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Best Tampa/St. Petersburg Nightlife

AOL PICK from our Editors

Tampa Bay likes to party and there are a lot—a whole lot—of places that make a living providing the venue for dancing, drinking and lie swapping. There’s a selection of clubs for every predilection, whether its a tony modernista bar with dozens of top-shelf rums, a sexy meet and greet place, superheated straight-up salsa clubs or open-air joints lit by tiki torches that specialize in the three Bs (beach, beer and babes).

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino

Neighborhood: East Lake-Orient Park

Opened in 2004—and yes, it is owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which also owns the Hard Rock chain worldwide—this complex generates plenty of cash in the gambling halls, but many locals head straight for the nightclub, Floyd’s, which stays open until 6 AM on Fridays and Saturdays. Forget Bloody Marys for breakfast, have a pomegranate martini instead. It’s a pleasant place to meet and greet with a mix of residents and visitors, but unless you’re planning to combine it with some time in the casino, it wouldn’t be on our prime list for clubbing alone.

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Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino  

Club Prana

Neighborhood: Downtown St. Petersburg

This is a serious dancing zone. Whether you’re into hip-hop, rap or reggae, it’s going to be here. The main reason is because Club Prana offers five levels with each offering a different style and mood. Light shows and the sound systems are robust, while velvet couches accentuate the hardwood floors and brushed stainless steel décor. It’s posh and cool, and after a few cocktails you might opt to take the elevator instead of walking the stairs. The top level is the SkyBar with a great panorama of Tampa’s skyline. The third level is called the Sanctuary, which they bill as intended for VIPs. The rooms are pretty, the patrons are pretty (and pretty young) and there are nightly specials: Latin Nights on Saturdays, Lingerie Soirées (ladies wearing their unmentionables get in free) and Paradise Fridays (ladies get in free until 11:30PM—are you seeing a theme here?).

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Club Prana  

Caddy’s on the Beach

Neighborhood: Sunset Beach

Super packed on weekends, Caddy’s draws adults of all ages to groove on the live rock-and-roll music. The name gives away the fact it’s on the beach, and it’s an eye fest to watch volleyball games and passersby of varying shapes. It’s also a fine place to be as the sun disappears over the Gulf horizon (no pun intended). And no, tar balls have not shown up hereabouts. This is a good watering hole, serving up some passable munchies if you’re okay with killing your buzz.

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Caddy’s on the Beach  

Jackson’s Bistro

Neighborhood: Harbour Island

Harbour Island is part of the downtown Tampa district and its restaurant alone merits sampling. But it’s the nightclub that attracts a young crowd with its spicy presentation of 1980s and 1990s music on Fridays. Even with the heavy beat you retain a sense of being on a Caribbean island with the open-air, casual ambiance. Some of the best parties in town are thrown here, such as Pied Piper’s Annual Halloween Party and New Year’s Eve Celebration. The theme on Saturday nights pays tribute to South Beach with DJs spinning hip-twisting Latin sounds. The Bistro Bar features Top 40 music. Jackson’s Bistro seems to draw slightly higher profile customers than the Ybor clubs.

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Jackson’s Bistro  

The Castle

Neighborhood: Ybor City

Buckle your seatbelt, Dorothy, because you’re in Ybor City, not Kansas. In the Dungeon section that’s open for special occasions like Halloween or private parties, you’ll likely encounter a collar or two as you mosey about. This is the place of red leather love seats, spanking benches, stripper pole and other non-family-friendly devices. The Main Hall sports four video cameras, making it a haven for voyeurs. The bar spans 120 feet with hand-cut glass tiles. A small bar called the Red Room includes a kissing booth and your best chance to flash for free drinks. The Saloon is only slightly more tame with a jukebox and candles creating a whatever-goes atmosphere. Either leave the babysitter at home or take her with you.

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The Castle  

Club Skye

Neighborhood: Ybor City

We can’t leave Ybor quite yet. Club Sky is a two-story club with large dance floors, two DJ booths and eight bars. Lasers bounce off the sweaty bodies, painting the bobbing heads and stylish outfits. If you’ve got flash and cash, there’s a Champagne Room with private balcony and bathrooms. A nice touch is a patio featuring Tiki torches and lighted palms. Club Skye protocol entails not arriving early but also not showing up so late that you can’t get good seating.

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Club Skye  

The Venue

Neighborhood: Downtown St. Petersburg

Choose your medicine here with a martini bar, what they call a Mediterranean Deck bar, a champagne lounge, upper cabana deck, wine room, an Ultra Lounge, Club V and if they had a water fountain no doubt it would have a special name too. It’s all rather complicated as to what overlooks or adjoins what, but the food here is really good and you can check out the bars to decide which one you like best.

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The Venue  

Blue Martini

Neighborhood: West Shore

With other locations sprinkled about Florida as well as Las Vegas and Phoenix, the Blue Martini specializes in … guess what? If you’re bored with the standard shaken not stirred, try on a Skinny Bitch or maybe a Dirty Russian. The outdoor patio is a casual scene, the stage room is somewhat more highbrow and the expected VIP room offers privacy (although the whole notion of a VIP room seems oxymoronic—don’t you go to clubs to mix and mingle, otherwise you could stay home and get buzzed for a lot less). The Blue Martini is a fixture of Bay Street, a promenade that’s part of the ritzy International Plaza. If you can overlook the squadron of lounge lizards often present who seem intent on flashing their Rolexes, it’s a genuine lounge with uncommonly prompt service. Best night to visit is Sunday.

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Blue Martini  

Aja Channelside

Neighborhood: Channelside

Of the great shops, restaurants, boutiques and all else at Channelside, this club really shines. It’s sleek and sophisticated, a prime place to see and be seen. It’s two stories and nearly 12,000 square feet, and situated at the base of the Towers of Channelside. It gives off a solid New York vibe and while some might feel that’s not something they want in Tampa, most seem to agree that it’s a refreshing addition to the local club scene. With an open and clean design, you don’t feel overwhelmed whether with friends or business associates. The terrazzo floor is remarkable in all its Italian-imported glory and same for the pendant lights. Aja’s outside plaza caters to cigar puffers. 

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Aja Channelside  

Gators Café and Saloon

Neighborhood: Maderia Beach

Head to the beach and arrive at John’s Pass, which for the most part is stocked with unmemorable food and tacky bars designed to separate uninitiated visitors from the contents of their wallets. Gators can be festive unless you have a grudge against the University of Florida Gators. Obviously the owner doesn’t. Lots of skin to be seen with the bikini contests and its DJ music as well as pretty good live bands at times. Much of the night crowd consists of refugees from nearby hotels who didn’t get enough of a leering fix at the beach during the day. We’d go here more often, but we don’t like the Gators.

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Gators Café and Saloon  

Mirage

Neighborhood: Lake Leto

If that Caribbean beat and salsa get you in the mood, head to the Mirage. Their theme nights are decidedly Latin, although the DJs also spin hip-hop, Top 40 and reggae at times. If you’ve always wanted to salsa, sign up for lessons. Remember the joints in your hips are balls, meaning they’re supposed to rotate, and that Latin dancing is at least 50 percent attitude. We find our attitude is in much better adjustment after the second mojito. Besides, most of the other dancers will be so intent on checking out the booty on the guy/girl next to them they’ll never notice if you miss a step.

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Mirage  

MacDinton's Irish Pub & Restaurant

Neighborhood: South Tampa
In the SoHo section of Hyde Park, this might be the Irish pub least like an Irish pub, but at least the menu includes staples from the British Isle. The Shepherd’s Pie is pretty authentic and tasty. This is mainly a mid-20s crowd with plenty of whooping hoots, toasts raised in honor of whatever comes to mind and generally blitzed behavior—and maybe that’s why it’s so much fun. As long as you don’t come here looking for jacket-and-tie martini swirling, you’ll be properly adjusted. Go ahead and sink into a mind-numbing fog until you wonder where your nose went. Hey, isn’t imbibing something the Irish turned into an art form? Well then, this is their house, so do as they say.

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