Ybor City: A cultural bijou

Scantily clad minors, crime and crowded nightclubs characterize the infamous Ybor City, which has been deemed more seedy than sophisticated over the past half century. It was once a booming industrial city and cultural hub that was home to the cigar capital of the world, according to nps.gov.

However, the culture that reigned supreme for the majority of the 20th century is still present, though not particularly prominent, and can be found in the booming local music scene, the collection of art shows and the well-preserved history. Those who have rejected this historic district in search of more modern entertainment may be surprised to find that Ybor still has much to offer the college-age demographic.

Tom DeGeorge is the owner of Crowbar on Eighth Avenue, a venue that has featured numerous bands from the Bay area and played an important role in the heyday of Tampa’s metal scene.

“Every city should be lucky enough to have a gem like Ybor,” said DeGeorge. “You can’t beat it – the eclectic blend of people, all the different venues – there is a little something for everyone out here.”

Ybor City offers more than just nightlife. It’s possible to venture to this part of town for a nice weekend day trip and choose from a plethora of restaurants and shops. Visit the world-renowned Columbia Restaurant on the Seventh Avenue strip for a taste of Latin cuisine and a performance by exotic flamenco dancers.

Acropolis, also on the strip, is a moderately priced Greek restaurant that offers outside seating where patrons can watch an interesting sample of locals pass by.

Though a little pricy, Samurai Blue, a sushi restaurant in Centro Ybor, has won Creative Loafing’s “Best of the Bay” numerous times, according to creativeloafing.com.

Those interested in quick and delicious cuisine can walk over to Mema’s Alaskan Tacos or any of the famous pizza joints on Seventh Avenue.

After choosing a menu that pleases your palate, burn off that high-caloric intake by shopping at the two-story Urban Outfitters located in the Centro Ybor Square, or any of the other retail shops on the strip.

Impress your friends and snatch up some cheap and trendy vintage threads at Revolve Clothing Exchange, located one block from Centro Ybor. Also, for those searching for more than merchandise, the city holds an outdoor fresh market every Saturday, with locally grown fruits and veggies.

After sufficient shopping, one can seek refuge, refreshments and air conditioning at Muvico 20 in Centro Ybor Square.

The art scene is another hidden treasure in Ybor. A significant contributor to the artistic advancement of Ybor is USF alumnus Jay Giroux, a display artist who creates installations at Urban Outfitters.

The Czar Imperial Theater and Red Letter 1 frequently hold art shows featuring distinguished local artists. The latter also features installations by local artists in its studio. The Ybor Art Studio on Eighth Avenue offers classes in pottery and jewelry making, according to tbo.com.

At night, the district transforms into a new scene composed of different people looking for one thing: entertainment. Venues such as New World Brewery, Crowbar, the Orpheum, Czar and the Cuban Club play host to local and national acts. On a typical Saturday night, one can find a wide array of musical acts at these venues, with genres ranging from bluegrass to jazz. In the city, one can see up-and-coming bands for a cover that generally ranges from $10 to $15.

Bassist Brian Schanck from local act Win Win Winter said Ybor is one of his favorite places to perform.

“We have toured all over Florida and a lot of other states and Ybor is still our favorite place to play a show,” said Schanck. “It has the best and most eclectic group of people. They are really genuine. We love to check out shows in Ybor whenever we’re not touring.”

Townsend Colon, staff writer, contributed reporting to this article.