Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ybor City, Tampa: Where Cigars Are Still King

Story by: Jim Weaver
Travel Editor, New York Trend

At the turn of the 20th century, Tampa, Florida,was the “Cigar Capital of the World.” Ybor City, a section of Tampa located near the port,was the center of cigar manufacturing. High quality cigar tobacco was imported from Cuba and thousands of skilled workers hand rolled millions of fine cigars. Cigar smoking was popular and it was not until after the First World War that cigarettes became more fashionable. Gradually, over the decades, the cigar industrydeclined and what was once a prosperous part of the city declined with it.

One by one the cigar companies closed and the community, once a vibrant center of ethnic culture (Italian, German, Spanish, and Cuban), deteriorated. Then came the interstate highway. In the 1960s, Route I-4 (connecting Tampa with Orlando and Daytona) was built through Ybor City eliminating much of its residential housing.

In the past 20 years, however, Ybor City has made a spectacular comeback, and today it is once again an attractive, lively, welcoming community where locals and visitors can find a great mix of history, ethnic charm, and modern amenities. Today its a popular dining and night life destination. Most famous is the Columbia Restaurant, in business since 1905, and featuring fine Spanish cuisine and Flamenco dancers. The food and service here are exceptional. For authentic Cuban food visitors will want to try the popular La Tropicana. There are many other fine restaurants including the Acropolis Greek Tavern and Samurai Blue Sushi & Sake Bar.

While there are now three hotels in Ybor City,only one offers a taste of the Ybor’s glorious past. The Don Vincente de Ybor Historic Inn is a favorite for weddings, and many guests enjoy its charm and beauty, something often missing in modern hotels. Built in 1895, it was originally housed a land development company. It stood empty for several decades, before a multimillion dollar restoration brought back to its original glory. Today, the charming boutique hotel offers 16 guest rooms with elegant oriental rugs, ornate furniture, four-poster canopied beds, and white cast iron balconies. It is well located within an easy walk of restaurants, shops, and historic attractions and there is free parking on site.

While Ybor is an interesting place throughout the year, Aficionado Days celebrates Ybor’s
history as the “Cigar Capital of the World.” Cigar smokers from all parts converge on Ybor to enjoy some of the finest hand rolled tobaccoavailable anywhere. Cigar making demonstrations are held and there are opportunities to learn about the finer points of cigar selection and smoking.

The upscale, two day event begins Saturday afternoon with a Tapas Trail visiting more than a dozen of Ybor’s fine dining establishments. This is followed by a PartySmoker at the historic Italian Club. Sunday brunch is held at the world famous Columbia Restaurant. There are a number of fine cigar shops in Ybor including King Carona, Tampa Sweathearts, El Sol, and Stogie Castillo, all offering a wide selection of fine cigars and smoking accessories.

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