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10 ways to hang around and enjoy the RNC hoopla

You could flee, of course. Get out of town, hole up at Aunt Shirley’s house in Ocala for the week.

That would be the easy way out when the Republican National Convention rolls in to town next week.

But that wouldn’t be the fun way now, would it?

In a fit of temporary insanity, we are fully endorsing the idea of sticking around, pounding your chest and cannon-balling yourself into the dizzying RNC fray!

First tip: Embrace the madness. There will be some 50,000 visitors here. Which means traffic. And miscommunication. And probably lots and lots of tears. But there will also be Kid Rock. And Jon Stewart. And, if we’re all lucky, Cindy Crawford. There will be zany delegates from all over the U.S. who came here to P-A-R-T-Y. There will also be protesters who, in between the harrumphs, will probably be doing a whole lot of hearty partying, as well.

So, with a full degree of carpe diem, we present 10 hot spots for celebrity-watching and beer-raising, rabblerousing and gadflying during RNC week. (Parking? You’re on your own.) We take you from just outside the RNC security zone to St. Pete Beach’s Postcard Inn, where you can party with the Alaska delegation.

Getting down with the Last Frontier! Who’s in? I know we are.



1. Channelside Bay Plaza: Some 20 RNC-related parties (read: you're not invited) have reportedly been booked for Howl at the Moon, Stump's Supper Club, Splitsville and the myriad joints at Tampa's downtown nightlife hub. MSNBC will set up shop there, too, including the set of Chris Matthews' Hardball. This could also be the prime spot for a Sarah Palin sighting — her political action committee reportedly has reserved space at the plaza. Channelside is so close to the Tampa Bay Times Forum and all the primo political action — plus it's just outside of the Secret Service security zone — aren't you tempted to stick your head in the lion's mouth? Of course you are! Try to grab an outdoor table at Hooters and get a front-row seat for the hullabaloo. [615 Channelside Drive, Tampa; (813) 223-4250]

2. Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa: The Hard Rock will be slammed all week, but we're zeroing in on one key night. On Monday, Lee "God Bless the U.S.A." Greenwood plays the Hard Rock Cafe ($30 at ticketmaster.com if still available). It's a slightly odd booking for the straitlaced star and his right-wing fan base, but hey, the weirder the better we always say. Plus who knows who you'll be wedged next to at the blackjack table. Nice double down, Chuck Norris! [5223 Orient Road, Tampa; (813) 627-7625]

3. The S.H. Kress and Co. Building (and, when all else fails, the Hub!): Some $660,000 has reportedly been spent for party-specific renovations to the old S.H. Kress, F.W. Woolworth and J.J. Newberry buildings, with 600 to 800 party people expected to show up for four consecutive nights of revelry. Who's throwing the bashes? That's all hush-hush, although the former chief of staff for House Speaker John Boehner did file the papers for the event. Regardless, you're not getting in. Where to go after you gawk and take pics from the sidewalk? Why, the nearby Hub of course, which Playboy magazine called one of the great dive bars in America. It's so dark and smoky (and awesome) in there, that guy in the corner eating nachos really could be Clint Eastwood. [Kress Building, 811 N Franklin St., Tampa; the Hub, 719 N Franklin St., Tampa, (813) 229-1553]

4. Straz Center for the Performing Arts: The Straz will be hosting Comedy Central's The Daily Show for four episodes to be taped Tuesday through Friday. At press time, the guest list for each night had not been released, but you know Jon Stewart will be there. So here's the deal: Because the back of the building is up against the Hillsborough River, tour buses carrying talent often unload at the front of the building on N MacInnes Place. The Daily Show tapings begin at 6 p.m. Seating for ticketholders is 4:30 p.m. Best guess is that celebrity guests will arrive an hour or two before taping. Bring a Sharpie, something to sign and money for the parking garage. [The Straz, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa; (813) 229-7827]

5. Liberty Plaza: The good news is there's killer live music planned for RNC 2012, especially at the makeshift Liberty Plaza in downtown Tampa, a concert space magically arising from the parking lot on the corner of Morgan and Whiting streets. Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd, above left (Sunday), country badonkadonker Trace Adkins, top right (Tuesday) and lovable bad boy Kid Rock, bottom right (Wednesday) will all be reeling and rocking. The bad news? You're not getting in to these shindigs either, pal. However, they will be very LOUD shows, so we suggest hanging at a nearby bar. Gilligan's Hideaway has an outdoor patio with 10 tables and will be open to everyone all week long. Maybe you can hear from there! Of course, navigating that close to the Tampa Bay Times Forum is going to be like Escape From New York, but you knew that already, right? [Liberty Plaza, 180 S Morgan St., Tampa; Gilligan's, 202 N Morgan St., Tampa, (813) 301-9050]

6. International Plaza: Our bastion of pricey togs and sparkly tchotchkes is going to be a buzzing hive of big-spending bees. You can cruise around the mall itself looking for veeps, but once the sun sets, the hottest action will be in the Bay Street area, specifically Blue Martini. Next-door hangout Bar Louie shouts "cast and crew of The Daily Show." And wait times at the Cheesecake Factory will test the space-time continuum. Order the Thai Lettuce Wraps and share them with the guy with the uncanny resemblance to … Tom Selleck! Eeeeeee! [2223 N West Shore Blvd., Tampa; (813) 342-3790]

7. Ybor City: The Latin Quarter is an obvious magnet for mayhem, especially Wednesday and Thursday, when the focus really shifts to downtown Tampa. Times staff writer Jay Cridlin always has his finger on the pulse of Ybor, so here's his take: "I think the Columbia Restaurant, Tampa Bay Brewing Company (pictured above) and Gaspar's Grotto might be the most LIKELY locations to see a celebrity or big shot." He also suggests Club Skye (a hip-hop club) and the Castle (a goth club). Powerbrokers love to fire up a quality cigar and Ybor City can certainly provide choice stogies by the box. [Columbia, 2117 E Seventh Ave., (813) 248-4961; Tampa Bay Brewing Company, 1600 E Eighth Ave., (813) 247-1422; Gaspar's Grotto, 1805 E Seventh Ave., (813) 200-7731; Club Skye, 1509 E Eighth Ave., (813) 247-6606; the Castle, 2004 N 16th St., (813) 247-7547]

8. The Vinoy and the Don CeSar: Ah yes, much calmer over in Pinellas County. But don't let the lack of imposing Secret Service barriers fool you. There's a party goin' on right here, too. It's just more mellow. Let's start at our two designated "VIP hotels." Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a big fan of the Vinoy, and once, while visiting there, threw the ol' pigskin around with his son in Vinoy Park. Could he be staying here? The Don CeSar also has "presidential suites," and is, arguably, the most opulent lodging we have to offer in Tampa Bay. Both hotels will be buzzing with mucketies and such, so access will be tight. But there's always the public beach around the Don, or you could buy a drink on the Veranda at the Vinoy. (Vinoy, 501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg, (727) 894-1000; Don CeSar, 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach, (727) 360-1881]

9. Beach Drive and Central Avenue: The RNC doesn't officially start until Monday, but there's a major to-do at Tropicana Field on Sunday for media and delegates. I'll tell Brokaw you said hi! St. Pete will be packed after that soiree, especially the main thoroughfares of Central Avenue (check out Crowley's Downtown Irish bar and the posher Mandarin Hide) and Beach Drive (try modern trattoria BellaBrava and pretty-people gathering spot Tryst Gastro Lounge). Cassis American Brasserie has a private party booked. The gridlock that night will be ferocious, so if you want to avoid traffic (um, relatively), park further up Central and take the trolley downtown. [Crowley's Downtown, 269 Central Ave., (727) 821-1111; Mandarin Hide, 231 Central Ave., (727) 231-4007; BellaBrava, 204 Beach Drive NE, (727) 895-5515; Cassis American Brasserie, 170 Beach Drive NE, (727) 827-2927; Tryst Gastro Lounge, 240 Beach Drive NE, (727) 821-4567; St. Pete Trolley, (727) 821-5166]

10. The Beaches: Clearwater Beach has 10 delegations staying there. But we've zoomed in on one particular stretch of shore in St. Pete Beach that has the bizarro makings of a beach blanket bonanza! Listen to this lineup: Alaska is at the Postcard Inn, California is at the Tradewinds and New Jersey at the Sirata. Boom, boom, boom! We love that crew! Not sure how tight security will be in the hotels, so we say pack your a towel and a cooler and join the party on the sandy side of things. Or try the Postcard Inn Beach Bar (pictured above), which will be open from 5 p.m. to midnight Monday through Aug. 30. [Postcard Inn, 6300 Gulf Blvd., 1-800-875-2347; TradeWinds Resort, 6000 Gulf Blvd., (727) 360-5551; Sirata Beach Resort, 5300 Gulf Blvd., (727) 363-5100]

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@tampabay.com. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter. Times staff writers Ernest Hooper, Rick Danielson and Jay Cridlin contributed to this report.

10 ways to hang around and enjoy the RNC hoopla 08/22/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 10:49am]

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