To me, the “north of Gandy, south of Kennedy, between the two bays” bubble of urban Tampa has long been a point in local vernacular to roll my eyes and sigh. How passé.
I’m an urbanophile…a smug Ybor City socialite with chickens for pets. I’m progressive!
The Palma Ceia area, near where I grew up, is old money. Where families cyclically reproduce and attend church every Sunday. It is conservative and resistant to change (good or bad), while remaining highly desirable, thanks to ample tree cover, charming small and large old homes built with a mix of architectural style, and a healthy retail and restaurant scene.
My parents bought in the early 90s, near Hyde Park Village, and sold in 2005, at the top of the market, making a killing. Our lives revolved mostly around the bubble, but they’d had it with the uppity South Tampa crowd. Like me, they appreciate texture, and grit. They stunned many people by moving to Ybor City, one of Tampa’s historically rowdy, minority-dominated neighborhoods.
Despite my disinterest in now living more than a mile away from the urban core, most of my services (dry-cleaning) and favored necessities (classy wine bar) still sit in this yuppie zone. Since dog-sitting quite a bit, I’ve grown to love the area again. Ever so briefly, I have considered what it would be like to live there as an adult.
This post was inspired by CASS Contemporary, a gallery I visited on behalf of The Gasparilla Festival of the Arts. Carved out of a forgettable exterior across from the Salvation Army store is a vast, all-white and bare concrete exhibition space dedicated to modern works that feel more like Melrose Boulevard than South MacDill Avenue. Immediate crush…!
They, the space and its married couple owners, are just a block from Datz and Dough, two relative newcomers that have generated more foot traffic and activity, along with Wisteria antiques, The Royal Tea Room, and Byblos mediterranean. Cru Cellars, my go-to wine spot, is two blocks north. I’ve written before about how much I like the cellar, with its jet-set interior and friendly atmosphere.
Restaurant BT, a underrated French-Vietnamese restaurant is across from Cru.
Other heralded, consistent eateries round out the neighborhood: Pane Rustica, Pinky’s Diner, Cappy’s…
The only thing there is more of in Palma Ceia than restaurants is day-spas. ALL WE WANT IS MORE SALONS!
But really, shown geographically, you can see why people desire real estate in greater Palma Ceia. It’s close to everything by car, and though the pedestrian infrastructure is still lacking (who walks anyway?), there is plenty within walking distance. Parking isn’t usually a problem, though some homeowners have taken to posting a “5-minute parking, city code” sign in their lawns. For your reference, there is no way to enforce that, and the city will not tow based on public parking on a public street, because of an ordinance.
For yuppie hipster urbanites who want the neighborhood without the maintenance-heavy bungalow style of 1920, there are modern multifamily too: One of my favorite condos is on Barcelona, the townhouse is on Empedrado.
Evidence of other trends shows here too: Swami, a cold-pressed juicery, opened shop in a former floral boutique behind Byblos. Try the Bush Doctor for your basic green juice, or the Purps if you want a healthy bloody mary mixer.
And Trader Joe’s, of New York, Seattle, and Austin fame, finally plopped down at Swann Avenue and Dale Mabry, near The Fresh Market and just south of Whole Foods, two of my favorite places to hemorrhage money.
Look just across the border to Hyde Park Village, and you’ll find a host of newish stores that you won’t find elsewhere: The Pink Petticoat, Juxtapose Apparel & Studio, West Elm, Brooks Brothers, Anthropologie, and lululemon athletica. Of course, my favorite new South Tampa store is a standalone boutique, right behind Bella’s on Howard Avenue at Mississippi Street. London Philips carries brands we’ve lacked for a long time in Tampa, like Gant Rugger and Jack Spade.
Soon, the first high-rise to be constructed along Bayshore Boulevard in many years will take shape at the corner of Bay to Bay, on a prime mulched parking lot frequented by runners. Aquatica (dumb name, generic office look) will be quality over quantity (hopefully anyway), and further solidify the ‘skyline’ of the area.
All this is to say, it ain’t a bad place to settle. Not that anyone needed a reason.