Ybor City used to be a thriving cigar industry composed of Cuban and Spanish immigrants and was founded in 1885 by a group of cigar manufacturers. After World War II, the cigar industry started to collapse and Ybor City was neglected and turned into a ghost town. Now, Ybor City is back up and running with vintage stores, restaurants, coffee shops, bars and breweries.
We stopped by Tabanero Cigars to watch cigar makers do what they do: make cigars from scratch. We could have watched this for hours. Every single cigar is hand-crafted. We were looking for souvenirs and the owner was very friendly and gave us several suggestions on what cigars would be best for our friends. There's a nice little sitting area and a coffee bar in the back where you can enjoy your cigar.
Cigars aren't the only thing Ybor has got going on. There are also great restaurants, shops, bars and breweries.
We had lunch at La Tropicana Cafe, which has been serving old fashioned Cuban sandwiches since 1963. Our server was very friendly and we learned so much about the significance and history of this restaurant. Apparently, it's THE meeting place for Tampa businessmen. They all gather at Tropicana (typically in the mornings) and apparently discuss a lot of business and local politics.
There is a "Kings" table in the back corner of the restaurant that's reserved for Roland Manteiga. He is the son of Victoriano Manteiga, who founded the La Gaceta weekly newspaper in 1922. He started the paper to serve the needs of the immigrant population of Tampa (mainly in Ybor). We had eaten at this restaurant many times before and didn't know any of this until now!
One of our favorite shops on 7th Avenue is Le France. This has got to be the most organized vintage store we've ever seen. Every piece of clothing is nicely preserved in plastic, clear garment bags. Their assortment of dresses, hats, shoes and accessories are incredible.
We wanted to buy everything in this store! BUT most of the dresses were pretty expensive. We'll have to come back when they have more sales going on. It's a fun store to browse around even if you don't end up buying anything.
Blind Tiger Cafe has been a popular coffee spot in Ybor lately. The atmosphere is relaxing and the tea, coffee and pastries we ordered were delicious. They support fellow local companies and get their pastries from Piquant pastries.
These were only a few of the many cool spots in Ybor City. There's also Tampa Bay Brewing Company, who make their own handcrafted beer, Carmine's, famous for their devil crab, Columbia Restaurant, the largest Spanish restaurant in the world, and more!