Ybor City – Tampa’s Cigar Heritage
The weather was mild and a soft breeze was blowing as our trolley pulled to a stop on the outskirts of town, a perfect day for strolling along the neighborhood of brick warehouses and storefronts. After a short distance, we were on a side street where laundry is hanging on a line extending from a second story window and we can hear a rooster crowing. On the side of the brick building, there is a large and colorful hand painted sign that reads, “Viva Ybor; Have a Tampa”.
We stop to peer into a large storefront window and see a woman at a tiny wooden desk. The desk, old and worn, is built for the purpose of rolling cigars. The scene is strikingly beautiful as the she rolls a perfect cigar with quick, efficient movements. Several completed cigars are in a grooved cigar tray and tobacco leaves are piled high, indicating that many more cigars will be rolled. This woman is continuing the rich heritage of cigar making, an industry that once made Ybor City the “Cigar Capitol of the World”.
It’s easy to slip back in time in Ybor. A handsome gentleman on the street is wearing a white Cuban collar-shirt, black pants and shiny black shoes. As we passed, the sweet aroma of his cigar takes me back to my childhood, my Aunt’s Aileen’s house. Her husband loved cigars and we loved getting the discarded cigar boxes. The colorful, exotic boxes offered the perfect hiding place for all kinds of stuff such as sea shells, bubble gum machine jewelry, and Cracker Jack prizes. As we got older, these treasures were replaced by notes, cards, and letters. In all likelihood, Uncle Willie could have smoked Auturo Fuente, named after its famous founder. As pointed out in the Tampa’s 2019 Official Visitor’s Guide, “Tampa Sweetheart Cigars, owned and operated by legendary Auturo Fuente has been in business for the past 75 years”.
Ybor City was founded as an independent town in 1885 by a group of cigar manufactures led by Vicente Martinez-Ybor. Later Tampa annexed the city. In the beginning the workforce was mostly Cuban and Spanish, and eventually included Italians, Germans and others. The architecture is a quaint combination of styles, brick warehouses and storefronts and wood framed casitas or cottages. Many of the streets are also brick-paved. Several of the buildings are on the National Historic Register. The city reflects the determination of people whose goal was to surpass Havana in production of quality cigars and in its heyday; it produced hundreds of millions of cigars each year.
How We Got There
We parked our car at Tampa’s Channel District and boarded the Teco Line Streetcar. See the Teco Streetcar map at whehttp://www.tecolinestreetcar.org/#/home.
See the Channel District at Discover Tampa’s Channel District – Downtown Tampa Florida
Find parking and other information at http://ybor.org/streetcar/
In addition to parking, taking the streetcar, and walking on your own, there are other options.
One way to enjoy the food and learn about the city at the same time at your own leisurely pace is to do a self-guided tour, with map, headphones, and a wrist band for tasting ethnic food at 7-11 places, all for $69.00. Find information about the self-guided tour at http://yborcityfoodtours.com/product/self-guided-tour/.
Take a Segway tour of Ybor. Find information at https://www.getyourguide.com/tampa-l1187/tampa-ybor-city-historical-segway-tour-t24246/.
The Ybor City State Museum offers guided group tours through the museum and casitas with park rangers. See www.ybormuseum.org/visit-the-museum/tours
Visit the original Columbia Restaurant, oldest restaurant in Florida, in Ybor City, celebrating more than a century of history, culture and cuisine. Go to
www.columbiarestaurant.com. We’ve eaten dinner here in time to catch the last trolley back to the Channel District.
A tour through Ybor is not complete without visiting José Martí Park, dedicated to Cuba’s beloved leader. The park has been and owned by Cuba since 1956 and is the only place in America where you can stand on Cuban soil.
There are plenty of bars that are sure to quench your thirst in Ybor. See https://www.yborbars.com/index.html. You may also want to visit or tour the Copperfield Brewing Company at coppertailbrewing.com.
For more information about Tampa, Florida, visit the Tampa Bay Official Site at https://www.visittampabay.com