In the late 1800's, thousands of immigrants from Cuba, Italy, and other countries settled in Ybor City to work in the cigar factories and the businesses that supported them. Through various economic booms and busts, Ybor has reinvented itself many times in the past century or so and finds itself doing it again, striking the balance between nighttime party spot and daytime haven of shopping and tourism.
See & Do
Even if you're not lucky enough to visit Ybor during the annual Guavaween, Gasparilla, or Cigar Heritage Festival, there's still plenty to do. With a locale as historic as Ybor City, you might want to start at the Ybor City Museum to orient yourself to the people and cultures that mean so much to the neighborhood. After that, take a walk around and get some pictures of the incredible architecture. Everything from Victorian to Art Deco is on display. Finally, there are still some small cigar shops in Ybor. Find one where you can watch one being rolled from scratch. It really is an art form.
Ybor is one of the great culinary epicenters of Tampa. Restaurants here begin and end with the Columbia, which has served Cuban and Spanish specialties for over a century. An Ybor City tradition is to hang out on the sidewalk of a good Cuban coffee shop, like El Molino. You'll feel like you're right in Havana. You can find the best Greek food in town at the Acropolis, where a salad might feed you for days. If you feel like an authentic brew pub, head to the Tampa Bay Brewing Company in Centro Ybor, serving its own microbrews and a wide variety of entrees.
In recent years, Ybor has been best-known for its nightclub scene. Clubs like Prana and Empire set the bar pretty high, places where internationally-known DJs visit all the time. If live music is more of your scene, the New World Brewery books acts from hardcore ska and reggae to fusion jazz outfits that are just starting out. There's no telling what you'll find at the New World. The rockers aren't left out in Ybor, either. Head to Crowbar, home of some of the heaviest music in town.
One of the most authentic experiences you can have in Ybor is to stay at the Don Vicente de Ybor Inn. This turn-of-the-century architectural marvel is furnished with period-correct pieces and woodwork as well as a lounge and restaurant that make you feel as if you are stepping back in time. For those whose tastes are more modern, Ybor boasts a relatively new Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden Inn, both located right in the center of the neighborhood and within walking distance to your major dining and nightlife options.
As you might have guessed, Centro Ybor is the center of the neighborhood, and that's especially true when it comes to shopping. It's the only organized shopping center in the neighborhood and includes both an Improv comedy club and a Muvico movie theater (with a bar). Artists invaded Ybor in the 1990's and brought with them some of the best and most inventive galleries in town, like the Brad Cooper Gallery. Of course, you might alienate some friends back home if you visit Tampa and don't bring back a selection of hand-rolled cigars from one of the shops that line 7th and 8th Avenues.