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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Tequila will flow at Tampa Bay Margarita Festival

While most people use Memorial Day weekend to kick off the summer season with baseball games, beach escapes and firing up the grill, this year, it's also a good time to enjoy the perfect margarita. “Margaritas are a universal drink and they're so refreshing,” said Ferdian Jap, co-organizer of the Tampa Bay Margarita Festival. “There are beer and wine festivals, why not a margarita festival?” Yes, why not? Margaritas will be flowing at the inaugural Tampa Bay Margarita Festival Saturday at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
The festival will serve up more than a dozen varieties of margaritas, made with made with Sauza tequila, and some with Gran Marnier, festival sponsors. The event benefits Enactus, a student organization at the University of South Florida. There will also be beach volleyball court, custom-made piñatas, a fireworks display and live bands including Tribal Style, Riders of the Easy Posse, Southern Train and Daniel B. Marshall. But first and foremost, the festival is about celebrating the margarita. “(The margarita) is one of those cocktails that allow you to experiment with flavors,” added Jap. “While tequila, triple sec and lime juice are the basic ingredients, you can add what you like to get the flavor you're looking for.” Along with the traditional light green hue, visitors also will find fruitier concoctions ranging in color from orange to red to blue. Festival attendees can partake in more than 15 flavors of margarita including a Hibiscus Margarita, which contains dried hibiscus flowers, agave silver tequila and simple syrup; a Prickly Pear Margarita, with agave tequila, orange liqueur, limeade and prickly pear cactus puree or a special edition Red Bull Rita served with a Red Bull energy drink floater. There will even be a Classic Skinny Girl Margarita for anyone looking to cut a few calories. Each margarita will be handcrafted and served-up by professional bartenders in 12-ounce sizes; prices start at $6 per drink, with top-shelf margaritas selling for $8. There also will be beer and plenty of water at the event, as well as a variety of food trucks selling munchies all day. Most of the festival's margarita recipes come from its sponsors, Jap said, while others will come from the festival's Facebook page, where visitors were allow to vote for their favorite recipes. The Junior League of Tampa's Pomegranate Margarita, a Facebook favorite, made the festival's cut. It will be available at the festival along with the award-winning Junior League's cookbooks. Festival-goers willing to pay a little extra, can have access to the Gran Marnier VIP cantina, where they can enjoy endless top-shelf Gran Marnier margaritas, including a mango and jalapeno concoction and a watermelon creation, and all the chips, salsa and queso they can eat. They also can enjoy a taco happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. Organizers say they are expecting close to 4,000 margarita lovers at the event, but they are ready for 5,000. “We're over-preparing,” said Monica Varner, a festival co-organizer. “The last thing we want to do is run out of tequila or margaritas.” Varner said they are prepared too for over-indulgers. Zingo, a designated-driver business, and Mulligan shuttle will be on site to offer tipsy attendees a ride home. An on-site concierge will be set up to help make arrangements, and the Howard Johnson's next door will offer rooms for $79 for anyone attending the festival. “We have a responsibility plan in place because we don't want anyone getting behind the wheel after they drink,” Varner added. “We want everyone to have a good time and get home safely.” To that end, no one under 21 will be admitted into the event – no exceptions. And no pets, coolers or umbrellas will be allowed. Visitors can bring lawn chairs. Varner also offered another piece of advice. “Stay hydrated. And pace yourself. Please.”
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