There are many ways to describe Ybor City. Like the Mural shows, the neighborhood is a melting pot for the lover of history, food, fashion, Art Aficionados, roosters, or the occasional Night owl. As a historic district northeast of downtown Tampa, Ybor (pronounced “EE-bore”) is one of Tampa’s most celebrated neighborhoods that offers visitors a connection to the past to explore and experience a fascinating period in Tampa’s history and to appreciate the cultural diversity that is “The Cigar City” legacy.
While strolling down historic 7th Avenue watching others sipping fancy coffee at a sidewalk café or shopping for vintage clothing in eclectic shoppes featuring fancy hats and dresses of all types, with jewelry and unique walking canes to compliment your wardrobe; to staying late for the entertainment and nightclub scene, spending a day in Ybor City is like going back in time. With it’s swaying palm trees and by-gone era architecture, it easy to think you are on a island 90 miles south of Key West and forget that you are even in the Tampa Bay area. The history will sneak up on you as you smoke cigars on shaded patio and sip mojitos while watching time slip away as the wild rooster crow in the distance.
Starting your day in Ybor City is not complete without the famous good morning hello crows from the Ybor Roosters. These birds are protected because the city of Tampa is a sanctuary city for bird, so the ones you hear with a cock-a-doodle-doo are direct descendants of the chickens who lived in the backyards of the neighborhood’s residents over 100 years ago.
If the American cigar has a mecca, it is found in Ybor City. In the 1880s, it was a melting pot of immigrants from Cuba, Spain, Germany and Italy and home to some of the world’s most famous cigar factories. Ybor City is named for the Spanish-born cigar manufacturer, Vicente Martínez Ybor. He relocated his business from Cuba to Tampa and created a small company town where the residents made their living from cigar making. Ultimately, it became the Cigar Capital of the World until the 1930s.
The seven-block area of 7th Avenue contains one of the higher concentration of cigar stores in the country. It is here that the Chinchales, a Cuban term for small factories, sell their hand rolled cigars and have a wide variety from mild to strong cigars. Many of the stores offer the nationally distributed brands that smokers are familiar with, but visitors should not pass up the chance to try cigars they might never find back home.
Also in this historic setting, shopping opportunities are plentiful. Fashion cycles never stop and neither does the selection at La France. It’s a must see for any shopper who appreciates racks of true archival vintage clothing that are a delight for the eyes and the reproductions are thoughtfully curated to suit modern bodies. Allow yourself some time to take it all in. Wonderful selection of new “old” and vintage clothing and hats for women and men alike. Even if you don’t intend to buy anything stop in and browse.
End your day at a Tampa landmark and Florida’s oldest Spanish restaurant, The Columbia Restaurant. It began as a place for Cuban coffee and sandwiches for the factory workers, and more than 100 years later, features award-winning Spanish cuisine for lunch and dinner in an authentic atmosphere. The Columbia Restaurant Dance Troupe performs flamenco shows nightly (except Sundays). Their mastery of the classic Spanish dance is complete with colorful costumes and castanets.
The restaurant gift shop features cookbooks, foods, Spanish ceramics and, of course, cigars. A cornerstone of Ybor’s Latin Quarter, The Columbia Restaurant is owned and operated by the fourth and fifth generation of the founding family. Reservations are recommended and for more information, go to their website columbiarestaurant.com