Just 5 km from downtown Tampa is a charming little town, full of history, that we hadn’t even heard of at first, but were glad to have discovered.
Ybor City was founded more than 100 years ago by Cuban, Italian and Spanish immigrants, mainly cigar makers. Once known as the “Cigar Capital of the World“, Ybor City is now a National Historic Landmark with over 950 historic buildings built during the peak years of its industry. Most of the historic buildings and structures were built between 1886 and World War I.
Political problems in Cuba in the latter part of the 19th century and American tariffs on imported cigars led Cuban manufacturers to build factories in the United States.
Factories were initially built in New York City and Key West, but Vicente Martínez-Ybor, one of the major manufacturers, developed an entire city to manufacture cigars and employed fellow Cuban exiles to work in his factories.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the “Great Depression” and mechanization affected Tampa’s cigar industry, and only a few small shops were able to continue the tradition of hand processing.
Most of the buildings in Ybor are built of brick or stone, two to four stories high, with wrought iron balconies. Factory workers packed and shipped the cigars on the first floor and manufactured them on the second floor. Floors three and four were used for blending tobacco in order to achieve brand-specific flavors.
One of the most visited areas is the 7th Avenue Commercial Strip – an area that reflects the city’s Spanish, Cuban and Italian heritage.
Important historic buildings on 7th Avenue include the social clubs Marti-Maceo Club, L’Unione Italiana, and El Centro Español.
Another old and important building is the Columbia Restaurant – Ybor City‘s oldest restaurant in continuous operation since 1905.
While there isn’t much to do or see, if you end up in the Tampa area , don’t hesitate to make a getaway to Ybor City. It’s one of Tampa’s great culinary epicenters, and in addition to stopping at one of the restaurants that have been serving Cuban and Spanish specialties for over a century, you can enjoy a Cuban coffee at the dozens of authentic downtown sidewalk cafes old of the city.
(Ybor City – December 2021)