- Posted May 19, 2012 by
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City smackdown: Tampa
Ybor City - Tampa's Secret Spice
Ybor City was founded in the 1880's, created as a company town by cigar maker Vicente Martinez Ybor. What started as a few Clint Eastwood style facades of saloons and the occasional general store grew into an international community made by the thousands of immigrants who called it home. Its brick lined streets and historic cigar factories speak of a time when over 500 million cigars a year were rolled, earning Tampa the nickname Cigar City. Horse drawn carts and Cuban and Italian immigrant workers filled the streets while pastel rows of shotgun houses radiated with the scent of fresh baked Cuban bread and Sicilian ricotta cookies – recipes carefully guarded by their respective nationalities. Cigar factories brimmed with finely dressed rollers in bowlers and bowties.
Fastforward 100 years and you’ll see a neighborhood still exploding with life. Streets bustle; but now they swell with tourists, businessmen and hipsters. Trendy restaurants and clothing stores occupy original brick buildings, most of which have been refurbished to their former glory. Youthful dance clubs and bars punctuate the scene with outdoor patios or 2nd story decks lined with boys and girls from three nearby colleges. The smell of espresso and homemade Cuban bread wanders down secret allies populated by underground rocker bars and little known martini lounges. The street car, a relic from the days when Tampa streets clogged with the electric buggies, chugs along the streets filled with excited children ready for a day at the nearby aquarium or children’s museum.
Time has taken a toll on the old cigar factories with all but one out of business. The J.C. Newman Cigar Factory is the last working cigar factory in Ybor City, owned and operated by the original founding family. The bell tower over J.C. Newman still chimes as it did during Ybor’s early days, alerting anyone who will listen to the hour passed. Many of the abandoned cigar buildings have taken on new roles as modern offices, occupied by fancy architecture firms and corporate training centers.
As in any community, Ybor has had its ups and downs over these last 100+ years but through it all it has not only survived, but thrived. Like any real emotion, the only way to accurately describe Ybor is to experience it. Take a stroll down its brick lined streets, sip on a cup of fresh Cuban espresso or puff on a stogie made in the original cigar city. Ybor is the secret spice that makes Tampa a feast for the senses. A true original.