I had been planning this for a while, but the great Run Home Jack finally pushed me over the edge last Friday. It was another chapter in a story pushing a perception that simply isn't true. The myth that Tampa is a cultural wasteland. That Tampa is full of Wal-Marts, strip malls, massage parlors & old people. That Tampa in general sucks.
I get that the above are just funny bits by our interwebs friends, but the joke has been repeated so often and has meshed with real perception that I actually find myself having to defend my city to those uninitiated with its greatness and beauty. One blogger came to visit me last month, and couldn't believe what a good time she had. On our way to our first Spring Training game, she said she could never spend more than a few days here. By the end of her trip, she said "I could totally live in Tampa!" It's a refrain I get over and over again. Nowhere does the perception and the reality oppose as diametrically as it does here.
I absolutely and unironically love this town to death. This long ago became my home as I never run out of things to do, interesting people to meet, cool places to go, and new things to explore. I was raised between Philadelphia & Orlando and have lived in Las Vegas & San Diego as an adult, but this is my city completely by my choice. And as of right now, I don't think I ever want that to change.
It’s because Tampa has all the things to do of a Northeast Corridor metropolis combined with a true small town feel; all delivered with enough southern hospitality to make your day even more pleasant. We are young, beautiful, chic, burgeoning, hip, and incredible. And our coldest month of the year means it’s only going up to 70 today. I don’t own a winter jacket, nor do I want or need one. I own more flip-flops than dress shoes. Keep lying to yourself about how much you love shoveling snow and wearing three layers every day... I'll wait while your therapist explains cognitive dissonance.
My city has a cuisine as diverse as any on the planet. My fellow citizens will argue forever about the best Cuban sandwich (I vote traditional: Brocato's, non-traditional: Datz), but stay for the incredible steaks in the world's largest working wine cellar, the molecular gastronomy, or even the touristy fried grouper sandwiches. I live two minutes from an amazing gastropub & brand new bakery that changes lives, which is three blocks from a place that will tell you to “Shut Up & Eat” for $12 at lunch and bring you whatever they decide. And if you need to live on the edge of the culinary envelope, the James Beard Nominees are plentiful.
We make our own coffee, and tag it with the simple but perfect “Brew Good, Do Good.” We make our own pizza, or we fly the water in from New York so you can have a slice of NYC if you’d like. And 24 hours a day, we make the most amazing Cuban bread on earth. You haven't lived until this has cured a hangover. Most cities have brew pubs, but having Tampa Bay Brewing Company & Cigar City Brewing within city limits is almost criminally unfair. These places are beer revolutionaries, and CCB also makes what is arguably the best beer on the planet, which you can buy for all of one day a year. It’s such a big deal they throw a rather awesome party to celebrate; just one part of a beer week where even the mayor jumps in to tap some IPA.
We are Cigar City, a title we proudly claim from the great history of rollers from across the world coming to make the finest smokes in the world. Don’t believe the myths about stogies from Havana: I’ll put a hand-rolled from a Tampanian up against any label on earth. Ybor City, especially during the day, is an amazing place. You can find a Spanish restaurant that served as the home a unionization revolution on one end of Seventh Ave., and a hipster coffee shop/beer bar/skate park hangout on the other. In between are night clubs, movie theatres, dive bars, swanky bars, gay bars, clothing stores, pizza joints, comedy clubs, and every color of hair imaginable.
I write this from one of the most amazing working spaces you’ll ever see, and one I pay all of $50 a month for the privilege of occupying at my leisure. But I did pay $16 for a bar of soap for my girlfriend there. You see, you latte-sipping cultural elites reading The Atlantic on your iPad’s… we can be just as overpriced and snotty as you if we choose.
We have the best airport in America, the "crown jewel" of NFL stadia, and almost too many places to see concerts and performances. When you have multiple venues competing all the time for national acts, it means they all come here. And that's a good thing.
We also throw one rather bad-ass pirate party every January. Me and over 300,000 of my closest friends watching a somewhat inebriated army amphibiously invading the natural harbor, then parading down world's longest continuous sidewalk. Who you are as a Tampanian is defined by what you do on Gasparilla. It's the entire mosaic of the city coming together, every race and creed and color and cultural class, bonding over a love of pirate culture and copious amounts of booze. It's gotten so big we spread the parades out over three weekends now, and The Legend of Jose Gaspar hangs over so much of what we do from the New Year's to May. There's a film festival and music festival and arts festival named after him; all outstanding events that compete with the best you'll find anywhere.
(Please note: I’m intentionally ignoring the strip clubs. You can Google that up if you care to, but it’s been done to death. Honestly, most of us wish they would just go away).
Keep in mind everything I've listed is strictly in the City of Tampa proper, leaving out the burgeoning and rather awesome Downtown St. Pete, the beaches 25 minutes from my house (here's my fave spot), the beyond gorgeous Siesta Key, Beer Can Island, North Clearwater Beach, a single golf course... you get the idea.
This is my home, and I'm proud of her. Come visit her, I promise the reality will change your perception.