A Visit to Ybor City, Florida–Cigar Capital of the World

Introduction

Every year, Smokey Butts and I take a cigar trip together. We’ve been to various cigar events such as CIGARFest in the Poconos and the Big Smoke in Las Vegas. We’ve also visited the Drew Estate factory in Nicaragua and the Rocky Patel factory in Honduras. This year we decided to travel to Florida, including a visit to Ybor City, St. Pete Beach, Naples, and finally to Lake Worth, Florida to attend The Great Smoke. This post focuses on our visit to Ybor City, Florida. We’ll post soon on our visit to St. Pete Beach.

Ybor City is located northeast of downtown Tampa. Ybor City is the only neighborhood on Florida’s west coast designated a National Historic Landmark District. Ybor City was founded by Vicente Martinez-Ybor in 1885. Mr. Ybor and other cigar manufacturers relocated their factories from Key West, Florida to Ybor City. By 1900, the population grew to 15,000. In 1887, Tampa incorporated Ybor City into their city limits.

Ybor City is my favorite cigar destination in the U.S. Imagine a place focused on cigars where you can smoke pretty much anywhere you go. Imagine a place that welcomes cigar smokers and harkens back to the good ole days. Eat one FDA. The center of cigars is 7th Street, a roughly six block area with cigar shops, restaurants, and bars. It is cigar heaven! You can easily spend 2-3 days wandering through cigar central.

My first visit to Ybor City was in 2005 and the city was pretty scary. I’ve visited multiple times and each time the city gets more and more safe, clean, and enticing.

Cigar Industry History Tour

Prior to the visit, I scheduled a Cigar Industry History tour via Ybor City Tours. Our tour guide was  Wallace Reyes, PhD, an expert in Ybor City history. Dr. Reyes took us on a two-hour tour through the city and we stopped at a variety of key places in Ybor City cigar history. The highlight for me was visiting Jose Marti Park. Here’s a few of the sites we visited:

Church of Scientology: Church of Scientology? Are you friggin kidding me, c.gar? Nope, we visited the Church of Scientology. In March 2011, the Church of Scientology moved into a newly restored building, called Ybor Square. Ybor Square was constructed in 1886 at the city’s first cigar factory. Ybor Square consists of three buildings built around a central courtyard. To be truthful, the history of the building was not as interesting as walking into a Church of Scientology.

A Visit to Cuba: Cuba in Ybor City? Yep, you can visit Cuba in Ybor City. “WTF?”, you say. In 1956, the City of Tampa donated  a lot to the Republic of Cuba and to this day it remains Cuban soil in the good ole US of A. The Jose Marti Park is located at the Southeast corner of 8th Avenue and 13th Street. For those with a security clearance, make the leap into Cuba and then report it to your security manager when you get home. Your security manager’s head will spin.

Cigar Makers Houses: In 1886, cigar manufacturers built wooden cottages around the brick cigar factories for cigar rollers to reside. The houses rented for $2.50 a week or could be purchased for $400-900 depending on size. These tiny houses had a bedroom, living room, and kitchen. There are a few remaining that are open for tours.

King Corona Cigars Cigar Bar & Cafe

King Corona Cigars is located at 1523 E. 7th Avenue and is my favorite cigar bars in Ybor. The place has both indoor and outdoor seating. Getting an outdoor seat during good weather is sometimes difficult but worth the effort. You can sit as long as you like enjoying a fine beverage and premium cigar purchased inside, and watch the wildlife wandering up and down 7th Avenue, the main drag in Ybor. Here’s what the King Corona website has to say about the joint:

“King Corona Cigars offer a sampling of what made Ybor City a special place and continue with the tradition of making some of the world’s finest handmade cigars, as we have now for five generations. King Corona is a multi-experience venue where one can enjoy fine cigars, fine wine, an expansive selection of imported beer, and delicious food made fresh to order. One can also buy a Guayabera – one of the most comfortable and timelessly stylish shirts ever made. If its cigar accessories you’re looking for, we have a great selection to choose from. Talking about Ybor City without talking about Cuban coffee would be a sin, as just about everyone from Ybor City starts their day with a delicious cup of Cafe con Leche (Cuban espresso with steamed milk) or Cafe Solo (Cuban espresso). Rich, smooth exquisite coffee.”

King Corona Cigars
King Corona Cigars

Bad Monkey

The Bad Monkey bar is located at 1717 E 7th Avenue and is one of my mandatory stops in Ybor. At least it used to be. Prior to this visit, the Bad Monkey was a tiny bar with great mojitos that of course allows cigar smoking. Since my last visit, the Bad Monkey has been completely renovated and modernized. The place looks great, but has lost its allure to me. Sadly, it is just another bar. Here’s what the Bad Monkey website has to say:

“The Bad Monkey Bar is dedicated to those who serve their country or community. You will know you are at the right place if you see 6 full sized 105 mm howitzer shells sitting on the bar with craft beer taps sticking out of them, as well as a full-sized “Flying Tigers” P-40 Warhawk crashing through the wall overhead. Taps can be “owned” for the night on a pay-as-you-pour basis and you can go upstairs to the VIP Lounge to play pool or relax in our outdoor “Back Monkey” Patio Bar. 11 televisions make this a great place to watch your favorite sports team and host watch parties. If you are hungry you can order from our pub grub menu (all options $10). We offer 12 beers on tap including locally brewed favorites and a premium well with the best Happy Hour in Ybor. We are cigar friendly with hand made house cigars made right here in Ybor City. Circa 1993 Seal Team Five Bravo Platoon (ST-5 Bravo) operating out of the Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado California, was a platoon of excellent capability and solid frogman character. Because of this and due to a few unmentionable events they had earned the distinctive platoon call sign “Bad Bravo”. During a deployment to Perth, Australia, where Bravo Platoon was conducting bilateral training with the Aussie SAS, they found and began to frequent a local watering hole. The bar was called the “Brass Monkey”. Bad Bravo and their SAS counterparts both shared the characteristics of a life dedicated to special operations and more importantly, a constant unquenchable thirst for good beer. The Brass Monkey immediately became an everyday meeting location, it was a perfect fit. Friendships were made, stories were told – most of them lies of course, and the bond of the SOF Brotherhood was expanded. Upon completion of their deployment to Perth, ST-5 Bravo Platoon adopted a new call sign in recognition of the mates they had made and the times they shared. The Name “Bad Monkey” was born. Several years later one of the members of ST-5 Bravo Platoon, in a conversation with his friend General Dave Scott, suggested the name “Bad Monkey” as a great name for a bar dedicated to friends, warriors, patriots, and defenders of freedom.”

Nicahabana Cigars

During our Cigar Industry History Tour, we stopped at Nicahabana Cigars for a cup of coffee and a cigar. We purchased a couple of cigars, including a cigar they simply call, Perfecto. I have tried numerous cigars rolled in Ybor City over the years, and frankly, they all sucked. More specifically, they sucked BAD! I am happy to report that I finally found a great hand rolled cigar in Ybor City. The Perfecto was exceptional. Construction, flavor, etc. was fantastic. It had hints of cinnamon and heaven. Scratch that, we don’t rate cigars and we don’t describe them here at Cigar Intel. I encourage you to give one a try when you visit. Nicahabana Cigars is located at 16056 E. 7th Avenue. Did I mention that they sell online and via the phone? I just did.

Nicahabana Cigars
Nicahabana Cigars

Tampa Sweethearts Cigar Company

Most visitors have no idea that Arturo Fuente has a shop in Ybor City. The Tampa Sweethearts Cigar Company, located at 1603 E. 6th Avenue, carries all cigars made and distributed by Arturo Fuente. This includes Arturo Fuente, Ashton, Cuesta Rey, Diamond Crown, Prometheus, La Estampa, La Unica, Tampa Sweethearts. The shop is one block off of 7th Street but you have got to check this place out. The store is run by Arturo “Arthur” O. Fuente, Jr. When we visited, I offhandedly asked if they had any Anejo Sharks. For Arturo Fuente fans, the Shark is a mysterious cigar that one can never find as they sell out seemingly before they are distributed. To my shock and awe, the cigar rep replied, “Which version? We have five kinds.” After I picked myself up off of the floor, the rep showed me each option. Smokey and I each purchased a five pack, grinned at each other, and ran like hell before we woke up from our dream. In addition to visiting, you can order cigars directly from them by giving them a call.

Arturo Fuente Tampa Sweethearts
Arturo Fuente Tampa Sweethearts

The Columbia Restaurant

The Columbia Restaurant is an Ybor City icon and is a “must do” when you visit. The restaurant was founded in 1905 and is Florida’s oldest restaurant. There are locations throughout Florida. The Ybor City location is the original and fills an entire city block. The restaurant is also the world’s largest Spanish restaurant. When you visit, I highly recommend the ropa vieja. Here’s what the Columba Restaurant website has to say:

“Our guests enjoy many of the same century-old family recipes that have made the Columbia world famous, entrees such as Paella “a la Valenciana,” Red Snapper “Alicante,” Pompano en Papillot, Roast Pork “A la Cubana” and Filet Mignon “Chacho.” Visit our store for unique gifts such as hand-painted Spanish ceramics plus “1905” salad dressing, Cuban and American roast coffee, hot sauce and Columbia seasoning.”

Columbia Restaurant
Columbia Restaurant

Tampa Bay Brewing Company

The Tampa Bay Brewing Company is located at 1600 East 8th Avenue and has two locations in Tampa. The brewery was founded in 1995 and was originally located in Ybor City in a two-story brick building used to house horses. They outgrew this space and moved to their current location. The brewery has a variety of beers and rotate in seasonal beers throughout the year. They have a full “brewpub” menu including burgers, pizzas and calzones, and entrees such as meatloaf, Cuban sandwich (every place in Ybor has a Cuban sandwich), ribs, and steaks. My favorite dish is the Iron Rat Stout Shepherd’s Pie. It is delicious. Grab a beer and the shepherd’s pie. You won’t be disappointed.

Tampa Bay Brewing Company
Tampa Bay Brewing Company

New York New York Pizza

And now for something a little different. Smokey and I had a hankering for pizza and stopped in at New York New York Pizza located at 1512 East 7th Avenue. We expected nothing special and ordered a few slices of pizza. The pizza far exceeded our expectations. The slices are huge and the prices are small. New York style pizza in Florida is a real treat. Check it out when you get tired of Cuban sandwiches.

New York New York Pizza
New York New York Pizza

 

Search for a Decent Mojito

As stated earlier, I’ve been to Ybor City numerous times. One of the draws to Ybor is that you could buy a mojito pretty much anywhere. Not so much this visit. At every bar we visited I asked for a mojito. And damn, if I was turned down at every place. King Corona Cigars does not offer them anymore. The Bad Monkey was out of mint due to a large draw the night before. Etc., etc. etc. Dammit man, I wanted a mojito with a cigar. No such luck.

Conclusion

Every cigar lover should take a trip to the Cigar Center of the World. I love this place!

c.gar

c.gar

c.gar loves all things cigar-related. He typically falls in love with cigars that are discontinued shortly thereafter. His first cigar was a Swisher Sweet with a wood tip. Sadly, these are still in production.

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