Welcome to college. And more importantly, welcome to Tampa Bay.
If you're an incoming student at the University of South Florida or another school, you might not be familiar with all of our area's landmarks, its hotspots, its fun and unique features. Even if you're a returning student, you might be inclined to stick close to campus — with a brand-new $65 million dorm, USF is attempting to ditch its commuter-school rep by encouraging more students to live on campus. That makes it all the more important to make your off-campus ventures really count.
We've surveyed the scene. Some of us are even USF grads. And we've come up with a list of the 25 places that every local college student should know. Bars, restaurants, shops and cool things to do — tack this list to your mini-fridge and watch the next four years fly by.
— Dalia Colon, Susan Thurston and Jay Cridlin
International Boba House and Internet Cafe
This place has a lot going on. It's got video games and board games, student artwork on display and open-mic night on Fridays. But the real attractions are the blended fruit drinks and milk teas with boba. If you've been to a big city lately, you've probably heard of it. The Taiwanese drink, often called bubble tea, contains round tapioca balls made from cassava root. You eat the black gummy balls as you stuck through a wide straw. Imagine a drink you chew. The cafe mixes the boba with a virtually endless menu of fruit smoothies. Customers get free wireless Internet. 2764 University Square Drive, Tampa; (813) 866-8569.
Five Star Pizza
It's the witching hour, and you're jonesing for something that isn't ramen. Thank goodness Five Star delivers every night until 4 a.m., which makes it especially popular during finals week. The joint serves full pizza only; no single slices. Students usually go for the Bulls Feast: a 16-inch, two-topping pie with garlic rolls and a 2-liter of soda for $14.99. Your USF ID earns you a nice discount — 25 percent — and there's a $1.50 delivery fee to campus. 10926 N 56th St., Tampa, (813) 899-9700.
Trang Viet Cuisine
Stop in for white-tablecloth dining at a fast food price. The $6.50 lunch special comes with a large plate of food, soup and a spring roll or dumplings. And vegetarians will flip over the four pages of meatless and vegan options. To boot, the second Saturday of each month there's a $14 vegan buffet. Closed Sundays. 1524 E Fowler Ave. Tampa, (813) 979-1464.
Mema's Alaskan Tacos
Anything with the word Alaska in it sounds pretty refreshing about now. Combine it with tacos, and it's so brain-twisting that crazy college kids are bound to love it. And they do. This Ybor City restaurant packs in hungry students after the bars close. It's open until 3 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 1 a.m. the rest of the week. 1724 E Eighth Ave., Tampa; (813) 242-8226.
Are you a sensitive young person who enjoys listening to other sensitive young persons play acoustic guitars and sing sensitive songs? Then Sacred Grounds was designed just for you, our sensitive friend. Seriously, though, Sacred Grounds been a cozy finals-week getaway for USF students for more than a dozen years, and some first-rate musicians play there. St. Pete songstress Geri X., who tours the country and has a nationally released CD, used to perform just about every week. A perfect place to sit, sip and enjoy a no-stress scene. 4819 E Busch Blvd., Tampa; (813) 983-0837, sacredgroundstampa.com.
Mauricio Faedo's Bakery
It's 3 a.m., and you're driving back to campus after a night in Ybor. You need something in your belly. But don't settle for gas-station taquitos. Swing by this 24/7 bakery (closed only from noon Saturday to 3 a.m. Sunday) for a $2 loaf of Cuban bread and some guava pastries. Stop by during the day, too; we're told the goods are freshest from noon to 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. 5150 N Florida Ave., Tampa, (813) 237-2377.
Whether you feel like shooting pool, throwing darts, dancing to a live deejay or just grubbing on the patio, Peabody's is your spot. With more than 120 TVs, it's also a fun place to watch USF football games and Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts. Tuesdays are all-you-can-eat wings all day for $4.99. Wednesdays mean $1 drafts, $1 wells and $1 slices of pizza. Ages 21 and up after 9 p.m. Ladies always get in free. Guys pay $5 to enter the club on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Open nightly until 3 a.m. 15333 Amberly Drive, Tampa, (813) 972-1725, peabodysbilliards.com.
University of Tampa officials have battled The Retreat for years, claiming the bar targets thirsty college students. The bar's response: "Yeah, so what?" The 71-year-old bar has had many names over the years, but it's always remained a convenient drinking destination for UT students for its cornhole, darts, signature drinks (try the Pink Elephant) and generous specials, as well as its fearless approach to selling hooch. When the school tried to persuade the city of Tampa to strip The Retreat of its liquor license, the bar argued it should be covered by a grandfather clause allowing any bar that sold liquor in 1945 to continue to do so ... and won, thanks to a 64-year-old photo that showed exactly that. Bluto Blutarsky would be proud. 123 S Hyde Park Ave., Tampa. (813) 254-2014; retreattampa.com.
The place gets hoppin' on Thursdays for Nickel Beer Night; $6 cover. It's also a popular hangout for watching USF football and Rays baseball games. And any night of the week, enjoy more a dozen pool and beer pong tables, a dance floor and live deejay. Ages 18 and up. Get 25 percent off your pool tab with a student or military ID No cover on Wednesdays and Sundays; it's usually around $5 on other nights. 1251 E Fowler Ave., Tampa, (813) 975-0402, bullsclubbilliards.com.
The Tavern at Bayboro
Adjacent to USF's growing St. Pete campus, the Tavern at Bayboro has been a mainstay for more than a quarter century, but it's hardly stuck in the Reagan era. The bar offers free wireless Internet and a quality menu of brews, sandwiches, salads and veggie dishes, and is a favorite of students and faculty alike. "This is a great place to hang out with your professors and talk shop with them," said bartender Matthew Parke, who's worked there for four years. "We definitely have a closer vibe here with the faculty than I had at my old school, the University of Florida. This is the type of place where you can have a typical college scene." 121 Seventh Ave. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 821-1418, tavernatbayboro.com.
Pinellas college students have several fun hip theme-night, discount-drink options at downtown St. Pete bars — i.e., Hard Times (Mondays) at Durty Nelly's, Filth (Wednesdays) at the Emerald. Bishop Tavern has several busy nights, including a ladies' night on Thursdays (ladies drink free until midnight) and $1 drafts on Wednesdays. But its Tuesday college night specials are worth checking out: $1.50 domestics, $3 drinks, $9 Long Island Iced Tea pitchers, and a free shot with your college ID. Plus, there's beer pong ... always, always beer pong. 260 First Ave. N, St. Petersburg; (727) 822-2027, thebishoptavern.com.
We'll go out on a limb here and say that a lot of college students drink beer. For those actually old enough to buy it, we offer up Beverage Castle as the king of beer. Oh, wait. Isn't that Budweiser? At any rate, the Beverage Castle sells about every kind of beer imaginable, including kegs and party balls. And it's convenient. The drive-through allows you to buy beer without getting out of your car. 11730 N 56th St., Tampa; (813) 985-0455.
Mojo Books and Music
If Borders and Best Buy are a bit too commercial for your tastes, then check out this indie shop for used — and some new — books, music and DVDs. Books and vinyl, mostly collectibles, classics and hard-to-find titles, are the main draw. The store buys items for cash or a store credit, which gets you more. It doesn't sell textbooks but buys them for cash or credit. So imagine selling last semester's psych book for a Velvet Underground vinyl! 2558 E Fowler Ave., Tampa; (813) 971-9717; mojotampa.com.
Dillard's clearance center
Granted, University Mall isn't the shopping mecca it used to be. But Dillard's clearance store makes it worth a visit. Most of the merchandise is 70 percent off the original prices, if not more. For all the English majors, that translates to cheap. The store has a big selection of party dresses for anyone shopping for a sorority formal or a special night out. 12270 University Mall Court, Tampa; (813) 977-8080.
No college guide would be complete without a head shop — or should we say, a retail establishment for buying fine tobacco and smoking accessories. We've found it with G-Spot, which sells everything from rolling papers to hookahs. Word to the wise: Don't say the word "bong'' anywhere in or around the premises. It's a water pipe, dude. 5025 E Fowler Ave., Tampa; (813) 899-2832.
Make a list of everything you'll need for your dorm room or apartment, then be amazed at how many items you can cross off here. The mammoth store is a mecca for affordable bookcases, futons, lamps and kitchen gadgets. After shopping, grab a plate of cheap Swedish meatballs in the cafeteria. 1103 N 22nd St., Tampa, (813) 623-5454, ikea.com.
You see, kids, back in the days before iTunes and Rhapsody, there used to be these things called "records," which were "pressed" on something called "vinyl," and … oh, who are we kidding. You might not actually buy any music at Bananas Music, the world's largest dealer (you heard us) of used records. But it's definitely worth a visit, just to browse through the imposing stacks of vinyl. Some of those old $1 records make for cool dorm décor — that copy of Springsteen's Born to Run would look great tacked above your futon. 2226 16th Ave N, St. Petersburg; (727) 327-4616, musicfinder.com.
Green Shift Music and Comics
Anyone not into playing music or reading comics probably doesn't know about this place. But they should. The site on the gritty fringe of Seminole Heights has been a music shop since the 1950s. Marilyn Manson breezed through years ago when he was with the Spooky Kids. The Bellamy Brothers, and now their grandkids, are considered loyal customers. The store sells everything you'd need to start a band, from the guitars to the amps, and it repairs equipment. Its comic collection includes back copies of old favorites and current favorites, from X-Men to Batman's Blackest Night series. 5226 N Nebraska Ave., Tampa; (813) 238-4177.
Because not everyone is a trust-fund baby, there are Salvation Army thrift stores. The one near USF has an above-average selection of cheap furniture, books, clothing, housewares and electronics, all arranged more neatly than you might expect. You won't mistake it for a department store, but the prices won't have you calling daddy for more money — quite as often. 13901 N Nebraska Ave., Tampa; closed Sundays; (813) 866-7299.
There are bigger music venues in Tampa Bay (the Ritz Ybor, Jannus Landing) and venues that book bigger acts (the State Theatre). But Crowbar offers a ton of 18-and-up shows by hip artists (A-Trak, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Dr. Dog, Nightmare of You) and cool theme nights (karaoke on Mondays, the DJ-centric All Good Tuesdays, open-mic hip-hop on Wednesdays). Even without the live music, the bar and its most excellent outdoor patio alone are worth a visit. 1812 17th St. N, Ybor City; (813) 241-8600, crowbarlive.com.
St. Pete Shuffle
If you're new to Florida, you might think shuffleboard is an old-fogey's sport. Not so at St. Pete Shuffle, which for four years has drawn dozens of young folks to the historic St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club (you might recognize it from the movie Cocoon) on Friday nights for a night of indie music, drinks (bring your own) and shuffleboard. The New York Times and Washington Post have both written about it. Heck, forget college students — this is something everyone in Tampa Bay should know about. 7 to 11 p.m. Friday nights, 559 Mirror Lake Drive, St. Petersburg. stpeteshuffle.com.
La Place shopping center
It doesn't look like much from the street. A drab, old strip center begging for some bushes, recognizable for its slanted roof. But what's impressive is its tenant lineup: The Brass Mug, Wooden Nickel, Kaleisia tea house, Chopstix, Ho Ho Choy and Hometown Newsstand. Have a need for a good or service, and you can probably find it La Place. For live punk and metal shows, don't miss the Mug. For Halloween costumes and sexually charged novelty items, there's the Wooden Nickel. Two of Tampa's best Chinese restaurants, Chopstix and Ho Ho Choy, dish up Asian fare in a hurry — and Chopstix delivers to campus. Kaleisia, which is a blend of the words "kaleidoscope" and "Asia," features 150 varieties of tea, plus smoothies, vegetarian food and pastries. Hometown Newsstand has cigars and magazines galore, including an unusual collection of back issues of Mother Earth News. The center has practical stuff, as well, like USF Textbooks for Less, a nail salon and florist. Bring your student ID cards because some of the businesses offer discounts. And check for hours: Kaleisia is closed on Tuesdays; Chopstix on Wednesdays. 1441 E Fletcher Ave., Tampa.
Tampa's best cinema for arthouse movies also happens to be its best cinema, period. The historic (built in 1926) and exquisitely decorated theater hosts classic films, indies and docs, plus a few themed events (wine tastings, fashion shows) and concerts (Ray LaMontagne, Ani DiFranco, Old Crow Medicine Show). No student discounts, but once you take a date there, you'll know where that extra cash went. 711 N Franklin St., Tampa; (813) 274-8286, tampatheatre.org.
USF Recycling Center
Apartment dwellers who don't have curbside recycling need not cry in their No. 1 plastic bottles. The university has recycling bins for newspaper, plastic, glass and aluminum. So go ahead and throw a party, guilt-free. Just remember, if you can, to recycle the beer bottles and cans afterward. The 24-hour site, which is open to the public, is along Sycamore Drive, off Elm Drive and 50th Street, behind the USF Sun Dome.
Lettuce Lake Park/USF Riverfront Park
Take a mini-vacation along LLP's serene boardwalk — ideal for a quiet place to study or a picnic date. 6920 E Fletcher Ave., Tampa, (813) 987-6204, hillsboroughcounty.org. At nearby USF Riverfront Park, show your USF ID to rent canoes, disc golf equipment and more. 6200 E Fletcher Ave., Tampa, (813) 974-5557, usf.edu/camprec/outdoor.
Contributing: Wade Tatangelo, Julie Garisto, Laura Reiley.