Tampa is famous for its annual pirate invasion and parade Gasparilla. Unfortunately for many visitors, Gasparilla only comes around once a year. Luckily, if you missed this year’s annual celebration, or you just like to experience the fun of Gasparilla all year long, you can enter the lair of the infamous pirate Gaspar himself at Gaspar’s Grotto.
The dream of a retired sea captain, the philosophy of this bar holds three things sacred: everything Gasparilla, cigars and Ybor City. Ybor City is Tampa’s historic neighborhood and the location of Gaspar’s Grotto. In the early 1800s, Ybor City was founded by the cigar industry and quickly became the cigar capital of the world for a time. So if you’re looking for a spot to learn about Tampa history, smoke cigars and party like a pirate, you’ve found the right place.
It's Gasparilla all year long at Gaspar's Grotto! — Photo courtesy of Gaspar's Grotto
The bar is huge and separated into three distinct entertainment areas: the Grotto, the Galley and the Sandbar, two of them open-air and each with its own entertainment and drink specials going on. And there is always something going on at Gaspar’s, with events held every night of the week. There are spot contests, too. At any moment, you could be spinning the wheel for free bar tab or getting caught up in a dance contest.
The food is good. With the pirate kitchen presided over by Chef Hook, how could it not be? A favorite is Tampa’s official sandwich, the Cuban; theirs won as Best Cuban Sandwich in Florida in the 2012 Cuban Sandwich Festival. Gaspar’s is also well known for its wings menu, featuring the “Davy Jones Ghost of a Chance” wing made with, you guessed it, ghost peppers. If you can eat 12, you get a free t-shirt and pitcher of beer.
Gaspar's Chef Hook turns out pretty good grub, like this award-winning Cuban sandwich — Photo courtesy of Gaspar's Grotto
Sundays are special at Gaspar’s, too. From 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., a buffet brunch is served, complete with full breakfast and lunch, an omelet station and carving station. But perhaps more importantly, brunch also includes unlimited mimosas and a Bloody Mary bar. You can enjoy all this, and live music, for the very reasonable price of $31.95.
The great part is the fun doesn’t have to stop when you leave Gaspar’s. If your tab is over $100, you will be entered in a drawing to choose 24 participants for their $10,000 Treasure Hunt. Winners, or their representatives, will have a chance to dig through a big sand pit to find $10,000 in gold and silver coins.
Even better, if your tab is over $100, 10% goes to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, as does any gold and silver coins not claimed. The dig is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015 – so hurry in. Time is running out.
While you’re there, be sure to tip your hat or raise a drink to Gaspar’s most famous resident, the well-loved bar cat, Tanker Ray.