A medical clinic and surgery center that once served Ybor City's Cuban community has taken on a new life as a gay-oriented hotel and men's club.
The Ybor Resort & Spa opened last month on Eighth Avenue in the heart of the GaYbor District. Owners Vince Pawlowski and Fred Schwartz wanted to create a place where people visiting bars, restaurants and other gay businesses could stay for a weekend, a night or even a few hours.
While open to anyone, the hotel caters almost exclusively to gay men. Photos of butt-baring hot guys adorn the walls — and are available for $169 apiece. The second-floor club has a darkened maze room and other "intimacy zones.'' The courtyard boasts a kumquat tree and a 50-man hot tub, possibly the largest in Tampa.
If it sounds like a bathhouse, don't describe it that way to the owners. Technically, and according to the city, the Ybor Resort & Spa is a hotel and a men's health studio. Sex and nudity in public areas is not allowed.
Pawlowski and Schwartz bought the building last December for $557,000. They liked its rich history and saw the potential to turn it into an European-style boutique hotel.
The building dates to 1904, when it was a coffee warehouse and later the Trelles Clinic. Ybor City native Ferdie Pacheco, an author, artist and former physician to boxer Muhammad Ali, has great memories of the clinic and saw many surgeries performed there.
When approached about painting murals for the hotel, he said he enthusiastically agreed. But upon learning from a reporter that the hotel was gay-themed, he changed his mind.
"That's not good,'' he said this week from his home in Miami. "If it's gay, it's not me. I don't want to be associated with it. That's the end of that.''
The Resort hopes both the gay and straight communities will embrace it as another Ybor draw. The first three reservations came from Orlando.
"We wanted to attract out-of-town guests and give them a reason to come to Ybor,'' said Pawlowski, a personal injury and criminal lawyer whose office is in Ybor. "We hope it helps develop Ybor positively.''
Vince Pardo, head of the city's Ybor City Development Corp., said the Resort fills a need for more hotels and restores a historically noted building. He anticipated few problems if it's managed appropriately.
''They are very specific as to who their client base is,'' he said. "It may offend some people, but it's part of that culture.''
Guests have sinks in their rooms but communal showers and toilets, which are private. A hostel-style room has bunk beds for up to nine people.
Upstairs is the private men's club, which is open to hotel guests and members. (Even Mayor Pam Iorio passed up a peek when she recently toured the hotel, Pawlowski said.)
The club has about 200 lockers and 34 dressing cubicles, which are available for up to eight hours. There's a huge steam room with gang showers, a dry sauna and a dungeon-like former supplies closet with a small black hammock.
"We looked at this building and thought it would be perfect for what we wanted to do,'' said Pawlowski, who is gay. Previous owners "would be rolling around in their graves.''
Hotel rooms go for $69 a night during the summer. Annual club membership is free until Aug. 1 and $30 after that. Each visit is $10, or $20 for a dressing cubicle.