Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Gaying" Up Ybor City

If you ever been in Ybor City, Tampa, you know that there is a new vibe there. And by that I don't mean the few suspicious characters hanging around on the outskirts of this commercial cum residential district. Or the occasional pan-handling, which is quite harmless. Also, never mind the sketchy neighborhoods around it, or the ugly looks you get should you make the mistake of driving through one of them (as I have!). Look at this way--all that sketchiness is just what you need to shake up your boring, middle-class, mainstreamed queer life! And never mind the hellish difficulty, sometimes, of finding parking in Ybor City, especially during weekends. Ybor City is worth all the trouble, though I have to confess the local Hampton Inn's secured main door--and secured all day and night--makes me wonder at times.

If you are gay, you want to be here as the "in" crowds these days tend to congregate in this district. If you drop by Gallery Live (901 15th St.; 813-748-0069), a former lumberyard turned into an exhibit space, you marvel at the creativity of LGBT and gay-affirming artists. You also get to soak up the past in this National Historic Landmark District, only one of two in Florida (the other is in St Augustine). With old cigar factories, wrought iron balconies, and brick sidewalks, Ybor takes you back to the halycon days of cigar manufacturing and its workers of Spanish, Cuban, Italian, and Jewish ancestry.

After taking a walk in awe of the back-breaking labors of the past generations, and realizing that you actually have it good in spite of this damn recession, you are ready of course to hit the bars and restaurants, and get drunk and pick up your next boyfriend or girlfriend. If nothing else, you need a good time to make you forget this awful economic downturn. My favorite is also the perennial choice for most locals, Streetcar Charlie's Bar & Grille (1811 N. 15th St; 813-248-1444). For a faster pace with lots of people watching and some glam and bling, go to G. Bar (1401 E. Seventh Ave.; 813-247-1016), which among other things, feature funky couches and overly high ceilings. For a latest promotional video by GaYbor District Coalition, see HERE.

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