Ybor Experience

Ybor Experience

Our long-awaited journey to Florida had been in the works for over a year, and Ybor City was always a highlight of our visits to the area. For those unfamiliar with the captivating tale of Vicente Martinez Ybor, it’s a story well worth digging into, especially if you harbor an interest in the rich tapestry of cigar culture. In 1886, Ybor made a pivotal decision, acquiring a substantial tract of land near Tampa and christening it Ybor City. Little did he know, this humble venture would prosper into the cigar capital of the world by the turn of the 20th century. His journey began in Spain at the tender age of 14, where he eventually found himself immersed in the cigar industry in Cuba. In 1856, he took the bold step of establishing his own cigar company. As tensions brewed between Cuba and Spain in 1868, Ybor foresaw potential complications and relocated his growing cigar empire to Key West, before ultimately settling in Florida, birthing Ybor City. The decision between Florida and Galveston, Texas, hinged on the practicality of shipping costs for Cuban tobacco, ultimately tipping the scales in Florida’s favor. Ybor’s ethos extended beyond mere entrepreneurship; he genuinely cared for his workers. This was evident in his provision of casitas, housing built at cost, ensuring his employees remained loyal and fostering a legacy that spanned generations. The production of a million cigars in under six months was but a testament to his vision and leadership. Our evening commenced at the Grand Cathedral, where my wife and I savored a cigar and a drink, enveloped in the ambiance of lively music and exquisite libations. With cigars in hand, we ventured forth to 7th Street, where the energy pulsated through the bustling thoroughfare, lined with quaint cigar shops and bustling factories. Our pilgrimage led us to La Faraona, where we indulged in the robust flavors of Cuban coffee, complemented by the aromatic embrace of a house blend cigar. It was a fitting prologue to what promised to be an unforgettable night.

The following day kicked off bright and early as we eagerly embarked on the JC Newman Factory experience. Stepping through the door, we were greeted warmly by Holden, our guide for the day. The tour unfolded magnificently, revealing the rich tapestry of the company’s history. From the intricate process of crafting machine-made to hand-rolled cigars spread across different floors, every corner echoed with the legacy of fine craftsmanship. The highlight? Undoubtedly the vault, a treasure trove of historical artifacts including pre-embargo Cuban tobacco, each item whispering tales of a bygone era. While I’d love to delve into the specifics, I won’t spoil the surprise for you; experiencing it firsthand is a must. Towards the tour’s end, we had the privilege of a unexpected encounter with Eric Newman himself. His demeanor was akin to that of a wise grandfather, generously imparting knowledge and making us feel right at home. Next came the rolling class, a blend of excitement and nerves for someone like me, a novice in the art of cigar rolling. Under Holden’s expert guidance and the assistance of seasoned pros, we were equipped with the basics, detailed instructions, and ample patience. By the end of it, not only did I feel at ease, but I also noticed a marked improvement in my technique. Even my wife, who isn’t as avid about cigars as I am, thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Custom-made bands adorning the cigars we rolled and a box to house them made for a delightful souvenir. Then came the tasting class, a sensory journey where we sampled six puritos, each boasting different wrappers, binders, and fillers. Guided by a diverse group of aficionados, from novices to connoisseurs, we meticulously documented our olfactory and gustatory impressions. Sharing our findings as a collective was enlightening, showcasing the notes discerned by palates of varying sophistication. In essence, the JC Newman experience transcends mere enjoyment; it’s a pilgrimage for any cigar aficionado, a must on the bucket list.

Our lunchtime escapade led us to The Columbia restaurant, a culinary gem that’s simply a non-negotiable on any itinerary around these parts. The story behind it is as rich as its flavors – imagine a Spanish-Cuban immigrant, Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., arriving in Tampa with his young sons in tow, fueled by dreams of prosperity and a brighter tomorrow. Fast forward to December 17, 1903, and the opening of the humble Columbia Saloon, which eventually blossomed into the grand Columbia Restaurant in 1905. Over the span of nearly 120 years, this establishment has morphed into a sprawling complex spanning an entire city block, proudly holding the title of the largest Spanish restaurant on the globe. The legacy of Casimiro Hernandez lives on through his descendants, who tirelessly nurture his American dream, ensuring that The Columbia remains a beacon of tradition and hospitality. With seven locations across Florida, this respected institution is not just a restaurant; it’s a cherished piece of history, lovingly tended to by family hands.

As we stepped into The Columbia, we were enveloped in a warm embrace of hospitality, courtesy of our gracious waitress. I opted for the tantalizing El Combo de Cuba, a symphony of flavors that danced on my palate, while my wife indulged in the Chicken And Yellow Rice “Ybor,” a dish that stirred fond memories of her Cuban grandmother’s cooking. Our culinary journey reached its crescendo with the White Chocolate bread pudding – a nostalgic treat that whisked me back to my childhood, spent under the loving care of my grandmother, who adored bread pudding. Eager to soak in more of Ybor’s vibrant atmosphere, we made our way to La Faraona for a rejuvenating Cuban coffee and a smoke. 7th Street pulsated with life, its storefronts adorned with cigar shops boasting skilled rollers crafting their masterpieces in plain view. It was the perfect spot to unwind before our next adventure. Next up on our agenda was the Boos and Booze tour, courtesy of the Nightly Spirits company. Meeting under the iconic Centro Ybor sign, our knowledgeable guide regaled us with tales of the city’s storied past as we embarked on a leisurely walking tour, hopping from one bar to another. It was here that I gleaned some insights into Mr. Ybor’s intriguing history – though, I must confess, some credit also goes to our ghostly companions for filling in the gaps. The intertwining narratives between our various tours added an extra layer of intrigue, particularly when we stumbled upon the trap door at JC Newman – a relic of the past that whispered secrets of bygone eras. As twilight descended upon Ybor, we bid goodbye to its bustling streets, making a brief detour to the Hard Rock Casino before retiring to our resort for the night. I didn’t take a cigar inside, because after looking online it said they were smoke-free, but once inside I noticed everyone smoking. If you do go to the casino, feel free to bring cigars with you!

In conclusion I hope you enjoyed learning about my Ybor experience, and that you may have the opportunity to have one yourself. To stay informed on Cigar, Culture and the like follow Cigar Public at CigarPublic.com or social medias @CigarPublic. If you have an idea or a topic you would like to see covered send an email to [email protected] or myself at [email protected] or on socials @johnnysHavana

John Cardenas

I’m John Cardenas, also known as Johnny Havana in the cigar industry. What I love about being involved with Cigar Public is that I have the opportunity to learn and share the stories of those in the cigar industry. I’ve formed lifelong relationships over a cigar and conversations. I’m committed to providing honest reviews of cigars and sharing my experiences with you.