Prepare yourself. I’m about to talk about really good beer. And food. Ready?

(Notebook featuring special guest appearance by my gracious hostess and good friend Jess)

“How’s Florida?” My friend in LA asked me last night as I was driving home from dinner.


And it is! But beyond that sarcastic response, my visit to Tampa has been nothing short of epic. Yesterday included Taco Bus, a dive bar, cool architecture, great weather, amazing beer, old friends, and new people. Jess sure does know how to show a lady around.

It also wouldn’t be a true visit with Jess if I actually left when I said I was going to. Rather than making my way to Orlando last night, I’m still here. Sitting on Jess’s couch. I’ll be leaving shortly with a cooler full of beer but for now I’m content to sit here a little longer, f’ing around on the internet.

I have to say, Tampa surprised me. I’ve never spent much time in this part of Florida. There have been trips up and down both coasts, more than enough visits to Orlando, a visit or two to Gainesville and Tallahassee, but never really Tampa. I’ve been to Busch Gardens a couple of times as a kid. Went to a Devil Rays game once. That’s mostly it.

So I didn’t know what to expect when I got here. However, once Jess laid out what she had in mind for the day I knew we were in for something good.

First we made a stop at Taco Bus for lunch. It’s a bus, literally, that’s been built into a restaurant. You walk up, order at the bus window, and then sit & eat outside. It looked like it maybe had a full inside area too, but what’s the fun in that?

So Taco Bus. Mexican Street food for the cheap, open 24/7. They have veggie food! They’re vegan friendly! The food is seriously delicious! I tried the Butternut Squash Tostado and, um, YUM. It was light and delicious and fresh. A little sweet. I really liked it combo’d with the spicy salsa.

They also have that meat stuff for the folks that like the meat stuff.

After Taco Bus we wandered over to Downtown Tampa. We passed by the Tampa Theater which looks amazing. It’s a movie palace that was built in 1926 and has been maintained as a historic landmark. We didn’t get to go inside but even the outside is special – elaborate tiling and ceiling and box office. They now show specialty films, classics, they have a whole program for the holidays, they do tours… it’s pretty cool. On a longer visit I’d love to catch a film there, take a tour.

Next door to the Tampa Theater is the dive bar The Hub. It’s a dive bar & package store known for strong drinks, live music, and a good atmosphere. There’s good music on the jukebox and an eclectic variety of liquor to choose from. I suspect that if you can imagine it, The Hub can make it happen.

After a visit there, we needed a minute to walk off our Jack & Cokes. So we went over to Bayshore Blvd, a drive that runs for about four miles along the bay. The homes along the drive are huge and a variety of architectural styles can be found. Jess and I had fun taking pictures, finding gargoyles, comparing styles we liked, and chasing bees.

Once the whiskey had settled it was time for our next stop. Cigar City Brewing.

Okay, wow. Can we say awesome? I’ve been able to sample quite a range of local and craft beers on this trip. I just have to say, Cigar City is one of my new favorites. I was able to try five of their beers, starting with the sampler of four and finishing with the Tocobaga, generously purchased by our new friend Sean (with the Irish spelling). Lighter than the others I tried, it was still delicious, a little sweet, nice to drink. And did I mention strong? 7.4% I believe. You can’t really tell to taste it, but it’s there.

In the taster I tried the Jai Alai IPA, the Maduro Brown, the Cubano Espresso, and the Bolita Double Brown.

The IPA I enjoyed quite a bit and ended up leaving with a six-pack. The Maduro was probably my least favorite of the bunch but it’s still a really nice beer. It’s a bit heavier than a Newcastle, I kept feeling like I wanted to be chewing on it (in a good way!). The Cubano Espresso smelled AMAZING. I could have sat there with my nose in the glass inhaling the scent of espresso all day. I mean, if there hadn’t been beer to be drinking. I think it was possibly my favorite of the day. I would have taken some of that home as well but this one they only had to go in the growlers and I don’t really know how well that would travel and for how long. Certainly not all the way back to LA.

So I settled for a bottle of the Bolita Double Brown. Another Brown Ale, this one isn’t an all night beer. It’s perfect for a glass or two when you want something warm and tasty, a hint of chocolate even. My favorite kind of drinking for winter time.

After we said goodbye to our new friends and were about to head out, I decided I really wanted some pictures of the brewery. So I asked if I could take some, the guy in the back said sure, and then even obliged us with a tour of the facility. It was rad! We got to see the equipment they use, take a peak at a new collaboration they’re working on, be impressed by how much they accomplish in a pretty small space.

Everyone at Cigar City was awesome, from bartender to other patrons to guys in the back. The tasting room is a really nice little set up where you sit at the single bar, list of beers currently on tap before you, and are encouraged to talk to everyone around you. There was a nice mix of regulars and tourists and everyone was friendly and full of conversation. Plus, they know their beer.

I’ll definitely be back whenever I come to Tampa.

After beer I left Jess for a bit to meet my friend April and her husband Rob for dinner at The Bungalow in south Tampa. Company was great, food was really good, service was kind of lame. Which was a bummer after coming from Cigar City. But seriously, if you go there, get the Yucca Fries. OMG good. They were warm and yummy and fried to perfecting. Soft inside, crispy out. They were worth the trip alone.

I finished the night off visiting with another friend in St. Pete and then coming back to hang out with Jess & friends. We watched Ugly Americans (um, weird? which is something coming from me, a girl who knows her weird TV shows), Top Gear, some Futurama. That sort of thing. I must have been exceptionally tired or something because I was having a really hard time concentrating on anything for more than five minutes. Who knows, maybe it was the beer.

Tampa is cool. It’s a nice city with an interesting number of things going on. There’s music to found, film, arts, a variety of neighborhoods. I couldn’t help but notice the mix of normal, everyday people visiting Taco Bus. This isn’t your white-washed, generic hipster home. This is a city with real bite to it. You can look around and find something new and different. I appreciate that.

It was a really great day, with great friends, delicious food, and tasty beverages. All what this trip is about.

Now I should really probably get off of this couch and get myself over to Orlando. More fun times to come!