If you’re going to explore Tampa, Ybor has to be one of your first stops. Ybor must be the misunderstood child of Tampa. Its big brothers and sisters call it “eccentric,” when they mean “weird.” If you hang around Tampa long enough, you’ll hear people joke about Ybor as if it was this dark, dangerous place, where a guy in a bandit mask is lurking in every alley to steal your wallet (no doubt to place it with the rest of his loot in a giant sack with a dollar sign on it). I feel like these people must not have actually visited Ybor.
What Ybor really is, to break it down, is a quirky city with a good tight layout, and the potential to see something weird happen! As soon as you drive down 7th Avenue, you start to feel the esoteric character of a city very much alive with energy. This city is colorful – and I don’t mean that euphemistically, like when nervous people say “urban” when they really mean “black..” I mean the city is literally colorful! Bright, vibrant colors hit you in the face, palm trees are blowing in the breeze, and the faint cedary aromas of cigars you can’t afford linger in the air. I don’t see how you can peer down 7th Avenue and not be intrigued.
Credit: Keir Magoulas | Visit Tampa Bay
And there are chickens.. just.. wandering around Ybor. Yes, wild chickens, dozens of them. I don’t know why that detail makes me love Ybor, but it does. If peculiarity is attractive to you, you’ll find it here. They’ve literally been there over 100 years; one of many details about the history of Ybor I’ll have to save for a later post.
Now for the good stuff: where to go if you’re visiting Ybor? First of all, let me tell you parking will be an issue. Plan to pay for parking if it’s a weekend night, or catch a ride. There are two parking garages on 5th and 9th Avenues, and it’s a mere buck for three hours during the week, but up to a $10 flat fee on the fun nights of the week (after 10pm). There’s metered parking as well, but I wouldn’t waste your evening circling the blocks waiting for lightning to strike. Here’s a link to the City’s website: https://yborcityonline.com/parking/#garage-rates for more detailed pricing. Now that you’re all parked, what bars should be on your list?
A short story will help you more than a boring list. I went for drinks with friends on a Saturday. We had over-eaten a fancy dinner in South Tampa at Roux ($$$) – outstanding, upscale New Orleans cuisine (a place travelling Saints fans should check out). At this point we’re stuffed to capacity and approaching hibernation, so we decide to jump-start our energy level with a café con leche (which I recommend any time you visit a Tampa café). The point is, by the time we arrived in Ybor, nature was fiercely calling my friend. We parked in Centro Ybor garage, and made a mistake you will not, by sprinting past perfectly clean bathrooms on our way to the first bar. Live and learn.
Our first stop was First Chance Last Chance Bar ($), which had a decent indoor (dive) bar and a cool open-air inner courtyard, BUT only one bathroom, which is unisex, and there was a line.. Not the perfect venue for what my friend was about to do. We moved on to The Brass Tap ($$), a popular chain beer bar that serves full liquor as well, and most importantly, a nice clean Men’s restroom! A craft beer and a chilled shot of Patron later, our evening was off and running.
Big Easy ($) was our next stop. They have a good live DJ on weekends, and the cocktails are very well-crafted. Now for the highlight of the night. We headed to the Ritz ($$), which is a huge club with several different bars inside. One of the rooms had a DJ that was not fooling around, and we got to see a full-on dance battle. People were getting served left and right. If your best move is the Running Man, stay on the sidelines.
Tampa Insider Tip of the Week: End your night at Coyote Ugly ($). It’s basically a dive bar, so if you’re looking for a fine martini and a quiet cigar to wind down the evening, keep walking. But things get turned up after about 11:00pm, and the periodic bartender table dance breaks get the whole place pretty stirred up.
I’m not saying Ybor is a tiny, Spanish-flavored New Orleans hiding in Tampa, but you can certainly catch moments of that feeling if you’re looking in the right nooks. Certainly, Saints fans will be visiting Tampa once a year, and this is the only place in Tampa that will give them a taste of home. Give Ybor a fair chance, and you’ll be happy you did.
Credit: Keir Magoulas | Visit Tampa Bay