Gasparilla, Tampa’s giant outdoor festival, would normally be rolling up on us about now. Since the early 20th century, Tampa residents have rejoiced as their fair city is taken over by Spanish pirate José Gaspar and his motley crew of buccaneers, with the Mayor of Tampa handing over the key to the city as the rum flows and the beads fly.
There’s lots of eating, drinking, and making merry at Gasparilla — and for members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, it starts with a traditional Gasparilla brunch at the Tampa Yacht & Country Club . The Club hosts the pirates as they don their makeup and regalia and prepare to board the marauding ship. The crew feasts on crispy fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs, while washing it down with a cool, creamy milk punch or a spicy Bloody Mary.
Gasparilla is kind of like Mardi Gras — without the Catholicism, says Andy Huse, author of From Saloons To Steak Houses: A History Of Tampa. As legend has it, José Gaspar was an ex-officer of the Spanish Navy, of noble birth, who terrorized the Florida Gulf Coast back in the late 1700s/early 1800s. When he died, the story goes, he left a treasure buried somewhere along the coast, which has yet to be found.
Huse says the festival started out at the turn of the 20th century as a sedate musical program, but to beef up attendance, organizers decided to spice things up a bit with a pirate invasion. The party has since escalated dramatically, and is now one of the largest outdoor festivals in the country, with elaborately costumed pirates arriving by boat, taking over the city and celebrating their victory in a Parade of Pirates down Bayshore Avenue.
Gasparilla Pirate Fest, and also the Children’s Gasparailla festival, usually fall in January, but the Covid-19 pandemic caused organizers to push back the celebration to later in the year. The 2021 Children’s Gasparilla is now scheduled for Saturday, April 10th; the 2021 Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest is now Saturday, April 17th; and a Gasparilla Outbound Voyage party set for May 14th.