Best Of 2006

This quaint little park and fishing pier — off Interbay in Tampa, a little way past where it breaks off from Bayshore Boulevard — has long been a popular site for anglers trying to snag a lucky catch (or four) from Hillsborough Bay, but the park has also attracted the younger, playground-loving crowd and their watchful parents, and the soon-to-be lovers who parked in the lot facing the Bay to watch the sunrise over downtown Tampa or crept over to the gazebo or one of the covered picnic areas to make out in the moonlight. All poetry aside, Ballast Point Park was in need of a serious makeover. Plans were drawn last year, the work set in motion, and nine months and $400,000 later, the first part of the renovation project was presented at a May 20 unveiling hosted by Mayor Pam Iorio. Improvements included a realignment of the entry drive; expansion of the concession patio area; the addition of sidewalks, trash cans, benches and picnic tables; new playground equipment; a refurbished gazebo; and drainage and landscaping improvements. The second half of the makeover is set to occur in 2007, during which time the city will spend around $1 million to replace the wooden planks and concrete support beams of the 1,000-foot Ballast Point Pier.

Mahaffey Theatre (Photo by Alex Pickett)

When plans for the overhaul of Mahaffey Theater began, a study determined that the adjacent Bayfront Center was obsolete and the squat, hulking eyesore was demolished in December of 2004. Mahaffey’s much-anticipated $20-million facelift began several months later and continued to the theater’s May 14, 2006 ribbon cutting, which revealed a sleeker, more visually appealing structure designed by Clearwater architecture firm Aude, Shand & Williams. Aside from necessary maintenance and upgrades to the roof, wiring, air-conditioning and plumbing, renovations included adding 30 seats the theater, extra restrooms and concessions areas to the lobby, and making improvements to the ballroom-banquet-meeting area. The most marked change, however, is the expanded, multilevel lobby, a light and airy space with windows overlooking the sprawl of lawn where the Bayfront Center once stood, and running the length of the lobby almost all the way to its “signature component”: an elegant atrium with three-story glass windows that provide a spectacular view of Tampa Bay.

Conductor Robert Garcia (Photo by Valerie Troyano)

We’re all in favor of mass transit, but the Tampa streetcar has managed to remove “mass” from the equation. The beautifully constructed cars (some new, others vintage from the ’20s) run each day in a loop from downtown Tampa to Ybor City, moving the occasional tourist and few others. The line passes through Channelside and right by several large condo projects currently on the rise. More stops will be added once the construction wraps and the new downtown community takes shape. Until then — and maybe long after — go hog wild all by your lonesome. Hop a train for one at the Waterside Marriott and read a book, catch up on some journal writing, do your taxes — anything that requires fierce concentration. You can be sure no one will bother you. www.tecolinestreetcar.org.

Ever wonder where all the douche bags go on the weekends? Come quittin’ time on Friday afternoon, recovering frat boys and sorority girls (aka Tampa Bay’s newest crop of yuppies) flock to MacDinton’s for its “Crazy Happy Hour” from 6 to 8 p.m. The $10 all-you-can-drink event has ’em lining up in the streets to see and be seen. Once inside the gates, it’s crowded, it’s hot and dudes in polos are all out to get laid. Classy. It’s kinda like those parties you felt obligated to go to back when you were a freshman, before you realized how lame they were. If you’re into that sort of thing or you need a good dose of college nostalgia, MacDinton’s is the place to be.

If one frat party isn’t enough, you can catch the slightly tamer, less crowded version just down the street from MacDinton’s at the Dubliner Irish Pub. Of course, the Dubliner gets some spillover from its raucous neighbor, but it’s more like the cool upperclassman hangout that all the SoHo froshes haven’t yet discovered.

Run by the Tampa Port Authority, this 90-minute-or-so jaunt is an engaging eye-opener for those who may have wondered what the port looks like from the water (you have to have special clearance to get in via land), or for those who may have wondered: What the hell goes on there? You hop aboard a spacious boat at the Florida Aquarium called the Bay Spirit and take a route that hugs the coastline to the port, where over the course of several miles you can see huge industrial edifices, docks, ships and unloading equipment. What you won’t see are stevedores with hooks in their hands; dock work’s not about that anymore. SeaPort Adventure is a terrific way to get out on the water and see a side of Tampa that people don’t ordinarily get to experience. The tour runs Monday through Friday at 9:30 a.m. Outside the Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, Reservations required. Call 813-905-5131.

Every six weeks or so, when lead vocalist/composer Jason Nwagbaraocha isn’t on the road with The Toasters, reggae favorites [email protected] perform for their hopelessly devoted fanbase at this tiny Davis Islands pub. A few hundred people pass through on these nights, some dropping in for a quick reggae fix to go with their beers, others showing up early and staying until the last notes float away. Most take a few minutes to dance to the intoxicating, groovalicious beats, the band’s roots/dub/dancehall/ska/world-beat sound prompting all matter of booty shaking, hip swinging, clapping and good-natured shouting. A great way to close out a long workweek

Condos, of course. That’s what’s to become of the one-time bastion of boho in the ’burg, a run-down strip of storefronts that housed some of city’s most fiercely indie businesses, ranging from hip (Surreal Bowl, Daddy Kool) to archaically frumpy (Woodies Hatbox). For years, this little stretch was a place where folks with very little money and no inclination to join the official workforce could plunk down a bit of rent and try their hand at a dream. We’ll miss the spent vibe of the place, the meandering kids, the unhurried shopkeepers. And what to make of this condo project? The market has slowed; they’re talking about a glut. It’ll be an even bigger shame if developers mow the half-block down and just let it sit. At least they didn’t take the State Theatre.

Meridian is located in a strip mall near USF, and inside the only illumination is provided by a couple of black lights on the ceiling. Half-round, black velvet couches line the walls, providing little wombs of dark and smoke. The kids who run the joint know their hookah, confidently recommending flavors and mixes and getting your smoke going in less than 10 minutes. If you like the smoothness of an iced hookah, they’ll even hookah you up with that. On Thursdays, a live belly dancer snakes through the smoke to traditional Middle Eastern music, and on weekends a DJ plays an eclectic mix of slow-groove music. There’s no smoking regular cigs, but why bother when 10 bucks will get you all the sweet smoke you want. 11404 N. 56th. St., Suite 20, Temple Terrace, 813-569-7701. www.usdhookah.com

Every year, without fail, somebody in Tampa’s skateboarding scene sounds the alarm: Downtown Tampa’s “Bro Bowl,” named for its proximity to the Central Park Village public housing complex, is threatened by bulldozers. The rumor spreads to hangouts like Skate Park of Tampa, and concerned skaters notify CL writers. But after a few calls to city officials, we find out there are no plans to destroy the popular skating spot in Perry Harvey Sr. Park. The latest scare was no doubt prompted by the city’s plan to redevelop Central Park Village, but Tampa’s Parks and Recreation Department spokeswoman Linda Carlo confirmed no demolition is planned for the park; in fact, the city intends to beautify it with some public art. So it seems as long as “skaters never die,” neither will the bulldozer-defying Bro Bowl. Perry Harvey Sr. Park, 1200 N. Orange Ave., Tampa.