Can you feel the magic, sweet readers? The excitement is at an all-time high around here! It’s SEC Tournament time and, for the first time ever, it also means it’s Tampa time for the Southeastern Conference. Despite all of the sheer joy and anticipation pumping through the Big Blue Nation, there seems to be a little anxiety due to the fear of the unknown. This isn’t Catlanta, which has been as nurturing and reassuring as that picture of your Mom you carried in your pocket until someone made fun of you in the 4th grade. This is Tampa. Mess around and you’ll get your lunch money stolen.
But, fear not, my Kentucky brothers and sisters. I’m willing to step to the plate and invite you into the land of Beisner to make sure you have a good time (but not in the way they mean when they scratch it on the bathroom stall). I will stand before you and admit that the combination of my job, blogging constantly and generally being afraid of people has left me with no social life and I’m barely more of an expert on this area than you are, but I’m still going to drop some knowledge on you. However, no refunds will be given should these be lies or false information.
Hold on, here we go…
The Basketball Basics
Let’s face it. This is really what it’s all about. The Cats are going to get things rolling Thursday afternoon at 1pm against Andy Kennedy and the Ole Miss Rebels. But, as we’ve noted before, you’re really going to need to head over to the Tampa Convention Center for the official UK Pep Rally, which is guaranteed to get you fired up like Larry Glover on Mountain Dew. All the goodness will kick off at 9am, which is certainly not too early for a Bourbon Barrel Kentucky Ale, and will run right up until game time. You can get all the details here or have all the hot girls you know join the Facebook group here.
Should the Cats advance, it looks like it’s a straight 1pm draw across the board at the St. Pete Times Forum – a venue located in Tampa. Don’t get confused like I did when I first moved here. It’s named after the St. Pete Times, but located in Tampa. Very confusing. Don’t make a rookie mistake.
The economy and the rough state of SEC basketball has but a bit of a hurting on the ticket sales for the tournament this year. When they first hit the market, a book of tickets for the entire tournament would run you $300. Later, some schools that were having trouble selling them droppped them down to $200. Now, according to the St. Pete Times, schools are selling them for as low as $99. But, if that’s too too much to spend in this tough economy or if you’re reluctant to commit to the possibility of four games of Kentucky basketball, I’ve received word from an inside source at the Tampa Sports Commission that they are breaking them down by session and can be had for $50. But, I didn’t really do any research, so you should probably investigate before taking my word for it.
Most fans (or at least the penny-pinching, barely out of college people I know), were banking on the second-hand market and hoping to grab tickets from fans from the losing schools who were desperate to dump their investments in sessions not involving their schools. Since UK played themselves into the first game, that market might not be too hot. But, should they win, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble scooping up some tickets here. When the ACC tourney was in town, I bought a ticket to see both Saturday games for $10. I’m one of the cheap people I mentioned above.
Like most cities, your main mode of transportation will be the taxi cab. In Tampa, the cab companies will allow you to load up and go pretty much anywhere for $3 a person. They won’t tell you this and they’ll likely take you for a visitor and hassle you (they did it during the Super Bowl), but you tell them that you have a man on the inside and you know how it works. Unless, you aren’t going that far. Then, just have them run the meter.
The wildcard in taxi-ing (is that a word?) around town is the electric cab. I don’t know what the name of the company actually is, but it’s fantastic. If you’re downtown or at least east of Howard Avenue (map here), the electric cab will pick you up for no charge. It’s basically a jumbo golf cart, but the people that run it are much more polite and your only fare is whatever you deem appropriate and is paid in the form of a tip directly to your driver. According to my phone, the number is (813) 220-0175, but it’s in lower case letters, which means it was not a sober entry. It’s worth the gamble to try it though.
There is also some kind of trolley but I don’t think it really goes anywhere and it’s always crowded with people. That seems stupid to me.
If you’re staying around the Forum, then just walk. It’s cheaper and it’s probably better for your health.
Like I mentioned before, I pretty much have no social life. So, keeping that in mind, know that there are basically two main areas of Tampa that you should think about navigating when you decide to stop pounding Kentucky Ale’s at Andreychuk’s:
Channelside district – This area is a short walk from the Times Forum and is very, very similar to Fourth Street in Louisville – except not nearly as massive. Channelside has the same type of bars like Howl at the Moon, Splitsville, I dont know because I haven’t been to Fourth Street in two years. Only a couple charge a cover, so you can bounce back and forth from each one if you so choose. It’s decked out in SEC progaganda already and I’d expect a pretty good crowd of fans to congregate there on a nightly basis, as they did for the ACC Tournament. Be careful, though, because some places will not let you in if you’re wearing flip-flops or shorts…..although I’ve gotten in every time I’ve gone wearing a pair of slippers. Doesn’t seem right, but it is what it is.
*Sidenote: If you happen to get in town today, this is Wednesday Wingsday at the Hooters at Channelside. For only $5.99, you get a mound of delicious boneless wings and a side of fries. There will also be at least five Cats fans (including this guy) there pre-gaming for tomorrow’s pep rally.
South Tampa – If you prefer more of a Bardstown Road or Two Keys type of atmosphere, then South Tampa is where you want to go. Like Channelside, there are a lot of bars to patronize, but they aren’t centralized in one spot. I’m a sit in the corner and drink a beer while contemplating how to sensationalize my biography kind of guy, so I prefer hanging out at the Irish pubs. MacDinton’s is very similar to Two Keys, at least I think so. It’s indoor-outdoor and pretty laid back….but usually very crowded. The Dubliner is across the street and is just your everyday Irish Pub and I’d say it’s a lot like Molly Malone’s. These places usually have good crowds every night and, since Saturday is St. Patrick’s Day, you should probably work them into your rotation at some point. The Rack is also a cool place to go if you want to just have a beer, shoot some pool or see B.J. Upton thrown out.
For those of you that have visited here before for the Outback Bowl, I’m sure you have some good memories of Ybor City. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go there. All I’m saying is that in two and a half years of living here, everytime I’ve mentioned going to Ybor City, I’ve been asked, “Why, you wanna get shot?”. Take it for what it’s worth.
California Pizza Kitchen
This is pretty much the same as every other California Pizza Kitchen, but my friend Kevin works there. He would appreciate your generous tips.
Atlanta is very, very deep in the history department. From Sherman to MLK, there is a lot of character. In Tampa, well, there is a bunch of silicone. If you’re the “gentleman” of that definition, take a trip to Dale Mabry, where you can frequent one of roughly a million clubs of the adult variety. Some will claim to be world famous and some will have their own reality shows (NSFW). But, if what they say in the streets are true, most will be crawling with Yankees. The ones from New York. This is about as close to culture as you’re going to get down here.
Other things to keep you busy should the Cats not make it to Sunday
One of the first things I learned when I started my very first blog was how much people seem to hate baseball. I personally don’t get it. It’s the Great American Game. But, regardless, there are few things that are more fun than going to spring training and having a beer and a hot dog while enjoying some fine Florida weather. Spring Training is truly awesome and if you’ve never been, you need to check it out while you’re here. These are your weekend options in that area:
New York Yankees (Tampa)
Philadelphia Phillies (Clearwater, about 30 minutes away)
Toronto Blue Jays (Dunedin, about 45 minutes away)
Cincinnati Reds (Sarasota, about an hour away)
But, since you’re likely looking to find the beach while you’re dodging the not-so-warm tempatures of Kentucky, there are plenty of options. Here are all of them. I’m a big fan of Clearwater Beach because of the combination of sand and water, as well as female viewing and a whole bunch of beach bars and restaurants that are usually fun to bounce around. There is nearly no parking though, so good luck with that. However, my friends and I will be there looking to dominate you and your crew in either beach football or volleyball. Bring your “A” game.
Also, Kentuckians Montgomery Gentry will be playing in Orlando on Saturday night. I’m don’t know a whole bunch about them outside of “country”, but I accidentally insulted Eddie Montgomery back in my Hatworld days and have been trying to make it up to him every single day since. Consider this part of my apology.
Basically, what it comes down to, is that it’s going to a damn good time this weekend. The Cats, the sunshine and the feeling that you now know this town like someone who’s lived here for years (two to be exact) are a recipe for success. I’m welcoming you all with open arms to this fine metropolis and I can’t wait to see you in the morning. Like they say at our classiest establishments, “remember to tip your waitressess and bartenders”.