Ybor City is often likened to New Orleans’ French Quarter due to its venerable two-storey buildings faced with every type of brick, as well as its freewheeling spirit; unlike Louisiana’s Mardi Gras, however, Guavaween fuses music with American Halloween. The festival salutes the commercial boom in the 1880s ignited by a guava tree entrepreneur and architect, Gavino Gutierrez. Although he failed to find guavas in Tampa, he persuaded his friend, Don Vincente Martinez-Ybor, to relocate his prosperous cigar making business there, thus transforming a sandy rural town into a thriving metropolis. Guavaween began in the 1970s as a parade where floats carried “Mama Guava” and other public figures through the streets, while the drunken, costumed public stumbled alongside. The event has evolved into an international music festival, hosting 20,000 revelers in 2011.
Last year, I brought my children to the “Family Fun Fest” portion of Guavaween, which lasts from 9 am to 3 pm. Traditional Halloween trick-or-treating, story time and a costume contest in the Centro Ybor building entertained kids of all ages. The atmosphere was safe and fun.
At the “adult” portion of Guavaween beginning at 3 pm, I joined masqueraders crowding 7th Avenue and dancing to music that poured out of surrounding bars. The euphoria was irresistible. In 2012, a pub crawl will spotlight live bands, both local and national, in many of these venues. The costume contest, held on a stage erected for the event (usually on the south side of 7th Avenue and 18th Street), ends the formal activities around 3 am, but only begins the night for many. This year, drinking will be prohibited in the street to minimize the wild behavior that has tarnished Guavaween’s reputation. Along with street drinking, the cover charge for general attendance has been scrapped this year, which is great news to many.
The surrounding Tampa and St. Petersburg neighborhoods offer more traditional entertainment such as fine art museums, Busch Gardens amusement park and plenty of historical sites. Flights to Tampa are frequent and non-stop from many major North American cities and hotels in Tampa cater to the needs of tourists.
Guavaween, and Ybor City in general, is not for the intolerant or introverted. On the contrary, it is the best place to travel for the veteran party-goer. On a regular Sunday stroll, I have shared the sidewalk with a drag queen promoting a club, motorcycle gang members lingering outside a bar, white collar investment types puffing on hand-rolled cigars, high school girls dressed in cocktail attire, Goth couples preparing for a concert and homeless men asking for change. It’s a lively scene that makes for ideal people watching, all set against a background of hookah bars and tattoo parlors. Guavaween celebrates this diverse, brilliant cultural neighborhood and keeps an extraordinary tradition alive.
When to Go to Guavaween Ybor City
Many believe that Guavaween will not continue in its current street party format much longer. In fact, 2012 marks the first year that a parade will not be the centerpiece of the festivities, creating much controversy among businesses and community members. Therefore, the sooner you attend Guavaween, the more likely you are to experience the atmosphere that has made it famous.
Odds n' Ends
This is an adult party and is best attended with a companion.
Although the general cover charge has been eliminated this year, some music venues may require a cover fee.
Registration for the costume contest is recommended in advance, although participants can register before 9 pm at the event itself.
A little more than half of the party-goers wear costumes, so don’t be afraid to go in regular clothes, as well.
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