Tempted in Tampa
By Regan Hofman
Tampa, perennial bridesmaid to Miami and Key West, may be better known for its sports teams than its sushi bars, but the city is fast becoming Florida’s most exciting foodie haven.
For starters, there’s the recent update of a classic. Bern’s (1208 S. Howard Ave.; BernsSteakhouse.com), an old-school steak-house that’s been run by the same family for almost 60 years, is home to the largest wine cellar in the country, with three sommeliers on staff to recommend the perfect bottle to pair with your farm-to-table fare. Now Bern’s has expanded its reach across the street, teaming with Mainsail Lodging and Marriott last year to open the Epicurean Hotel (photo above) (1207 S. Howard Ave.; EpicureanHotel.com), a one-stop-shop for visiting bon vivants.
“We wanted to cater to connoisseurs of life,” says its general manager, Tom Haines, “people who are hungry for knowledge and different experiences.” Check in and you can enjoy not only an in-house patisserie and decadent room service (don’t miss the wild mushroom-and-black truffle omelet), but cooking classes and a “bourbon on the rocks” pedicure at Evangeline’s spa. (Sure beats those Doubletree cookies.)
Of course, to properly explore Tampa and St. Petersburg, its beach-centric neigh- bor across the bay, you’ll want a car. Make your priority Seminole Heights, a hipster-y hood with the city’s best restaurant, The Refinery (photo right) (5137 N. Florida Ave.; TheTampaRefinery.com). There, two-time James Beard Award semifinalist Greg Baker has been cultivating a weekly rotating menu with regionally inspired dishes like quail with green chile posole.
Also, plan to spend a few hours at Oxford Exchange (photo below) (420W.Kennedy Blvd.; OxfordExchange.com), a charming complex where serious coffee, specialty teas, and cold-pressed juices will quench your thirst as you browse the carefully curated bookshop and gift shop. Save room for quinoa falafel and a Super Green salad with kale and pickled carrots at its sunny, vaulted-ceiling restaurant.
En route to the airport, make a stop at La Teresita (3248 W. Columbus Dr.; LaTeresitaRestaurant.com), which boasts a bakery serving fresh empanadas and a killer restaurant (try the crackling-skinned roast pork). Our tip: Hit up the quick-service counter for a Cubano sandwich to go. As a souvenir it won’t last, but all those tasty Tampa memories will.
The Drinkable Tampa
Much like its food scene, Tampa’s nightlife is incredibly diverse. From down-and-dirty beer bars to classier cocktail lounges, here are four of our favorite spots.
Georgie's Alibi Named one of our 200 best gay bars in the world last year, Georgie’s low- key vibe and St. Pete’s location make it a perfect joint for a round of pool after a day at the beach. 3100 3rd Ave. N, St. Petersburg; GeorgiesAlibi.com
Fly Bar Fly Bar’s bartenders have crafted the best cocktail list in the city. Ascend to the rooftop for a pre- dinner Negroni or late-night Reverse Manhattan, plus views of the downtown skyline. 1202 N. Franklin St.; FlyBarAndRestaurant.com
Mermaid Tavern (photo right) The ironically nautical Seminole Heights beer bar has an extensive draft selection, from the local Cigar City Brewery to Belgium and beyond. Bonus: The small kitchen, famous for its truffle fries, stays open late. 6719 N. Nebraska Ave. MermaidTavernTampa.com
The Social While most of Ybor City is best avoided, this two-story party in a turn-of-the-century church off the main strip is the place to go when you need to dance. The parties and fetishes rotate, but the drinks are always cheap. 1909 N. 15th St.; Wed.-Sat. only
Photos: Courtesy Of Refinery. Amy Pezz (Oxford Exchange). Epicurean Hotel/Pezz Photo. Courtesy Of Mermaid Tavern.