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Lunch with Circus Folk: Showtown USA in Gibsonton Florida

July 5th, 2011 by Fitz, Travel Adventures & Places, 0 Comments

Did you know there’s a small town in the USA where most of the circus and carnival folk live? It’s the only town in the country with “residential show business” zoning that permits normal homeowners to keep elephants on their property and work on ferris wheels in their front yards. And nestled in this town is a singular bar, Showtown USA, which is its social mecca.

Scanning the pages of the wonderful Atlas Obsucra I was looking for something interesting to see on my way from Captiva to Tallahassee. Located about 20 miles South of Tampa the Showtown bar was right on my path so off I went. But I have a confession:

When I arrived I was very hesitant to actually go in.

The bar was a lot more run down that the pictures I’d seen, the one man going in looked very, very blue collar, and I suddenly wondered if I’d be welcomed inside. Did I want to be THAT guy who goes over to a midget and asks to take their picture for a blog posting (Showtown was a know gathering spot for all manner of circus freaks)? It seemed unlikely the patrons would appreciate my presence.

Boy was I wrong. Cowardly and wrong.

Fortunately, I knew I was being a wuss and steeled myself to go in and at least have lunch. I hadn’t been seated for five minutes when a avuncular man approached my table, sat down, and asked me if I was interested in the circus. In the following hour and a half I was introduced to several other circus/carnival folk who where all extremely inviting and very happy to tell me all about their craft. I met a lady who trains wolves, a man who designs ferris wheels, a carnival art painter, and several others. One lady gave me a DVD of an award-winning documentary she’d worked on about Gibsonton: Gibtown (which I watched it later and it was excellent). I was even given an invitation to drive to the freaks graveyard and to see carnival rides under construction (which I sadly had to decline as I didn’t have the time). All in all it was a fantastic time.

The Showtown bar has seen better days. It’s faded facade is a perfect metaphor for the decline of the circus and carnival industry as a whole. But I was very taken with the folks I met who are still carrying the torch. They were very proud and passionate about their trade and made me feel very welcome in their little slice of America.

Showtown USA Bar & Restaurant
10902 US Highway 41 South
Gibsonton, FL 33534
(813) 677-5443

Open Daily 7am-3am

Gibtown Clip

Here’s a clip of the Gibtown movie mentioned above. It’s not on Netflix and I don’t think they’re selling it yet but keep it on your “to watch” list as it’s interesting and worth your viewing time.