Travel Thursday: Is Ybor City Back?

Before this year, the last time I was on the West Coast of Florida was in the 1900s. It was a trip in 1999 traveling to the Tampa area from New England to stay in Ybor City and play at Busch Gardens Theme Park.


Now that I’m more adulting and more gay, was it time to head back? We’ve always heard that the West Coast was a little slower, older, and just not as many options as in South Florida (Fort Lauderdale and Miami). We also heard that Saint Pete throws the largest pride celebration in Florida, and I believe one of the top ten in the nation. So with all of that, it was time to see how gay things were.

We had about 7 days to spend in the St Pete/Tampa area with a three-day conference bookended by some gay time. Our first two gay nights were spent in St Pete at the Mari Jean. I’m counting the days for when I return to this new and exciting hotel as the combination of staff, location, good feelings, and plenty of eye candy make this one of the best gay places to stay in a gayborhood I’ve had the pleasure to stay in a long time. When exploring more of St Pete during my next visit, it will be with the Mari Jean, The Wet Spot, The Saint, and Cocktail as my base. Check out our previous Travel Thursday post where we discussed our fun weekend in St Pete and at the Mari Jean. – St Pete, Where they Eat, Sleep, Swim, & Dance Gay Gay Gay

So 2 nights in St Pete, then 3 nights in downtown Tampa, and then it was off to Ybor City for the last 2 nights. Another reason why I did not return to Tampa and Ybor City until now is that I had heard it had gone downhill a little, but in recent years, it has rebounded to be better than before.


Where to Stay –

One of those betterments was the addition of a luxurious new lodging offering right in the heart of Ybor City, Hotel Haya.

On arrival, you notice the important things; the valet boys were hot, the front desk girls were cheerful, fun, and interactive, the pool was glistening in the sunny courtyard, and the restaurant and bar were sparkling and active. The design and color choices of first floor transport guests away from the norm.

The location was perfect for branching out and seeing all of Ybor city, but the amenities were very satisfying, pulling you in to stay at the Haya and enjoy everything they had to offer.


There may different size rooms at the Hotel Haya, we just went with the Haya King Balcony room, one of the smaller rooms, but we were not planning on being in our room for long periods of time as Ybor City was literally just outside of our window.

Tampa’s National Historic Landmark District

This urban oasis offers historically renovated and newly constructed commercial and residential buildings located on and off Ybor City’s main thoroughfare 7th Avenue; currently ranked as 15 in the Great Streets in America by the American Planning Association.

And once again, Hotel Haya, although a new building in the heart of Ybor City truly looks like it’s been there for generations and is now an anchor in the community. Maybe this as well has something to do with its namesake.

Our name honors the roots of Ybor City, carrying the spirit of the founding fathers and cigar artisans who established our neighborhood. We are proud to pay homage to Ignacio Haya whose cigar factory, Haya y Sanchez, was significant for rolling the first cigar in Tampa. Haya was instrumental in building Ybor City alongside another notable cigar manufacturer Vicente Ybor for whom our neighborhood was named. Haya’s factory was one of the first in the nation to make cigars from the light-colored Cuban tobacco called “Clear Havana.”

Where to Eat & Drink –


I was told over and over again to go to one specific restaurant in Ybor city, as it was an institution for many many years.

Ybor is one of the great culinary epicenters of Tampa. Restaurants here begin and end with the Columbia, which has served Cuban and Spanish specialties for over a century.

I didn’t end up going to The Columbia Restaurant as, I don’t know, it was too heavily suggested. And it may be also because I’m not a massive fan of Cuban food, something I could get around my home from many different places. Maybe I’ll try the Columbia next time, but this trip I wanted to just fine things on my own.

Flor Fina – The first place, I actually wanted to try was just downstairs. I would eventually eat at CAFÉ QUIQUIRIQUÍ the hotel’s and neighborhood’s snack bar/luncheon counter/wifi café, but my first dinig experience in Ybor was my hotel’s restaurant, FLOR FINA.


My waitress, wow, you know when you have a server that just makes the whole experience even greater, that was my waitress Chloe. It could have also been how well I treated my palete as I placed upon it some great edibles that night: Bone Marrow Beef Tartare, Buttered Popcorn Bisque, Bone-In Providence Cattle Ranch Short Ribs, and Mango Cheesecake. Flor Fina also has a unique drink offering of a “Build Your Own” Old Fashioned. Pick your spirit, then your bitters (1 or 2) and then a house-made syrup. Add a garnish and then smoke the concoction if you desire. The whole dining experience was one of the most enjoyable activities of the week. If you don’t stay at Hotel Haya, make sure to at least spoil yourself with a great culinary event by dining at Flor Fina.

For the rest of my time in Ybor City I bar hopped, visited breweries, and had a blast. Everything was within walking distance so there was no need for planning rides, Ubers, or the like. Just stroll down 7th Ave and hop into a place.


Zydeco Brew Works – Top Beer Pick. With a slant to the Zydeco/Cajun food offerings, this place had a fun staff, great manager, some pride merchandise, and some great beers on tap.  Talk to someone and don’t just read the menu.  There was one on a secret tap that was so good that I came back for it a second day. 

Big Storm Brewing Co – less frills but good food and good beer. A little off the street as it is on the second story so you won’t get those just stumbling around in there. Had a fun time talking beers there with the staff and fellow patrons.

BarrieHaus BeerLocated down the hill from 7th Ave, a great place for live music in the garden/back patio area, but I think a good place to go with a few friends and enjoy some rounds. Not a great place for singles to strike up a conversation as the inside is tight and the outside is set up for more so groups to sit.

Zydeco will be a stop on any visit to Ybor City. Went twice on this trip.

Where are My Boys –


Two places are big and well attended in Ybor City, well those are the ones we visited. 

Southern Nights – I had already known about Southern Nights as it was a chain of gay bars in Florida with locations in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale (now The Eagle), and Tampa. This was the bar flying the flag directly across the street from my Hotel Haya room’s balcony.

Bradley’s on 7th – I did visit the other bar on 7th Ave a little more than any other. Bradley’s on 7th was just as highly recommended at the Columbia Restaurant, but this place had boys, so I had to go. The flavor of men that visit this bar was wide and varied, much more varied than the bars at home, and I loved it! The crowd did lean more toward the 20 to 30 somethings, but all ages were there. Drinks were inexpensive and they had some daily specials that were beneficial if you were going to be there all night. On some evenings, they host amateur drag and amateur dancer competitions that are quite entertaining to watch.

The Castle – I didn’t go here, but GoogleMaps says it is a gay bar, I’m thinking more gay friendly.  Visiting their website we see they’re having an event that sounds interesting – Thanksgiving Gathering at Castle! A party for the LGBT community & friends! Thursday, November 23rd


Mr D’z Men’s Emporium – Didn’t have the time to go here either. Oh wait, it just opened in September! We wish this new bar great success! Read about its grand opening in Watermark.

Two other spots not in Ybor City proper, we heard of City Side and we did visit Johnson’s as we had the original over in Fort Lauderdale.  An Uber ride to see some male dancers?  Why not. Some other bars popped up on the GoogleMaps search, but in looking at the pictures, we’re thinking they were just gay-friendly, which is good, too. 

Return Visit ? 


Oh, 100%! I think I paired it nicely with 2 nights in St Pete, 3 in Tampa’s downtown for my conference, and then 2 more nights in Ybor. There is a cute and free TECO Streetcar service that ran right next to my hotel in downtown Tampa to Ybor City which I could have taken many nights. There are some other sites, bars, restaurants, sporting events that I will want to check out next time I go back.

Like St Pete, the gay scene in Ybor city was vibrant, varied, and very welcoming. You’ll see all members of the queer community out and about enjoying themselves and living as they wish. I did not venture to the non-gay bars at night, but the streets seemed safe, well patrolled, which is one thing that I try to make sure is good, as you can feel good in the bars, but you also need to feel safe when you leave the bars. 

As for a place to stay, I probably would not look around for another option as Hotel Haya and my balcony was perfect. The chance to eat at Flor Fina and to walk to and back from everything I needed is a comforting thing. 


2 thoughts on “Travel Thursday: Is Ybor City Back?”

  1. Check out in St Pete, 15 years serving the lgbtq community, a bed & breakfast with a tropical heated clothing optional pool.


Leave a Comment