Miami and South Beach get a lot of the hype, but on the west coast of Florida, Tampa is a major city on Tampa Bay, and best known for its theme parks and attractions, such as Busch Gardens and The Florida Aquarium. Historically, it became known as the “Cigar Capital of the World” after Cuban and Spanish cigar workers began rolled cigars for Ybor City factories in 1886. Located northeast of downtown Tampa, the Ybor City neighborhood is now home to Centro Ybor, a lively Latin entertainment complex that houses the Tampa Bay Brewing Company.
After the city’s recent redevelopment of downtown, along with stylish high-rise condos and their young residents who have moved, this urban ‘hood is home to hip bars, inventive restaurants and stunning restorations of turn-of-the-century buildings. Downtown Tampa is also the city’s cultural arts district, and hosts outdoor events in the well-kept Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the gorgeous Tampa Riverwalk along the Hillsborough River.
Let’s explore all the drinks, eats and things to do in Tampa.
Le Meridien Tampa
Le Meridien Tampa’s stunning Beaux Arts architecture contrasts beautifully with modern touches of the newly revitalized downtown Tampa. Part of the National Register of Historic Places, the century-old US Post Office and US Customs House-turned- Federal Courthouse has been transformed into Le Méridien Tampa.
The historic front steps of the three-story column building lead up to the Bizou Brasserie and Bakery & Café on Florida Avenue, while a contemporary canopied-entrance, on Zack Street, shows the way to the hotel’s lobby. The second-floor hallways and guest rooms have original crown molding and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows and doors featuring thick, antique wood that evokes the rooms’ past as a judge’s chamber.
All 130 rooms and suites in the smoke-free hotel provide comfy beds, with deluxe bedding and plenty of plush pillows, bedside UBS outlets, and a large, pivoting, wall-mounted plasma TV plus High Speed or Enhanced High-Speed internet access. The Le Meridien Tampa also offers complimentary bicycles, a 24-hour fitness center, and privately enclosed, outdoor pool.
For travelers who are mixing work with play, the rooms have a work desk area with an ethernet port for wired internet connection, plenty of accessible electrical outlets throughout, and the conveniences of a mini-fridge and Illy® expresso coffee maker. For travelers with furry babies, this pet-friendly hotel allows two pets per room, maximum, with a non-refundable $75 fee.
601 N Florida Avenue, Tampa, FL; marriott.com/le-meridien-tampa; @LeMéridienTampa @spg
Tip: The gold-facing guest elevator doors, contrasting with beautifully with the surrounding terrazzo marble, make the perfect spot for a selfie.
Housed within the hotel’s historic architecture, Bizou is a downtown neighborhood gathering place for locals and visitors to enjoy craft cocktails along with French and globally-influenced food.
Berry Bramble Sangria
Fruity and refreshing; made with Prosecco, Chardonnay, Raspberry, Peach, Honey, and Lemon Juice.
Le Dirty Martini
Pungent and potent; shaken with Grey Goose Vodka and Olive Juice, and garnished with frozen Dirty Olive Ice Cube at the end of a stainless steel Grey Goose swizzle stick.
Citrusy and fizzy; mixed with Le Meridien Single Barrel Bourbon, Triple Sec, Fresh Lemon and Lemon-Lime Soda.
Pair with small plates, such as Warm Country Marinated Olives, blended with rosemary and fresh orange peel, or a Charcuterie & Cheese Platter.
Spicy and intense with a light sweet finish; Pendleton Rye Bourbon, Sugar, and Bitters.
Floral with a tart finish, shaken with Bombay Sapphire Gin, Maraschino Liqueur, Bitter Truth Créme de Violette, and Lemon Juice.
Rich and spirit-forward; stirred with Old Forester Bourbon and Angostura Bitters, served in a smoked glass. Or, the Maple Bacon Old Fashioned – made with Bacon-infused Bourbon, House-Made Maple Simple Syrup, Vermouth, and Bitters (not shown).
For heartier appetites, go for the scrumptious Grilled Pepper Crusted Tenderloin Skewers – served with wasabi key lime sauce and herb béarnaise, or, the decadent Bizou Burger – made with grilled Angus/ short rib /brisket blend, smoked apricot whiskey jam, fried onions and potato, and Fontina cheese that is served on a brioche bun with house-made Parmesan fries.
Bizou Brasserie Details
601 N Florida Avenue (in the Le Meridien), Tampa, FL; bizoutampa.com, @BizouTampa
Bar Hours: Open nightly until Midnight
Happy Hour: Monday through Friday from 4pm to 7pm
CW’s Gin Joint
Carolyn Wilson’s CW’s Gin Joint is an upscale restaurant and serious cocktail bar and lounge in downtown Tampa. This stylish, but unpretentious, speakeasy has long marble bar, countless sofas and chandeliers, and walls covered with period photographs from the Jazz Age. Plus, there’s a baby grand piano that gets played as part of CW’s Gin Joint’s live entertainment.
Although you will find other spirit-based cocktails as well as beer, the cocktail list contains a Gin Matrix, which is a flavor chart to help you choose what gin fits your flavor profile – floral, savory, citrusy, or, all in with piney Juniper.
633 N Franklin Street, Tampa, FL
Anise Global Gastrobar
Anise Global Gastrobar offers internationally and seasonally inspired small plates and craft cocktails. This spacious, swanky spot is located in the heart of downtown Tampa, on the corner opposite of the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the Tampa Museum of Art.
777 N Ashley Drive, Tampa, FL
Bizou Bakery & Cafe
In the Bizou bakery, indulge in art-inspired pastry desserts, such as Le Méridien’s world-famous éclairs, with an imaginative Illy® espresso drinks hand-crafted by one of the hotel’s master baristas. Relax inside, or take an umbrella-covered seat out on the Illy Al Fresco cafe.
Le Méridien Eye Openers
The Eye Openers program offers guests complimentary, morning-served beverages, with unique flavors reflecting each Le Méridien hotel’s unique destination.
At Le Méridien Tampa, we enjoyed waking up our palate with freshly cold-press juice combinations, such as the rejuvenating and tart Carrot-Basil-Pineapple and the refreshing and sweeter Orange-Strawberry-Watermelon.
601 N Florida Avenue, Tampa, FL
Tampa Museum of Art
The post-modern designed Tampa Museum of Art (TMA) was built on the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in 2010. The museum has since fostered a reputation for presenting contemporary photography and new media as well as Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities. Notable TMA features include Leo Villareal’s Sky (Tampa), a 14,000-square-foot LED installation on its south façade, and, the Riverwalk Cafe at TMA overlooking the Hillsborough River.
120 Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa, FL
Tip: Under Le Méridien Unlock Art™ program, present your hotel card key for complimentary museum admission.
Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and Tampa Riverwalk
Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is an 8-acre public park located along the Hillsborough river in downtown Tampa, Florida that is adjacent to the Tampa Riverwalk, Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, Tampa Museum of Art, Glazer Children’s Museum, and Rivergate Tower.
A granite paved walkway the embraces the river, the Riverwalk is a favorite of walking or biking local and visitors. From designated locations along the walkway and adjacent to The Sail Pavilion on the Riverwalk, local and visitors also have access to Pirate Water Taxi and Tampa Bay Water Bike Company as other available options to experience the downtown waterfront.
600 N Ashley Drive, Tampa, FL
The Tampa Theatre
Built in 1926, the Tampa Theatre is a beloved community landmark, and known as one of the “10 Most Beautiful Cinemas in the World” (BBC). Moviegoers attend the cinema to watch classic movies and new releases under a realistic night sky with twinkling stars, and a romantic Mediterranean courtyard setting. The theatre also opens its doors for monthly tours that review the majestic movie palace’s history and architecture, plus, a demonstration of the Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ.
711 N Franklin Street, Tampa, FL
Tip: In October, the theatre, with a reputation as one of the most haunted buildings in Tampa, offers Ghost Tours complete with tales of haunting former employees and patrons.
Hyde Park Village
This charming, open-air shopping and dining destination is set in Hyde Park, a beautiful historic district with tree-lined streets and brick walkways. The park’s central, grand water fountain is a popular destination for yoga enthusiasts, running clubs and pet owners.
744 South Village Circle, Tampa, FL
Tip: Le Meridien Tampa offers a complimentary on-demand shuttle service within a four-mile radius of which Hyde Park Village is inside.
This eclectically styled kitchen and bar offers locally-sourced American cuisine, seasonal cocktails, craft beers and fine wines, including a decadent selection of port wines.
Aromatic and fruity infusion cocktail; Choice of Bombay Gin or Ketel One Vodka, Raspberry, Watermelon, and Rosewater.
Peppery and potent margarita; made with Corazon Tequila, Ancho Reyes Verde Liqueur, Habanero, Jalapeno, Lime, Agave, and Bitterman’s Hellfire Shrub. Or, the savory Garden Cooler –made with choice of Bombay Gin or Ketel One Vodka, Cucumber, Basil, Sage, Citrus and Celery Bitters (not shown).
Nibble on a side of On Swann’s famous pomme frites seasoned with rosemary and sea salt with a Harissa aioli dipping sauce. For a heartier appetite their popular spicy buttermilk chicken on a sesame bun with celery root slaw, honey butter, and dill pickles. Or, for lighter option, try the B.L.T.A. – a sandwich layered with Applewood-smoked bacon, Bibb lettuce, Heirloom tomato, and avocado, and finished off with tomato-mayo on thick, toasted bread.
1501 W. Swann Avenue (in Hyde Park Village district), Tampa, FL
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