Searching out Cuba in Tampa
Tampa is unlike any other Florida city. It’s not overrun by senior citizens, nor is it built up around a series of theme parks. One reason it’s such a multi-cultural city it is today is because of who moved there in the late 1800s: Cubans.
Fleeing the Ten Years’ War, which was one of three wars Cuba fought with Spain for independence, thousands of Cubans headed for the United States, and many settled in Tampa.
Their influence can still be seen, felt and tasted in Tampa over 200 years later. Here are three spots to sample the best of the best.
The Cuban Club. This brick building is a cultural landmark and lasting evidence of Cuban American’s roots in Tampa. The building, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972, opened in 1918. It was a replacement for the original clubhouse of the Circulo Cubano, a fraternal group for Cuban residents in Tampa, which burned down in 1916. The then-new building, constructed for $60,000, included a theater, cantina, pharmacy, library and dance floor. Members boxed on the patio area. If you’re in town for a convention, chances are you could be attending an event here since its primary purpose now is as an event space.
King Corona Cigars is a fifth-generation cigar company, and is an experience to visit. Here, you can watch the process of how cigars are made – and hand rolled. But if you’re not a smoker you can sample their other specialty: Cuban coffee. King Corona is also known as a spot for an exquisite Café con Leche (Cuban espresso with steamed milk) or and Café Solo (the same but without the milk). You can have a cup and a snack in their on-site cafe.
Columbia Restaurant is a Tampa institution. Make sure you go to the Ybor City location in Tampa, which opened in 1905. It’s Florida’s oldest restaurant, and it has been named “One of Florida’s Top Restaurants” since 1967. When you step inside, you enter an oasis of palm trees and old stone arches. It’s the perfect setting for Columbia’s Cuban/Spanish fare. If you’re a seafood lover, try the Cannelloni de Langosta “7 Portes,” which is pasta stuffed with lobter meat, shrimp, pan-seared scallops and shallots cooked in a lobster sherry cream reduction. Meat lover? Try the New York Strip Steak “The Bambino,” so named after Babe Ruth, who was a frequent customer. Both pair perfectly with a 1905 martini. There’s also live Flamenco dancing every night of the week except Sundays.
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