Sunday, February 25, 2018

Tampa Bay Margarita Festival brings tequila, beach volleyball to Curtis Hixon Park

Why drive 30 minutes to the beach to recline on the sand and sip a cold cocktail when you can do it in downtown Tampa?

That's the question the organizers of the first Tampa Bay Margarita Festival are hoping you ask yourself this Saturday night.

"Usually during Memorial Day weekend, downtown Tampa is empty. Everyone leaves town," said Ferdian Jap of Big City Events, the organizer of the festival. "We thought we should do something about that."

To entice you, organizers brought 20 tons of sand to Curtis Hixon Park to create a fake beach overlooking the Hillsborough River, plus live music, fireworks, food trucks and bartenders serving more than 18 different margaritas.

"In between bands, we're going to be playing Jimmy Buffet music to keep the beach feel going," Jap laughed.

And these won't just be any margaritas, said Cristina Martin, owner of uDream Events, the festival's bartending company.

"We will not be using any sour mix," Martin said. "That's one of the things we wanted to make clear. We will be making only real classic margaritas at this festival."

Her staff of the 33 bartenders and staff have been trained about the proper ratios tequila, orange liqueur, agave nectar and fresh-squeezed lime juice in hopes of giving fans an authentic experience. The base maragaritas will be served frozen and on the rocks and flavored with fresh muddled fruit.

The dark horse for fan favorite: The Mango Jalepeno Margarita.

"There's just something about the combination of mango puree with the fresh muddled jalepeno and the salt on the rim," Martin said. "It's not too spicy; the mango sort of mellows it out but it has a kick."

Big City Events isn't worried about meeting demand of the already 3,000 tickets they've sold. They're prepared with 20,000 pounds of ice to serve more than 12,000 maragaritas Saturday. And to keep the crowd alive, 10,000 bottles of water will also be available for $1 a pop.

As a part of the beach theme, Big City events will also erect a sand volleyball court in the grass closest to Ashley Drive, Jap said. The city will leave the courts up for public use through July 31, said city spokeswoman Ali Glisson.

But Jap hopes the biggest draw of the night will be the drinks, from top-shelf margs to Bud Light Lime-a-Ritas.

Festival-goers can sample a wide range of products from sponsors and upgrade their own experiences by choosing their tequila and replacing the standard orange liqueur with Grand Marnier.

Seven food trucks will on hand to keep drinkers sated: Unforgettable Cupcakes, Tasty Stacy, Nate Paul's Q4U, Taco Bus, Burger Culture, Nico's Arepas, Whatever Pops and Wicked 'Wiches.

Martin said she think the festival will be a success in part because of the weekend's expected heat, which is supposed to top out at 90 degrees Saturday.

"When it's hot out, whether I'm at the beach or somewhere inland, the first thing i think about is a margarita on the rocks," she said. "I love this idea."

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