Perhaps the most important swing state for Republicans is Florida. In Florida, candidates must win the I-4 corridor – the dividing line between the Democratic south and the Republican north. Along the I-4 corridor, Tampa remains vital. Here are a few of the hottest political restaurants, and some pastoral escapes from the RNC hubbub.
West Tampa Sandwich Shop
In Tampa, Republicans and Democrats are nearly even – with West Tampa among key swing neighborhoods. There, the decidedly old school West Tampa Sandwich Shop reigns supreme, with every inch of wall space covered with pictures of locals and politicians paying homage. They also make what's considered the best Cuban sandwich in town.
The Cuban restaurant on Columbus Drive has hosted John Kerry, Mitt Romney, Charlie Crist, Crist's 2006 Democratic opponent Jim Davis, and many others. The barstool counter room with open kitchen is especially popular at breakfast, and makes for a fine photo backdrop.
Bare brick walls. Hipster art. Enough organic ingredients to start a farmers market. Café Hey is considered a liberal enclave. Located just outside downtown in a quiet section of Franklin Street.
Known globally for its steaks and world-class wine cellar, Bern's is the glorious flagship of Tampa restaurants. Companies are launched in the cozy, baroque booths and private rooms. Put this at the top of your list for peeping celebrities and politicos during RNC week.
The Palm in Tampa is a satellite location of the politically super-charged Palm chain – with its mother ship in Washington where just about every President since Nixon has eaten. For RNC week, the Palm's Executive Director from the Washington location, Tommy Jacomo, will stay in Tampa and station himself at the front door here to greet the most powerful of D.C.'s political elite, most of whom he knows by first name. They can also shop at the adjacent Westshore Plaza mall.
In the political world, where there are steaks and expense accounts, there will be lobbyists and politicians munching and deal making. The Capital Grille in D.C. is one of the nation's premiere political hubs, parked right on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol building and the White House. In Tampa, the Capital Grille sits at the entrance of this town's sparkling venue – International Plaza mall. Perhaps you'll see a politico strolling from the Grille to the Louis Vuitton or Mont Blanc store for a bit of shopping.
Malio Iavarone presides as a singular icon among steakhouse proprietors of Tampa. His former location on Dale Mabry Highway was the place to be for politicians and athletes. Now his new location in the Rivergate Tower downtown takes on that role, with many booths and tables already marked to reserve space for football players, politicians, developers and celebrities.
When the roar of the crowd and the glare of the TV lights becomes just too much, here are a few pastoral escapes around downtown to relax, perhaps get some munchies and log into free WiFi.
Kahwa Coffee has opened two beautiful locations downtown, each relatively quiet enough for a few minutes escape. The first is in the Rivergate Tower at Kennedy Boulevard and Ashley Drive.. Wondrously high ceilings, a fine photography museum in the balconies above, funky nooks for privacy and very well-made coffee. Free WiFi, too. Another location opened in the corner of the Element building at Tampa and Polk streets.
Ballast Point Park
A quiet escape from downtown on the water at the base of Bayshore Boulevard. This small park under the wide oak trees has a long pier with a wide view of the broader Tampa Bay. The towers of downtown glimmer in the distance, and silence abounds. A small café restaurant sells sandwiches and drinks. Check out the sign honoring Jules Verne, who in 1865 set "Tampa Town" as the launch site in his novel, "From the Earth to the Moon." Thus, we shake our fist at Cape Canaveral for stealing our rockets!
Perhaps the best waterfront view near the airport. Aqua is the inhouse restaurant of the Westin Tampa Bay hotel, and could stand on its own as a high-end seafood restaurant, with extensive menu and oyster selections from around the world. Ask to see the rooftop deck, which has a stunning 360-degree view of Tampa Bay.