Dustin Hughes loves a challenge. Once, his co-workers dared him to eat nothing but ice cream for a week. He made it to Thursday before caving in.
So when another friend challenged him to have a drink at every bar in Tampa, he turned to Google to see if it might be possible. How many bars could there be? Hundreds? Thousands? How long would it take to visit them all?
That's when Hughes came across tbt*'s 2009 Ultimate Bar Guide. The one in which we ranked the 100 best bars and nightclubs in Tampa Bay, top to bottom.
In May, Hughes, 29, a business analyst from Land O'Lakes, started visiting every bar on tbt*'s list. He talks to bartenders, posts updates on Facebook and keeps extensive spreadsheets detailing his travels. This week, he and his wife, Katie, crossed off their 51st bar, Taps Wine and Beer Merchants in downtown Tampa.
"We were joking about it the other day — we don't feel like we talk like normal people anymore. We sit around in our house, and our conversations are like, 'Which four bars can we go to this weekend?' " Hughes said, laughing. "But this is really a good way for us to see friends we don't see very often. Everybody wants to come out and say they went to some of them with you."
We couldn't be more delighted by Hughes' quest. We love nothing more than coming up with new ways to show people a good time.
So this year, for tbt*'s fifth annual Ultimate Bar Guide, rather than simply updating last year's list of 100, we decided to introduce a new element: When to go.
For example, you may know Tuesdays are legendary at Hyde Park Cafe — but does anyone know why? How did the region's hottest weekly blues jam end up on Monday at the Green Iguana in South Tampa? Why is there a line around the block for Pulp the Party each Wednesday at Czar in Ybor City?
From Mondays at the Castle to Sundays at Shephard's Beach Resort, we've picked out the best weekly parties at some of Tampa Bay's hottest bars. We've also rounded up some of Tampa Bay's top ladies nights, music nights, Latin nights and hospitality nights. In all, this issue spotlights more than 50 of our favorite bars and clubs, as well as the best nights to visit them. Every night of the week is represented, so no matter when you hit the town, you're guaranteed to find a kickass party.
(And by the way, if we left your bar out of this year's guide, it's nothing personal — many bars from last year's Top 100 are not included here. It doesn't mean we don't love them. You can read the full list at tbt.com, or to find a great bar in your neighborhood, check out our extensive bars database at tampabay.com/things-to-do. Don't see your favorite watering hole listed? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll see what we can do.)
We'd also like to take this opportunity to introduce tbt*'s new bar correspondent, Justin Grant. A DJ, craft beer enthusiast and all-around late-night adventurer, Justin knows a thing or two about weekly club parties, having cofounded the party known as Filth on Wednesdays in St. Pete (Page 36). His weekly bar reviews kick off with a visit to the Independent in Seminole Heights on Page 66.
As for Hughes? His "100 bars" experiment has shown him and Katie how many new and cool nightlife spots are out there in Tampa Bay, provided you get out there and look.
"In Tampa, people don't want to cross the bridge, and I kind of fell into that trap — if you're going out to bars, you don't necessarily want to be two hours from home," Hughes said. "But I would have never gone to, like, Peg's Cantina in Gulfport if I wasn't doing this. That's a bar that me and my wife both love now. We'd definitely go out of our way to go back."
Hughes plans to hit his 100th bar on his 30th birthday, Dec. 12. To mark the occasion, he'll rent a limo with friends and go someplace new.