Tampa

Poker players shuffle the night away in Ybor City.

Things will soon be hopping for Tampa, Florida.  As the site of the 2012 Republican National Convention, Tampa will receive the influx of cash that comes with that particular honor.

Tampa seemed to be famous for two institutions-Cuban food and cigars.  The best place to sample both, I was told, was Ybor City.

Named for 19th century cigar maker, Vincent Martinez Ybor, this section of the city is now considered the “historical district.”  I don’t like it when a city dubs a preserved section as a “historical district.”  Even though it preserves it’s building somewhat, It seems to instantly loose something, some honesty.

What is interesting is Ybor city (aka. Florida’s Latin Quarter) was founded as an independent town by a group of cigar manufactures in 1885.  I think they had a tobacco utopia in mind where they could create their fine products with cheap Spanish and Cuban labor.

This shade-grown paradise was all too brief.  By 1887 Ybor City was annexed by Tampa, presumably to cash in on the successful cigar manufacture.  During the 1920’s and ’30s, the tobacco industry continued to boom and Tampa became known as America’s premier cigar manufacturing city.

After WWII, smoking tastes changed from cigars, to what was perceived as the sexier cigarette.  It was all down hill for the cigar companies after that.

In 2009, the Hav-A-Tampa cigar company closed it’s factory, leaving it’s almost 500 employees looking for work in an already depressed southern economy.

On the balmy night that I visited Ybor City, the streets were quite, save for the occasional outburst of laughing from a poker game heard thru an open door of a neighborhood bar.

On the recommendation of a housemaid I talked to in the elevator of my hotel, I decided to try the oldest restaurant in Tampa-The Columbia Restaurant.

The Columbia has been in operation, owned by the same family for 100-plus years now, so I figured, they must be doing something right.  They advertise Cuban food and that was just what I was in the mood for. While the ambience was a little “El Fenix” like for me, the food didn’t disappoint and I would recommend it to any of the Republican Delegates.

As I strolled up the street, I decided to take in the other pleasure that made Tampa famous and buy a cigar. Now, I am not your typical cigar smoker.  For a while, back during the cigar craze of the late ’90’s, I did smoke enough to discover two things.  One, I can smoke a good cigar and appreciate the nuance of the taste and 2) I would never be a cigar smoker.

The problem is that the culture that built and occupied Ybor City was never based on tourism or even safety for that matter.  This place was what it was because it was seedy and dangerous.  You had to know how to take care of yourself if you came here.  Trying to clean up and gentrify this area was ripping the very heart and soul from it.

I might not be a true cigar smoker but I do tend to get truly philosophical when I smoke one.  That night, as I walked the almost empty streets, all I could think of was that the remnants of this city-like so many other cities-seemed a little faded, rusty and sad.  Municipal attempts to preserve the essence of a once thriving culture, had caused that culture to vanish like the blue wisps’ of tobacco smoke disappearing in the night air.

One thought on “Tampa”

  1. It’s sad what has happened to Ybor City. Friends I worked with in Beaufort said it wasn’t the same place anymore and that was in 1996! I’d still like to visit there one day.

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