Following the daily lives of a lesbian friend group in the Tampa Bay area, “Tampa Baes,” which was released by Amazon Prime Video Nov. 5, has everything you might expect: power couples, romance, fleeting hookups, wild parties, heated rivalries, friendships that are more like family.
The eight-episode, unscripted reality series is so much more than the drama, though. The show also serves as an eye-catching travel guide for the region.
The show’s New York-based executive producer Melissa Bidwell, who grew up in West Palm Beach, hadn’t spent much time in Tampa Bay before filming for “Tampa Baes” began in the spring.
“So, I was excited to go down there. One, because I’m from New York and just to get out of the weather, right? Because we came down, I think, in March, like the end of March through June,” she said. “And I was really pleasantly surprised, not only with Tampa, but also with St. Petersburg and everything that area had to offer.”
While there were limitations on where they could film and visit because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there was still a lot to explore – both on and off screen – and the cast and crew had plenty of outdoor options for filming the series.
“Even though we filmed outdoors primarily, I feel like we really got a good taste and mix of what the area has to offer,” Bidwell said. “And I had no idea that St. Petersburg was so close to Tampa and how it’s really all just tied together. To me, it kind of felt like it was all one place, even though they’re two completely different cities.”
The show’s 12 cast members represent every corner of the Tampa Bay region, she added. A handful live in St. Petersburg, while others live in Tampa or just outside the city in Brandon, and others live in northern Pinellas County in Tarpon Springs.
Scouting Locations for Tampa Baes
While much of the filming took place at cast members’ homes, the “Tampa Baes” crew worked hard to identify central locations that captured the region’s distinct vibes.
“As far as, like, the look of the show, we really wanted to set it apart from Miami. I’ve done a ton of filming in Miami and it’s, you know, Miami. It’s full of neons and pink and you think more of South Beach,” Bidwell said. “Going into the show, we really wanted to try to give Tampa its own look and I think that’s what we did. You know, you see the water, you see nature, but it’s in a different way than you do in Miami. Miami is much more girls in bikinis and stuff. I feel like Tampa is more like…an everyday kind of place. You know, like where you could really go and see yourself living there, where Miami’s like vacation world, right? And we tried to feature as much of the beauty that’s there as possible.”
They created a long list of local businesses and destinations they might consider filming at – more than 200 places – that they whittled down to what is seen on the show.
Some locations were crossed off the list for various reasons – budgetary restrictions, COVID-19 precautions, bad timing or simply because the businesses weren’t aware of how successful “Tampa Baes” would be.
Let’s take a look at some of the restaurants, bars, shops and other destinations featured in season one of “Tampa Baes.”
Though in years past members of the cast frequented the Honey Pot in Ybor City, the LGBTQ+ club closed its doors during the pandemic. Since then, the White Lie on Seventh Avenue has become many of the cast members’ go-to bar.
“The lesbians have pretty much taken it over,” cast member Mel Posner said.
Bidwell added, “That’s like one of their favorite bars.”
This St. Petersburg icon was happy to open its doors to the “Tampa Baes,” Bidwell said. “It was great to film there. If we needed something last minute, they were cool with letting us go there.
She understands how disruptive a film crew can be to a business.
“We try to say we’re a small footprint, but no matter what, when you’re filming, you end up, you know, taking over…and Ferg’s was really, really great about it,” she said.
In addition to hanging out at the bar and playing pool, some of the girls also checked out the on-site St. Pete Axe & Ale axe throwing company.
Though not specifically a gay bar, this St. Petersburg destination, which doubles as an off-leash dog park, appeals to the LGBTQ+ crowd. This laidback full-service bar is a great spot to catch up with friends, take a date or sit back and watch the frolicking pups.
“I think every city needs a Dog Bar,” Posner said. “What’s not to love?”
It doesn’t get more Tampa Bay than this laidback beach bar. It was a great place to film, Bidwell said. The girls were able to easily move from the bar to nearby Sunset Beach.
Caddy’s owners and staff “were really good to us,” she added. “And once you know that something works and it’s good for the cast and production and parking and we can feed the crew and all of that, it’s good to know you can go back. We filmed there a couple of times.”
“Tampa Baes” wasn’t all about drama, drinking and partying. In one episode, some of the girls visited this Oldsmar destination. TreeUmph! features more than 100 challenging obstacles, including ziplines.
A key moment in the season’s finale was filmed at Picnic Island Park in Tampa.
Not only was it “really pretty,” it was less crowded than many of the area’s other beaches,” Bidwell said. “It was a really, really nice park that, literally, when I asked people about it, nobody had heard of it.”
She added, “I think it’s more meant for families, like, they’ve got volleyball and barbecue pits and you know, it can get a little buggy, depending on when you go and if it’s windy or not, but it was really nice.”
And with its ample parking, good bathrooms and many picnic tables, it made a great place to bring their crew for filming.
This downtown St. Petersburg waterfront park appeared in several scenes, including when several of the “Tampa Baes” went skateboarding.
Bidwell noted that the city’s parks department “Was great with turning around permits and everything.”
Mel and Cuppie grew their relationship and enjoyed a heart-to-heart conversation over lunch at this seafood restaurant. Located at the start of the new St. Pete Pier, it’s a great place to enjoy a bite or a drink in the heart of downtown.
Not only did this Ybor City nightclub host the cast’s local premiere party, it was also one of the filming locations. You might recognize it as the backdrop of a pivotal scene when all the drama between the two factions came to a head.
This Largo destination has it all – Florida’s largest laser tag arena, indoor batting cages, a massive arcade. Some of the Tampa Baes enjoy a fun outing here in one episode. Though only a small portion of their visit made the show’s final cut, the center welcomed the show with open arms, Bidwell said.
Right in the middle of one of the busiest parts of Central Avenue, this downtown St. Pete bar offers fun, high energy. It plays a prominent role in “Tampa Baes” after one of the girls is hired there mid-season.
Second Season Plans
Though a second season hasn’t been announced, yet, Bidwell hopes to have the opportunity to showcase even more of what the region has to offer both visitors and residents.
“I’m really proud of the show. I think that it shows Florida in a good way,” she said. “I’m hoping for a second season so we can keep exploring and get a chance to open up to even more locations and show even more of the area.”
At the top of her list for future filming locations are Sparkman Wharf and Armature Works.
She also hopes to better capture the spirit of Ybor City. COVID-19 restrictions prevented the girls from fully enjoying the Historic District.
“I’d love to have a season where there aren’t as many COVID restrictions. That would be awesome to just film them going through Ybor, bar hopping, and really be able to, you know, feature all that. Because in the show, you see that there’s this area called Ybor, but I don’t feel like you get the sense of how it’s kind of this, like, Bourbon Street type of feeling, when you’re there with all these balconies and bars and restaurants.”
Still, Bidwell is happy with the final result and has gotten a lot of positive feedback about how Tampa Bay – and its lesbian community – has been portrayed on the show.
“People that have watched the show have said that you don’t get the sense that it was filmed during COVID at all, which I think is really great, because that was something that we wanted to just be sure it didn’t you know, when it aired, people aren’t going to be reminded of that,” she said. “So, I think I’m happy with the way that turned out. It represents the area well.”