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Ybor City guide: From vintage shops and Tampa history to food and frights

No matter what kind of character you are, we’ve compiled a list of things to do and see in this bustling historic district.
 
A chicken crosses 7th Avenue in Ybor City on Friday, May 19, 2023.
A chicken crosses 7th Avenue in Ybor City on Friday, May 19, 2023. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Sept. 14, 2023|Updated Jan. 18

Note: This guide first appeared in our limited-run email newsletter series, One Day in Tampa Bay. Check out and subscribe to more newsletters at tampabay.com/newsletters.

Grab your cigars and Cuban sandwiches. This week we’re headed to Ybor City, land of the roaming chickens.

During the day, Tampa’s historic Latin quarter is the perfect spot to grab a coffee and stroll the main drag, E Seventh Avenue. At night, the neighborhood transforms into party central, with bass-boosted low riders booming past flocks of bachelorette parties and after-hours revelers waiting in line to buy greasy pizza slices.

Part of what makes Ybor (pronounced EE-bore) so special is its characters: You’re just as likely to see a cast member from the Amazon Prime series “Tampa Baes” partying as you are to spot someone pushing a shopping cart filled with live snakes. And don’t even get us started on legends like the Ybor City shoe licker.

No matter what kind of character you are, we’ve compiled a list of things to do and see across the district.

For the history buff

Maria Perez rolls cigars at Nicahabana Cigars in Ybor City on Thursday, Jan. 14, 202.
Maria Perez rolls cigars at Nicahabana Cigars in Ybor City on Thursday, Jan. 14, 202. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Ybor was founded by Spanish cigar tycoon Vicente Martinez-Ybor in 1885. Separate from the city of Tampa until it was annexed in 1887, the neighborhood was heavily populated by Italian, Cuban and Spanish immigrants who came to work in cigar factories.

Today, the area’s charming brick roads and converted factories feel more like a movie set than a real place. A great way to learn about their rich past is with a walking tour. (We like Ybor City Historic Walking Tours.) For the spookier crowd, an evening ghost tour will go over all of the oldest, eeriest buildings in the neighborhood. Some spots are not for the faint of heart, however. Our colleague Paul Guzzo left the Cuban Club shaking and cursing.

You can even go to Cuba (no, really!). Jose Marti Park, at the corner of E Eighth Avenue and N 13th Street, is actual Cuban territory. It’s named after the Cuban revolutionary, poet and journalist, who is also honored with a statue.

Sports fans can stop by the Tampa Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez House.

Map

Click here to see the full map.

Transportation

If you’re looking to ditch the car, grab a rideshare or the free TECO Line Streetcar. Or if scooting is more your speed, there are scooters galore. Just keep in mind, there are some places you can’t use a scooter in Tampa, and Ybor’s Seventh Avenue is one of them.

Parking

There are multiple lots and street spots where you can park. We also like the Centro Ybor garage (1500 E Fifth Ave.).

Bathrooms

There are public restrooms at the 2.5-acre Centennial Park.

For the tourist

The famous cuban sandwich that's on the menu at the Columbia Restaurant located on 7th Avenue in the Ybor City neighborhood Tampa, Florida on Friday, January 10, 2020.
The famous cuban sandwich that's on the menu at the Columbia Restaurant located on 7th Avenue in the Ybor City neighborhood Tampa, Florida on Friday, January 10, 2020. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

The Columbia Restaurant is an Ybor icon. There are half a dozen locations around Florida, but this is the oldest one, and its ornate collection of dining rooms is something you have to experience at least once.

Call ahead to book a seat during the flamenco shows, and don’t forget to order the 1905 Salad — iceberg lettuce loaded with ham slices, Swiss cheese, green olives and a tangy dressing.

Be sure to pick up a Cuban sandwich while you’re in the area. A longtime favorite is La Segunda, while Flan Factory is known for its breakfast version. (This place also has more than 200 varieties of flan for dessert later.)

Times tip: Tampa Cuban sandwiches are different from Miami’s (ours include salami). You can order it how you please, but know that locals will judge if yours includes lettuce, tomatoes or onion.

To get a taste of why the neighborhood is called “Cigar City,” you can tour the J.C. Newman Cigar Company, which is still in operation today. Most days, the local cigar shops along Seventh Avenue will have someone sitting in the window, rolling away.

For an offbeat experience

A bobcat mounted by Allison Doty, a 31-year-old pet taxidermist from Inverness, is displayed at Dysfunctional Grace on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Tampa.
A bobcat mounted by Allison Doty, a 31-year-old pet taxidermist from Inverness, is displayed at Dysfunctional Grace on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Tampa. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]

Pop into Dysfunctional Grace to meet an assortment of taxidermied animals, from your typical deer head to a stuffed raccoon reaching into a Cheez-It bag. Each month this oddities shop also hosts taxidermy classes, which include all the materials you need to walk away with a completed project.

You’ll find jewelry, antiques and other out-there trinkets for sale as well.

The Castle nightclub on a rainy Friday night in Ybor City.
The Castle nightclub on a rainy Friday night in Ybor City. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

On a Friday or Saturday, end your night at The Castle, a Goth nightclub opened in the 1990s. The two-story venue boasts five separate rooms, costumed go-go dancers and DJs spinning EDM, darkwave, metal, industrial and more. For more on Tampa’s Goth scene, check out this history story.

Times tip: Admire the roaming chickens, but don’t touch! To learn more about the birds, follow The Ybor Misfits Microsanctuary, which hosts chicken yoga at Hotel Haya once a month.

For the vintage lover

L-R: Candles on display at the Seventh Avenue Apothecary factory in Ybor City.
L-R: Candles on display at the Seventh Avenue Apothecary factory in Ybor City.

An Ybor staple for nearly five decades, La France is a great place to spend an afternoon hunting for vintage treasures. We spotted a purse shaped like a copy of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” beaded earrings in the shape of glittery cowboy boots and racks of poodle skirts and pirate cloaks.

Antique fans should check out Vintage Roost, which hosts a three-day market on the second and fourth weekends of every month. Hunt for everything from salvaged furniture, old records and vintage threads to jewelry and mid-century steals. The airy outdoor building doesn’t have the best air conditioning, so visiting in the cooler months is key.

Times tip: The Ybor City Visitors Center is a solid spot to pick up trinkets and treats. Finds include Columbia Restaurant-style glassware and soy wax candles from Seventh Avenue Apothecary in locally inspired scents.

For the foodie

A flight of ice cream at Chill Bros Scoop Shop on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, in Tampa.
A flight of ice cream at Chill Bros Scoop Shop on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Take a glamorous step back in time and pull up a chair at the bar inside Hotel Haya’s Flor Fina. The restaurant evokes a Cuban social club from the 1950s through its decor, and there’s a rum-focused cocktail program to match. For dinner, Flor Fina looks to Ybor’s multicultural influences, with a menu inspired by Cuban, Italian and Spanish cuisines.

Columbia Restaurant Group owner Richard Gonzmart’s Casa Santo Stefano is a love letter to the neighborhood’s Sicilian roots. Whatever you do, don’t skip the Scacciata Siciliana or the inky Spaghetti al Nero con pulpo (octopus).

Tucked away off Seventh Avenue, Barterhouse is removed from the lion’s share of the Ybor action but still imbues a buzzy, cosmopolitan vibe.

The area has two stellar spots for taco fans. Jimmy’s Tacos features a menu of traditional tacos and some really good quesabirria. Meanwhile, Los Chapos Tacos serves a large lineup of street tacos, burritos and bowls, with several vegetarian options. (The portobello mushroom is a favorite.)

One of the most recent additions to Ybor’s dining and drinking scene, La Setima Club carries a delightful selection of natural wines. (The entire list is low-intervention.) It’s all paired with a Southern-inspired plant-based food menu.

For a sweet treat after your meal or any time of day, really, Chill Bros. is the spot. Inspired by old-school scoop shops, the menu features creative ice cream flavors with a nod to Tampa, including a killer Guava Pastelito version and the creamy, buzzy Cafe con Leche.

For the partier

Young people dance outside of the bars along Seventh Ave on Friday, June 30, 2023 in Ybor City, Tampa.
Young people dance outside of the bars along Seventh Ave on Friday, June 30, 2023 in Ybor City, Tampa. [ CHLOE TROFATTER | Times ]

LGBTQ+-friendly bars include Bradley’s on 7th and Southern Nights, which both frequently host colorful drag shows. “American Idol” wannabes can sing karaoke at Double Decker.

If the weather is nice, sip the night away on the patio at pirate-themed Gaspar’s Grotto.

And for a more low-key dive bar experience complete with pool and darts, we recommend the Reservoir Bar.

For the artist

Azael Del Rosario, 25, from Riverview, talks with Stephen Zane, 26, owner and founder of Coastal Film Lab, as Del Rosario brings in 35mm film for processing at the Coastal Film Lab, 1704 N Nebraska Ave, on Thursday, March 17, 2022 in Tampa.
Azael Del Rosario, 25, from Riverview, talks with Stephen Zane, 26, owner and founder of Coastal Film Lab, as Del Rosario brings in 35mm film for processing at the Coastal Film Lab, 1704 N Nebraska Ave, on Thursday, March 17, 2022 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Stop by The Bricks, a laid-back bar and restaurant that often hosts dance parties, live music and art shows in its courtyard. Solid drinks and food, too.

Times tip: Looking for more live music? Scope out the calendars of The Ritz Ybor and Crowbar. And if you’re up for some laughs, Funny Bone Comedy Club is known for drawing a solid lineup of comedy acts.

Live out your pottery dreams at Drip ceramic studio, where both amateur and professional ceramicists can grab a wheel and start throwing clay. The spot is BYOB and hosts rotating music acts and movie nights.

Near the main drag, you’ll find Coastal Film Lab, a full-service lab that develops film and sells film cameras. Friendly staff members also are experienced in fixing old cameras and digitizing tapes.

Check out our other local guides

Contact Gabrielle Calise at gcalise@tampabay.com. Follow @gabriellecalise. Contact Helen Freund at hfreund@tampabay.com. Follow @helenfreund.