"Perfect weather, better company,'' predicted Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla Capt. Phil Carroll as his gang of 1,500 urban pirates, wives and dates stormed Ye Captain's Ball at the Tampa Yacht Club on Jan. 26.
He was dead on.
High noon two days later, on a glorious Gasparilla day, I set out on a Bayshore party stroll, crisscrossing the boulevard, darting between floats, popping into waterside corporate tents and visiting the landed gentry.
At that hour, the Merrymaker's tent was sparse, but I'm told they topped 500 before packing up and heading to the clubhouse to party even more.
I wandered on to check out the view from new homeowners Irene and Steve Stenzler's front porch. Superb! A few doors down, Byron Magbee whipped up a cauldron of jambalaya for the Hyde Park Men's Club and the Krewe of Bonney-Read congregating, as always, at Rodger and Joan King's house.
Two blocks away, at their heavily guarded brick mansion, Jill and Scott Kelley welcomed officers from 60 nations to their third Gasparilla Coalition Appreciation Party, including coalition chairman Brig. Gen. Jens Praestegaard of Denmark.
Scooting back to the waterfront, I noticed City Council members Harry Cohen, Mike Suarez and Lisa Montelione, plus attorney Jim Shimberg, fulfilling civic bead duties in the city's tent.
It was after 2:30 and the crowds were beyond belief when I reached "Tedsparilla" where hundreds smashed into Jeff Tedder's side yard. The surgeon went with a Mickey Mantle theme, mailing out 2,000 invitations saluting the New York Yankee known to drink as well as he hit home runs.
Bayshore newcomers Carmen and Harry Barkett love their new digs (former home of Don and Erika Wallace) so much that they protected it by entertaining 250 guests in tents across the street filled with face painters, photographers, Cuban food and a premium bar.
Not Betsy and Steve Chambers. They not only invited 1,000 beadmongers inside their gate, but after the parade, welcomed 70 members of the U.S. Naval Academy Band. They marched in to Anchors Aweigh, stowed their instruments in the garage and joined the dancing fray.
And there was Next Iron Chef 2011 winner Geoffrey Zakarian catching his first Gasparilla with his sister in-law Debra Williams and her husband, Gary McDaniel, at their stunning townhome.
But first, he whipped up a batch of the Mad Man Cosmopolitans that helped him win the Food Network's cook-off. (Also Gold Rush bourbon cocktails with honey and lemon.) A DJ pulled guests away from Mise en Place's party fare, including Sahlen's hot dogs from Buffalo topped with Weber's horseradish mustard.
Chef Zakarian, who owns two New York restaurants and one in Miami, chatted about: his cookbook sales (flying out of his Tampa warehouse), designing custom dining tables (made of reclaimed wood in Sri Lanka) and opening an eatery here, possibly with David Laxer of Bern's Steak House/SideBern's, "soon as I figure out what's not here."
For sure, "It will have a lounge,'' he said. "This is a serious party town."
Spoken like a true pirate.