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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Yxporing Ybor City

Ybor (pronounced EE-bor) City is one of the more historic neighborhoods in the city of Tampa and at one time was more unusual neighborhoods in the United States because it was truly integrated and mulit-ethnic at a time when that sort of thing simply did not happen.

The business heart of Ybor is a converted old factory
Today it's more known for being the center of Tampa's nightlife and gay culture.  Still though you can find old Cuban men rolling cigars, Italian being spoken on street corners and some of the best food in the city.  I enjoy Ybor because of its history, it's vibrant nature and historic buildings.  It's an area where young and old mix, chickens run about wild and free and tourists roam the streets with the natives.

If I was a much younger man I've no doubt that I would have spent many a night wandering about looking for excitement.

Ybor however is best explored by foot and not by bike.  Traffic can be a little insane and parking is at a premium.  Tampa is one of the few cities in the United States to still have a working street car line, which serves downtown and Ybor city almost exclusively, as well as the original 100 year old cobblestone streets.

With that in mind I left early in the morning because I wanted to beat the heat and the traffic.  I still ended up getting off of Kimmie and walking about for a bit.  My first stop was the Columbia Restaurant.  Operated continuously by the same family since 1905 the Columbia has expanded to fill an entire city block.  It's menu and wine list have won major awards and it's often humorous to see someone in formal wear sitting next to people in shorts.  It's not uncommon to be seated next to a politician or a celebrity.  That's the Columbia.  That's Ybor city.

Local legend has it that during Prohibition, Ybor city was involved in rum running from Cuba and one night gunfire erupted.  The bullets are still logged in the walls of the Columbia to this day.  There are also secret passages and hidden rooms from the old rum runner days which management will be glad to show you one day out of the week, I think it's on Mondays.

Detail of the tiles on the building

Wandering about Ybor you can not help be be impressed by the history and the tradition.  I've been to places like New York and Chicago and you just don't see streetlights like the one in the photo below.  Often the historic buildings are only one to three stories tall, this is due to the nature of of geography here in Florida, but that also means you have a feeling of community.  

A feral family of chickens being fed by the locals
How historic is Ybor City?  Honestly I can't say.  One thing I did see over and over again however is historical markers, some literally within ten feet of each other simply recording events that happened anywhere from five to a hundred years apart from each other.  It's something that we can not forget.  Ybor is being reinvented now, as historic buildings are slowly being converted into overpriced condo's that are forcing many of the long term residents out and the outskirts of the community fall into disrepair.  The price of progress I suppose.

Some additional photo's can be found here.  

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