The day after New Year’s day, I had an opportunity to explore one of Tampa’s urban legends – Historic Ybor City. In the late 1880’s, Vicente Ybor immigrated there and began making cigars. Ybor City was the site of a number of large and successful cigar factories for many years. The factories attracted and employed thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba, Spain and Italy. It is said that during the next 50 years or so, Ybor City’s factories produced millions of hand-rolled cigars each year. Then, it began to decline, and by the time of the Great Depression, it became one of those many areas of decay and neglect that are found in so many great American cities.
From 1880 – 1930, Ybor City’s factories produced millions of hand-rolled cigars each year
More recently, the area has begun to rebound and has been transformed into a night club and entertainment district. The neighborhood has ben designated as a National Historic Landmark District, and some of the structures – which date back to the cigar “heyday,” have been designated as National Register structures. There is a cable car which runs the length of 8th street, which borders the north part of the district. 7th Avenue is the main drag, and we were impressed with the sheer number of restaurants, cigar bars (many of them having their own dedicated hand-rolling areas), cigar shops, and entertainment venues (comedy clubs, night clubs, music, etc.). We were there during mid-day, but one can only imagine the scene at night when things ramp up. The heritage of Ybor City was its – unusual for its day – multi-cultural mix of ethnicity, and that shows in the mix of establishments, which include Italian and Spanish restaurants, mixed in with the “Cuban flavor” of the neighborhood.
The Columbia Restaurant is an “anchor” landmark in Ybor City
An anchor landmark in Ybor City is the Columbia Restaurant. It is said to be the oldest Spanish restaurant in the United States, and the longest – continually operating restaurant in Florida. The huge, ornate building takes up most of a block and seats 1700 people. I have eaten in the Clearwater Beach “branch” restaurant and can attest that the menu is incredible, and the food wonderful (but “big”).
I will look forward to an opportunity to re-visit this place when it is hopping.