Tampa’s Ybor City is a look into history, culture

Mural in Ybor City area of Tampa, Florida

Why did the rooster cross the street in Ybor City? Because he can.

Ybor City (pronounced EE-bor), a neighborhood in Tampa, Florida, is home to the area’s Cuban culture. This was our first stop in Tampa during a recent visit. We looked forward to seeing a Cuban flavor in architecture, business and food.

Our first “taste” of Ybor City? A rooster running loose along a side street. We weren’t sure we saw what we thought we saw. So, we caught up with the bird a couple of blocks later. He stopped before crossing streets (like all good chickens should do). He actually crowed a few times. But, why was there a rooster running loose in town? Let alone, why were there so many roosters and hens running loose in a town park?

Roosters rule the roost in Ybor City area of Tampa, Florida

We met a local, who explained that the chickens have a long history in Ybor City. Once the main area of immigrants, people brought chickens with them to raise for eggs and to cook. Eventually, through the years, these birds ran loose in the area and continued to populate.

As the area grew, there became less of a need for chickens in yards, etc. However, they became a symbol of the area. Now, they are protected by law. Ybor City is essentially a sanctuary for chickens. It’s the only area in Tampa where they are allowed to run loose. People cannot harass or harm them, he said.

We thought that was cool. We continued to see roosters (mainly) throughout our walk through Ybor City. They would stroll past businesses. I read in newspaper archives that they will actually walk into businesses, as well. I doubt they’re fans of Chik-fil-a, though.

Ybor City rooster telling all the neighborhood he is there

The public square was an excellent spot to gain some history of Ybor City. A statue recognizing the importance of immigrants to the area stands tall for all to see. The park had several statues honoring some of the area’s great leaders.

Immigrant statue in Ybor City

Vincente Martinez-Ybor, whom the city is named after, was a Cuban cigar maker. H moved his business from Cuba to Florida due to political unrest. Later, he relocated his business in the Tampa area due to the climate being better for cigar making. A statue recognizing him stands in the park, along the district’s main street.

Vincente Martinez-Ybor - founder of Ybor City and cigar maker

Ybor City has a strong Italian-American and Cuban-American heritage. The first Italian mayor of Tampa – Nick Nuccio is recognized in the park.

Nick Nuccio, first mayor, in Ybor City area of Tampa, Florida

Anothony “Tony” Pizzo was a longtime civic and business leader in the Tampa area. He was a well-known historian of the area, who was recognized for his work in preserving the Italian-American and Cuban-American cultures in Ybor City. The city recognized him with a sculpture in the park.

Roland Monteiga statue in park in Ybor City

A local journalist is recognized with a statue leaning against his favorite restaurant in Ybor City. Roland Monteiga covered politics and human rights for about four decades in his column, “As We Heard it.” He held court inside La Tropicana Restaurant with presidents, as well as locals.

Anthony "Tony" Pizzo statue in park in Ybor City

Ybor City is more than monuments and statues, though.

Claim for the best cuban in town can be found in Ybor City

We had hoped to try a Cuban sandwich for lunch, but our flight to the area was delayed a couple hours, and we didn’t want to ruin our dinner plans at the Columbia Restaurant, so we missed out on that. I guess it’s one reason to come back to the area.

Since we lost a couple of hours for sightseeing, we missed on some of the local history and flavor that the Ybor City Museum would have offered. Again, a reason for a return visit.

Ybor City museum

We did make the best of the time we did have before dinner.

We checked out the Centro Ybor entertainment district. It’s home to restaurants, shops, a movie theater and bars. It is definitely a busy place at night.

Centro Ybor is the entertainment district in Ybor City

We continued our stroll through the area. One thing that was high on my list was seeing a cigar company. What were the odds we’d see one on the main street? Um, about every block. LOL.

We stopped at the Nicahabana Cigar store. People were rolling cigars as we watched.

Nicahabana Cigar store in Ybor City

A man sitting behind a desk was enjoying a cigar. I don’t smoke, but I love the fresh aroma of a cigar.

Showing off cigar at his shop in Ybor City

Ybor City isn’t just cigars and Cuban sandwiches. There were a series of eclectic businesses, including the Dysfunctional Grace Art Company. Interested in an armadillo road kill art piece?

Dysfunctional Grace Art Company in Ybor City

Ybor City has three amazing and sobering monuments that we visited.

The first was a monument for the victims of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks in the northeast. The monument, featuring firefighters aiding a teammate, includes an actual piece of steel from the Twin Towers in New York.

9/11 Fallen Heroes Memorial in Ybor City

Another monument honored fallen police officers. The names were long. The monument features an officer’s statue with his badge partially covered by black. In the foreground is a badge replica.

Fallen Heroes monument in Ybor City

The third monument was for a former pro football player-turned mentor. Freddie Solomon played for the Miami Dolphins (and other teams) in the National Football League following an outstanding career at the University of Tampa.

Monument honoring Freddie Solomon in Ybor City

Solomon went to work for the Hillsborough County sheriff’s office after retiring from pro football. He mentored troubled kids and was known as “Coach.” Solomon passed away from cancer in 2012.

We capped our day in Ybor City with an outstanding dinner at the Columbia Restaurant. It’s the oldest restaurant in Florida – more than 100 years old. It has hosted celebrities through the years, including Babe Ruth, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio.

Colombia Restaurant in Ybor City

The Babe even had a dish named after him. “The Bambino” stars a 14-oz. sirloin steak. It was named after Ruth because he always had the dish.

The Bambino steak at Colombia in Ybor City

The Columbia is also known for its nightly Flamenco dance show. The dancers were amazing to watch. Their movements were so flawless, then the stomps were so strong. It was a great experience.

Flamenco dancing at Colombia in Ybor City

We barely scratched the surface of what Ybor City has to offer visitors. We enjoyed what we did see. We would definitely visit Ybor City again. And finally have that Cuban sandwich!

For more on what Ybor City has to offer, please visit www.yborcityonline.com or www.visittampabay.com.