Guavaween: Tampa’s Freak Show

Guavaween

By JP Chartier

The 29th Guavaween in Ybor City (just outside Tampa, Florida) took place this past weekend, it was a new slimmed-down version of the notoriously wild street party of years past. I think back to the 80’s when this event would pull in 100,000 insanely drunk and raucous revelers, and Ybor City’s main drag, 7th Avenue would be shoulder to shoulder craziness!

It was quite common to witness the following while attending  Guavaween of past years: drunkiness, people letting loose, people having fun, drunkiness, fist-fights, dressed-up people walking around drinking alcohol, doing drugs, drunkiness, rudeness, naked people, pocket pickers, great Halloween costumes, people urinating, people puking, people passed-out, rude Halloween costumes & oh yeah, drunkiness.

Times have changed… sort of.

There is still drunkiness of course, it’s just contained now. I witnessed no fights, no robberies or anything else that would land anyone in jail while I was there. I did witness a lot of dressed-up folks having fun and dancing to the ear-splitting music, crammed together in a large yard and in the 4-story Cuban Club building, also on site. 

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Muggings, fights and other generally obnoxious behavior made the event too dangerous in recent years and the business owners in Ybor City started complaining and demanded something be done. So the street party was drastically down-sized and confined within the walls of the historic Cuban Club in Ybor City, as it was back in the 70’s.

This year’s event was billed as “Guavaween: VooDoo Carnival,” and my best guess is that it was attended by about 10,000 people. It took place at the Cuban Club and on its grounds, a block-sized, fenced-in area outside the Club building.

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This was a party make no doubt about that, however I didn’t witness any fights, no open drug abuse, no rude and offensive costumes, some nudity, and no robberies or pick pocketing. Police were everywhere keeping the sanity.

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The festivities weren’t just outside though, inside the Cuban Club itself is where the freakiness took place. On the ground floor, innocently enough, there was a dance party pulsing and throbbing to the beats of a DJ, complete with a giant glowing head shooting laser beams throughout the crowd. 

But, a walk up to the 2nd and 3rd floors revealed an old time two-story cuban theatre with a stage and seating. It was packed, and I soon found out why, there was a burlesque and strip show taking place! The women stripped down to pasties and g-strings while dancing and performing tricks with skulls and swords and the such. Can’t say I expected to see this at a Halloween party though!

Guavaween History

Back in the early 1970’s, many artists lived in and around the Ybor City area, they started throwing a Halloween Party every year in an old, closed cigar factory, and every year it continued to grow until it became known as the “Artists and Writers Ball,” and was moved to the much larger Cuban Club.

The celebration became wildly popular and quickly out grew the cigar factory, so it was moved outside, a few blocks down to 7th Avenue in the heart of Ybor City. 

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7th Avenue-The whole street for blocks would be shut down and people filled every spot back in the hey days

Tampa’s nickname “The Big Guava,” was given to the city back in the 70’s by popular newspaper columnist Steve Otto, and soon was contorted to the name Guavaween, and given to the yearly celebration. And for over 20 years it grew until more than 100,000 people would attend every year.

Old Guavaween
Guavaween of years past – 100,000 strong!

Guavaween 2014

There were street performers, fire swallowers, belly dancers and other party related stunts moving about the crowd. There was a costume contest that paid $1000 to the winner, and at midnight they played the Rocky Horror Picture Show on the large screen outside. 

The crowd grew so thick and suffocating, and the lines at the bars were were so long that we decided to leave before the costume contest even took place. Sorry, I don’t enjoy rubbing into sweaty drunk people adorned with oozing make-up and swinging god knows what from their hands and bodies and spilling their drinks all over passer-bys. It got to the point that you couldn’t even move! At a much younger age, this wouldn’t have been a problem, in fact, it would have been a plus, but those days are long gone my friends – thank god. 

I’ll leave you with a few pictures from the celebration that was Gauvaween 2014

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“Eddie” from Iron Maiden jumps out at me with sword in hand

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So there you have it, Guavaween 2014, Tampa’s own freak show! Hope you enjoyed it.

Tell me, are you lucky enough to have gone to Guavaween back in the roaring 80’s or 90’s? If you did, please share your experience with everyone in the comments section below!

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JP Twitter Pic2Hi my name is JP Chartier and I write for Gutter Pup Adventures.com where you can expect to read well-written and entertaining articles about the people and places that often get overlooked at many popular vacation destinations around the world. You will also find articles on camping, hiking, kayaking and several other popular vacation activities here too.

My goal is to seek out the hidden ‘gems’ for you and bring them alive through my writing and photographs, so your next trip or vacation will be a much more rewarding and fulfilling experience.

 

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10 Comments

    • I think I’ve outgrown it too 🙂 but it was an experience. Tampa’s called “Big Guava” because a popular news reporter there back in the 70’s said Tampa deserved a ‘great’ name just like NY, Ny is called the “Big Apple” so he started calling Tampa “Big Guava.” The name is in reference to businessman Gavino Gutierrez’s unsuccessful quest for wild guava trees which was vital to Tampa’s growth and development.

  1. Well, that does look like fun (although I am not a huge fan of some of the real scary outfits, haha). I’ve read a little bit about Tampa itself, though and I have to say it doesn’t sound too bad.

  2. Cool event. While I would not want to go every year, it’s definitely an event you need to check out at least once in your lifetime!!!

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