The TESCO streetcar in Tampa is clearly a tourist-driven mode of transit, but that’s a good thing–having a free, easy-to-understand way to get around a city, even if it’s just part of it, is something that is helpful for tourists who are unfamiliar with a city and want to get to know it better. The Tampa streetcar runs fairly frequently–about every 15-20 minutes–and takes you from downtown Tampa and nearish the water through Channelside before turning into Ybor City, making several stops in that neighborhood. Depending on the ridership, it can be a pretty efficient way to get from one part of Tampa to another, so I was happy to ride it so I could check out Ybor City for myself.
Per its Wikipedia article, Ybor City was founded in the 1880s by several immigrant cigar makers, including Vicente Martinez-Ybor. Notably one of the South’s first immigrant-founded neighborhoods, the town flourished for decades until the Great Depression killed cigar sales, and automation eventually decreased the need for hand-rolled cigars. (Incidentally, the cigar industry is why Tampa is known as the Cigar City.)
The main stretch of activity is along Seventh Avenue, making it akin to Calle Ocho in Miami’s Little Havana, as both are chock full of bars, restaurants, and shops, but visually they look very different. Like Galveston’s Strand district, you’ll find the Creole townhouses that makes you think of New Orleans’s French Quarter, but with a little grit and some interesting sidewalk tile details. In the middle of the Seventh Avenue is Centro Ybor, a complex with multiple restaurants, an arcade, and other touristy things where you can also learn a little more about the origins of this part of Tampa.
My first visit was on Wednesday afternoon. With the threat of rain no longer an issue, I took the streetcar and got off at Centro Ybor as it was a little closer to the places I wanted to check out. I was immediately charmed by it all, and popped over to Bernini as I was curious about their happy hour that ran from 11:30 AM through 7 PM and featured $3 vodka martinis, as well as wanting to get something to eat.
I loved it immediately upon entering the building: it looked like an old bank, but smelled like a fantastic restaurant, and between the old-fashioned bar and the overall decor, I was hooked. I had one of the martinis to go with a plate of carpaccio, and the martini was fine but I didn’t love the carpaccio–the truffle oil they added overwhelmed the dish. Thankfully, that would be the only dish I wasn’t a raging fan for in the two meals I ate there.
I did some more walking to get a feel for the neighborhood, and then popped in to Tampa Bay Brewing Company to try out one of their IPAs, and it was a nice, cool, quiet place to relax in for a bit before I would make my way back to the hotel, though I knew I would have to come back here if only to show Michael how neat this part of town was.
After Michael was done with work and we had sent off the equipment to where they needed to go at FedEx, we decided to do an earlier celebration for his birthday since our flight was on the early side the next morning. This time we Ubered over because the rates were very reasonable and we went back to Bernini where we feasted on some apps–the calamari and sausage and peppers this time around–a nice chopped salad, and we split a half-price pasta. (Seriously, this place is amazing if you can come during the day and take advantage of their specials!)
I had a mind to maybe go back to TBBC after we had taken a walk to, well, walk off those small-but-mighty martinis, but the walk seemed to be it and instead we went back to chill out in the room and pack. Before we did, we got to see the neighborhood in the twilight and follow some chickens that were hanging out in the park, and I was even more charmed than before. (Granted, that could have been the martinis talking.)
I hope that we have a reason to go back to Tampa again–while Miami will always be my favorite place to go in Florida, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this lovely Gulf Coast city.