Gay nightlife is alive and well in the Tampa, Florida area. Here's our take on the best bars and nightclubs (plus a gay-popular restaurant) in Tampa and its bustling nightlife district, Ybor City.
The third largest (population 377,165) city in the state and the largest city on Florida's Gulf Coast, Tampa has a sizable gay scene and plenty of GLBT nightspots. An added bonus—it's just a quick drive to the many gay bars and gay-friendly restaurants of St. Petersburg and the other beach cities along the Gulf Coast.
Many of these bars are clustered in historic Ybor City, a neighborhood once dominated by cigar factories that now buzzes with bars and bistros. Others you'll find southwest of downtown along the Henderson Boulevard corridor.
One of the stalwarts of the Ybor City gay scene, Bradley's on 7th is open nightly and features a variety of enticing themes: two-for-one drinks on Mondays, amateur strip contests on Thursdays, a drag-alicious "La Cage Aux Folle" evening on Fridays (with plenty of tasty go-go boys to watch, too), and dancing on the weekends. This is a real fixture in Tampa's "Gay-Bor-Hood".
Ybor City's imposing Gothic-exterior nightclub, The Castle comes complete with a dungeon bar, saloon, main dance hall, cozy tower bar, and breezy courtyard. The Castle hosts different club nights throughout the week, generally drawing a mixed gay-straight crowd. Special events—fetish parties, Halloween, cosplay night—also sometimes draw a significant number of gay and lesbian patrons.
The generous drink specials are a big reason City Side, which lies just southwest of downtown, not far from Hyde Park and Bayshore Gardens, is so popular at happy hour. A standby in both the lesbian and gay-male communities since the '90s, the convivial, age-diverse crowd has karaoke, lots of video screens airing sports and gay-popular TV shows, and ample seating.
A venue for hugely popular gay dance events on Friday and Saturday nights, Honey Pot is a fixture in central Florida's GLBT community. The Steam Fridays parties typically feature porn stars, go-go dancers, and drag queens. Tease Saturdays are a hugely well-attended lesbian party with dancers and sometimes live performances and appearances by celebs.
Tampa's Rainbow Cabaret and Playhouse Theatre is an adult theater and sex club (it proudly bills itself "better than a bathhouse") a short drive north of Tampa International Airport. It's one of two noted cruising spots in Tampa, the other being Ybor Resort & Spa bathhouse in Ybor City. The Rainbow Cabaret rents lockers and guest suites and has all the features of a bathhouse (plus a patio), including sauna, steam rooms, mazes, a video lounge, and the theater shows adult gay movies around the clock. Note that the club is in an industrial area a bit off the beaten path.
A sister club to the famous Orlando gay bar of the same name, Southern Nights in Tampa lies in the heart of the bustling club district, Ybor City, which is home to several other gay hangouts. This place tends to draw a mostly male crowd, including a somewhat hairy, buff, and a muscular bunch (think of the sorts you'll see on Scruff). This is especially the case during Man Meat Fridays. Other nights are a bit more twink-minded, such as Campus Thursdays, and there's drag on other evenings. It's best to check the club's website, as the vibe varies a lot depending on the evening.