Apolitical Guide to the Political Conventions

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Steak at Bern’s Steak House (1208 S. Howard Ave.), which also has a dessert room.

Tampa and Charlotte are hardly hotspots for Hollywood, but at least the world-class wines, concerts and afterparties will add even more spice to both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. already-heated political fare.


Charlotte, N.C. (Sept. 3-6)

Who's Going: Industry associations range from film (Ashley Judd, Thora Birch and Mai Lassiter, wife of James, Will Smith's producing partner) to TV (Glee director Paris Barclay and The Bold and the Beautiful producer Colleen Bell) to business, including Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon. If these attendees are looking for TV time -- and who isn't these days? -- they'd be wise to stake out a spot by the California sign.

Who's Playing: The MTV Video Music Awards are happening in L.A. the same week as the Democratic convention, but planners still managed to book rapper Common and Jermaine Dupri to DJ the RIAA benefit Sept. 4. The Creative Coalition has The B-52's headlining its Sept. 5 shindig, hosted by concert-chair L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. And Grammy-nominated rapper Flo Rida will perform at a Sept. 5 concert for veterans groups Got Your 6 and The Mission Continues.

Where to Nosh: When The Hunger Games was filming in town, Amelie's French Bakery was a hotspot for castmembers like Woody Harrelson. Penguin Drive-In (1921 Commonwealth Ave.), a frills-free spot, is a fave of Just Go With It's Brooklyn Decker. "It has delicious, greasy food," she says, "and is a landmark." Up the street from the site of the president's nomination-acceptance speech, Halcyon is equal parts Southern and swank. Homeland's Claire Danes has dined on its farm-fresh fare, and Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and DNC CEO Steve Kerrigan come for a fix of local flavor.

Where's the Fun: You might need to look at nonconvention Charlotte, like CNN's Morgan, who will "attend my first-ever rodeo. I did some bullfighting in Spain once; I need to get back in the saddle." For parties, go to big events to find out where the afterparties are. (Or rent the Ritz-Carlton's Presidential Suite and throw your own.) With buzz growing for Flo Rida's show, it has high aftershow potential -- and could throw the crowd into a swing state.


Tampa, Fla. (Aug. 27-30)

Who's Going: Delegates include reality and food TV stars such as The Bachelor's Andrew Firestone and Out to Eat's Cliff Young and top bundlers like Koch Industries' David Koch, not to mention Rudy Giuliani. Plus Clint Eastwood, Adam Sandler and Jessica Simpson might join those milling around the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Who's Playing: Lynyrd Skynyrd will perform Aug. 26, Kid Rock on Aug. 29 and Journey on Aug. 30 at downtown's Liberty Plaza. The unlikely Wyclef Jean, replacing the recently arrested Randy Travis, will rap at Glazer Children's Museum for Got Your 6, a nonpartisan military group. Blues Traveler and Gregg Allman & Friends will jam at the Ritz Ybor. Gavin DeGraw headlines the Presidential Convention Charity Benefit on Aug. 28. The Busch Gardens acrobats and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders will open the convention Aug. 26 at Tropicana Field.

Where to Nosh: CNN producer Emily Rust says her photojournalist father, David (both are covering the convention), will be "taking me to Columbia Restaurant (2117 E. 7th Ave.), a famous Spanish restaurant with flamenco shows." For a drink, there's Paris Hilton party fave Jackson's Bistro. And Bern's Steak House has the world's largest wine cellar and a secret VIP entrance; Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is a fan of its dry-aged beef.

Where to Stay: The restored Floridan Palace (905 N. Florida Ave.), where Elvis Presley and Gary Cooper slept, is housing much of Team MSNBC, which includes the network's convention co-anchors, Hardball's Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, as well as The Last Word's Lawrence O'Donnell.

Where's the Fun: When not discussing the Constitution over cocktails at a Citizens United documentary fest (Aug. 27-29), do like Piers Morgan and go canoeing in the "alligator-infested mangroves of Hillsborough River." He jokes, "It will sharpen me up for the primetime interviews I'm doing throughout the convention."

-- Jon Palmer Claridge, Sara Crosland, Tina Daunt & Paul Bond