Ybor City: Where Tampa's History Comes to Life

    Step off a 1920s streetcar, designed for 21st century travel, into Ybor City, where brick-paved streets and wrought iron balconies frame historic buildings that reflect another place in time.

    In the early 1900s
    Ybor City (pronounced EE-bore) was the “Cigar Capital of the World” and Tampa’s ethnic melting pot.

    Mr. Ybor’s City

    It was known first as “Mr. Ybor’s City”, for Don Vincent Martinez Ybor, a Cuban cigar factory owner who established his cigar empire in Tampa in 1886 and never looked back.

    Shaped by the Cuban, Spanish, Italian, German and Jewish immigrants who worked in the factories, started businesses and shared their customs and cultures with America, Ybor City prospered and the ethnic communities thrived, establishing mutual aid societies, known as “social clubs.”

    A Walk Through History

    Start your visit at the Ybor City Museum State Park, located in the 1923-era Ferlita Bakery, where you’ll experience life in Tampa’s Latin Quarter. Take a tour of a restored “casita” – a typical cigar worker’s home – then see how cigars were hand made, and spend some time in the serene Mediterranean-style garden tucked away just steps from all the activity.

    A new exhibit at the Museum, Ybor City Architecture: Our Stories, showcases the historic buildings of Ybor City, the architects behind them and the preservation efforts underway to keep the city’s unique sense of place alive. It will get you ready to take to the streets.

    Choose the Museum’s group walking tour (Saturdays at 10:30 a.m.) or venture out on a self-guided exploration of the National Historic Landmark District, in the heart of Ybor City. You’ll feel the energy of a bygone time – from the red brick buildings that once housed factories and social clubs, to the balconied storefronts and the many historical markers that offer snapshots of time and place.

    Flavors of Spain and Flamenco Dancers

    End your walk at The Columbia Restaurant, a Tampa landmark and Florida’s oldest Spanish 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.

    Fiesta Day in Ybor City

    The city showcases its diverse heritage each year on Fiesta Day (Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012), when the ethnic roots of all who shaped its unique blend of history are celebrated. This free festival features cultural exhibits, concerts, arts and crafts, music, dance and food, filling 14 blocks in the city.

    A Portal to the Past

    Whether strolling down historic 7th Avenue, sipping a café con leche at a sidewalk café or staying late for the entertainment and nightclub scene, Ybor City offers visitors a connection to the past, a chance to explore and experience a fascinating period in Tampa’s history and to appreciate the cultural diversity that is “The Cigar City” legacy.

    Visit www.ArtsTampaBay.com for information on the area’s arts and culture-related events and venues in Hillsborough and Pinellas County.

    This article was brought to you by Tampa Bay & Company. To plan your trip to Tampa Bay, go to www.visittampabay.com.