubs, pedestals and columns. More info? Clickkkk
The old historic
Ybor City Cuban restaurant serves the best food, including many delights
suitable for vegetarians, in Tampa/Ybor City. Dont miss this. Of course
its a chain now. Thank heavens well have another reliably good meal to
look forward to elsewhere. Click here
2117 East 7th Ave (813) 248-4961.
MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry)
Walking about in this vast ductile space that looks as if it were designed
by Aquarian robots in love is far more entertaining than the non-stop,
belly-churning rides, rides, rides of the nearby Busch Gardens. The space
even includes a small and good planetarium with shows, and, of course, an
IMAX programme. Click here
to see whats cooking at MOSI right now.
St. Petersburg, Indian Rocks Beach, Clearwater, Tarpon Springs. Go for a drive. Check em out. Good Greek grub abounds in Tarpon Springs, a charming beach hamlet. Dont forget to give yourself a Gulf-side loll, drink in hand, on the patio of the Don Cesar Resort in St. Pete.
Absolutely the Best Hair Cut, Color and Conditioning in Florida: Barbara Forgione Salon
To get the best
hair color, conditioning, hair treatments and the best haircuts in Florida, dash to Tampa. That's
what you all have to do to maintain a gorgeous, shining mane in
the tropic heat without the frizzies. When you find a great
colorist - and I really mean great - who also has great in-house hair
cutters, that's heaven. I discovered this delightful head
trip for your coconut when I heard one of the local hotel execs rave
on and on about Barbara, Barbara, Barbara...who turns out to be a
spectacularly talented master colorist who decided to make her home in
sultry, sleepy Tampa. It seems that Barbara, a Vidal Sassoon graduate, trained in
Los Angeles (Vidal Sassoon), New Jersey and New York (with Beth Minardi). She transforms all kinds of hair with the most brilliant, subtle, gentle
hair color we've seen: ask for a peek at her inspiring
"Before and After" book. Movie stars, spies, TV anchors, ladies
who lunch, authors on tour, and fashionable and fussy locals are Barbara's regulars, as are our fashion-forward fighting women at nearby McDill
Air Force base. And prices are good. If Barbara's doing your color or treatment
and her stylists are doing your cut, you'll never have to worry.
You're safe. Barbara's known as the go-to girl when your last hair stylist
just wrecked your hair --- she fixes bad hair all the time, with thermal reconditioning, the Japanese hair relaxing
and hair straightening YUKO reconditioning treatment, that's tout le
rage in New York, without big city prices. It's worth going just for the
conversation: world events, music, fashion, astrology, wazzup in
Tampa...she's switched-on and sassy, and knows what color's all about. Well worth a trip down to Tampa on JetBlue just to
get your hair done. Next time, I think I might. Barbara Forgione, 4317
El Prado Boulevard in fashionable South Tampa (33619), between West Shore
and Dale Mabry.
A Nice Massage
A Soft Landing
In Ybor City, a wonderful treasure of a Northern Italian restaurant. Not surprisingly, the Weekly Planet rated it Tampa Bays Best Italian restaurant in 2002. (Luigi, the owner, is from Ricione.). In addition to its luscious cooking (primo pesto, and a must-have, ethereal eggplant appetizer), its super-soft ambience, candles and low lights will melt you like mozzarella.. 1727 E. 7th Ave. 813.248-1326 Click here,
Franklin Street News
Aha. That rare Florida treasure. A good magazine store with a wide selection
of magazines (including some imports) and newspapers (including some New
York ones). Go on
buy a Florida Lottery ticket. Youve gotta be in it to
win it, folks. 813-276-1710 604 N. Franklin Street.
They're all raving about this joint. We
haven't checked it out yet, but it's another vegetarian Southern Indian
restaurant in Florida, so why fool around? There's a lunch buffet
Tuesday-Friday, chomp, chomp, chomp.
Skippers Smoke House
An alt consciousness refuge for southern hippies, deadheads, free
thinking and even freer dancing sorts. Its centerpiece is an outdoor theatre that features sharp local players ( a favorite is Bill the
sauce boss Wharton gumbo who
expertly and exquisitely plays Dixie rock lines, heavily steeped in Johnny
Winters and Allman Brothers. His popularity stems equally from his sound and
from his gumbo. (He cooks it all night on stage and then serves to the
audience. Some quite good national
acts also play Skippers. These include
Marcia Ball and Iris Dement and Buckwheat Zydeco.We happened to see Wharton during a special event that included a costume contest. (Two of Skipper's regulars are seen left).
If youre looking for the throbbing heart of the art/activism axis of Tampas creative community, rush directly to Viva La Frida, restaurant and much, much, much, much more. The eccentric, whimsical clientele come here two, three even four times a week for poetry, plays, save-the-world activities or just a good laugh over a pitcher or two of sangria with friends.
As we approached the restaurant's doorway we heard voices. Looking to the right, we saw an outdoor stage (complete with actors) and an audience. It was a performance of David Mamets Sexual Perversity in Chicago. inside posters and fliers describe opportunities for community activism and significant events.
With so many
vegetarian-friendly dishes on the menu, the starving artist/University
student/crunchy Granola crowds feel instantly at home here. And the
sangrias good. The food's well, Mexicanesque, as Mexican food
is merely the jumping-off point for the eccentric, generous cook who just cant resist tweaking everything on the menu, down to
the beans and rice, until its something else again. Big portions,
though. (Skip the guacamole, though - was that cheese in it? Aiye!)
NS Foods and
Word on the Streetcar
Tampa has two officially charming streetcars lines: the Hartline rubber wheel babies and the two-year-old TECO old-fashioned trolleys. Theyre inexpensive rides, and almost, kind of get you from downtown to Ybor City, fun, bit not necessarily convenient . However, we are told that the routes will be expanding.
An attractive official shopping and entertainment site sits next to the aquarium. Stores offer cigars, cigarettes, paintings, food, and moving picture shows. 615 Channelside Dr. For more information, 813-223-4250. or click here
This upscale shopping plaza (dont call it a mall.) has nearly 200 shops
(including Nordstroms and a mess of high-stylin shops) and more
than a dozen restaurants, uh, eateries. Its food court even has a food
court. One restaurant, The Gallery Eclectic Bistro (813 353 3838) is rather
gorgeous and a good place to relax over drinks. Its a circular room with
blue lights, peppy wait staff and $12 martinis. The International
Plaza is an in-and-out, all-weather affair, a
nice outdoor consumer village look up
those puffy white clouds are real.
But it still feels like Las Vegas, with the clouds painted on the blue vault
above. To its credit the International Plaza is near that wonderful airport.
One of those early breakfast places you cant live without, though you
wish you could, First Watch does help break the $30 hotel breakfast habit,
and its open every day (which is big since most of downtown Tampa is
closed down.) The breakfast and brunch menu supports veggie craving diners.
There's a veg-out omelette and an astonishingly dull Eggs Florentine. Moderate
prices ($5.75 and $6.95 respectively) were welcome,
and offset by the $1.60 coffee cost). First Watch is part of a
chain which means there are standards which it will neither miss nor exceed.
The Tampa Theatre is one of the nation's preservation success stories and one of the city's bright gems. Its style
can only be described as Florida Mediterranean (includes touches of Italian Renaissance, Byzantine, Spanish, Mediterranean, Greek Revival, Baroque, and English Tudor)" (And perhaps a tad of kitchen sink?) Opened in October, 1926 as a magnificent motion picture palace, the John Eberson-designed venue went into decline and near extinction by the '70s. Tampa, in partnership with the community, saved the theatre in 1973. Now it is open throughout the year with a rich schedule of film, concerts, special events, corporate events and tours.
813-274-8981. And even if you're not at the mighty Wurlitzer,