The mesh of Cuban, Spaniard, and Italian culture that was brought to Tampa has created a unique, relaxed atmosphere that’s enhanced by the tropical climate. Today Tampa has grown into a sprawling city that has been molded by a new-aged, hip scene. Although many of the original cafes, and restaurants have either been left to decay or replaced by big-chains, there’s still plenty of Tampa soul left. The places explored in this article are local gems that Tampanians frequent when they want an authentic Tampa experience.
The City of Tampa has a rich history that dates back to the early 1800’s. Vicente Martinez Ybor put Tampa on the map when he purchased 40 acres of land in 1885 to relocate his cigar company. In less than twenty years the population of Tampa grew from less than 1000 people to roughly 16,000. Many of the new residents were Cuban and Spaniard immigrants Ybor during his relocation who were experts at hand rolling cigars.
La Tropicana Cafe was established in 1963 when the original family ventured to Tampa from Cuba. The restaurant was once known for their Cuban sandwiches, but since the big location change to across the street in 1971 their deviled crabs have been deemed ‘the best in Tampa’ by locals. The workers take pride in every dish and are always ready to make each meal a relaxing, communal event. Even though there’s been a lot of changes in Ybor La Tropicana has kept a steady clientele of regulars and food lovers from all over. In 2004 president George W. Bush visited La Tropicana and put his seal of approval on their cuban sandwiches. The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
In 1926 the Bunker was originally a cafe called ‘The Two Friends.’ At the time many cigar factory workers would socialize, sip cafe con leche, and relax at The Two Friends. Later, the cafe was converted into a hangout for local war veterans where it was fondly given the name ‘The Bunker.” This historic building was almost lost to Tampa during the time of the Great Depression when it was neglected and abandoned. Luckily for the ever growing coffee culture scene in Tampa the Ybor City Museum Society decided to re-convert the building back into a cafe. The cafe was relocated to the Italian District of Ybor and dubbed ‘Tre Amici.’ The cafe has a very cozy vibe and has a clientele that consist of neighborhood regulars and new generation cafe seekers. Tre Amici offers open mic nights every first Friday of the month from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m and a singer/songwriter night every Thursday. Their hours during the week are Monday through Wednesday 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Thursday 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. On the weekends they’re open Friday through Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Sunday 10:00 a.m – 3:00 p.m.
King Corona can be described as a microcosm of Ybor culture. Not only do they operate as a cigar shop but they also run a cafe, and bar.The cafe offers the standard Café con Leché and Latte, but they also have unique drinks like the Coco-Latte, which is half hot chocolate and half latte. The shop has been a family owned business that’s been passed down for five generations, and cigars are their passion. King Corona offers a large variety of hand rolled cigars and the workers take pride in their quality products. If you’re not much of a cigar connoisseur the staff will be happy to introduce you to a type of cigar that will suit you and even tell you what type of wine or beer to pair it with. The shop features indoor and outdoor lounges where customers can enjoy their cigar and Cuban coffee and relax in the laid back atmosphere. King Corona is open on the weekends Friday 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., Saturday 10:00 a.m to 2:00 a.m., and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Their weekday hours are Monday through Wednesday 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. and Thursday 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.
At first glance El Molino might seem like a cafe that would get glanced over by the new-aged coffee yuppie. But, once you get a wiff of the freshly steamed, freshly ground, and freshly brewed coffee being made you might want to stop in to investigate. The Naviera Coffee Mill was founded in 1921 by Carlos Menendez, who named the company after the shipping line that brought him to America. Since its creation Naviera Coffee Mill has produced fine quality coffee that has been enjoyed by generations of Tampanians and visitors of the Tampa area. The company has gone through four generations of the Menendez family and is happy to offer customers some of their amazing product right where its made. The El Molino Gourmet Coffee Shop opened its doors in 1985 to give customers a glance at the coffee making process while you’re in the cafe. The shop is open Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
The grotto is not as old as the other locations featured in this spread, but it does capture the story of the infamous José Gaspar. Bar-goers can enjoy drafts inside the elaborately decorated, pirate styled Grotto. Known for their $2 shots and beers The Grotto lets customers sitting at the bar spin for a free bar tab. If you’re more interested in outdoor dining you can listen to live music at The Galley where you can enjoy a $25 gallon Long Island Iced Tea or Margarita to share. The last spot customers can enjoy at Gaspar’s Grotto is the Sandbar. If you’re looking for a different lounge experience take a trip to Ybor’s first outdoor party lounge and enjoy mixes spun by local DJ’s. Gaspar’s Grotto is open Sunday through Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and list their night events on their website at, http://gasparsgrotto.com/events/.
Katherine Lavacca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org