Ybor City is the bar crawl capital of Tampa, but not only that, this little historic Latin neighborhood makes some of the finest cigars in the world, has music filled streets and has an eclectic range of restaurants and drinking establishments.
In this article: Ybor City History, Columbia Restaurant, 7 Best Ybor City Bars
Location: Tampa, FL (Your GPS should be able to locate “Ybor City”). The main thoroughfare is located on 7th Avenue.
Parking: There is free and paid parking.
Hours: Alcohol ceases to be served at 3:00am.
In the beginning…
A Spaniard, a man by the name of Vicente Martinez Ybor, had spent much of his time in Cuba, perfecting the craft of cigar making. In 1856, he founded his own cigar company, El Principe de Gales, in Havana, Cuba and it quickly became a major success. The breakout of the Ten Years’ War in 1868 forced Ybor to flee to Key West, FL, as the Spanish authorities intended to arrest him for helping the Cuban rebels.
In Key West, Ybor opened a new factory and resumed his cigar manufacturing. The business continued to thrive but Ybor faced challenges at the Key West location, such as difficult transportation to and from the island, which brought Ybor to search for a new factory site, which eventually led him to Tampa.
In 1885, Tampa was still a sleepy village (although it was on the cusp of rapid growth) and land was cheap. Ybor bought 40 acres of scrubland northeast of Tampa and built the largest cigar factory in the world. Other cigar manufacturers moved into the area and it increased in size. A planned company town was built and was nicknamed “Ybor City.”
Ybor City has an interesting history: cigar making, redbrick architecture, Spanish-Cuban-Italian immigration, social clubs, rumbles of revolution, mob bosses and more. Instead of rehashing all that history here, I will refer you to some of the best literature I have found on the subject and then we will proceed with how to visit modern day Ybor City.
Ybor City: The Making of a Landmark Town by Frank Trebin Lastra – A very detailed history of Ybor City that includes photos and fascinating stories.
The Immigrant World of Ybor City: Italians and Their Latin Neighbors in Tampa, 1885-1985 by Gary R. Mormino and George E. Pozzetta – A history that examines the relationships between the different ethnicities and social classes found in Ybor City as the city grows.
Ybor City Chronicles: A Memoir by Ferdie Pacheco – A very lively and funny account of the author’s teenage years growing up in Ybor City in 1930s and 1940s. Ferdie Pacheco is best known for being the “Fight Doctor” for Muhammad Ali and other boxing champions.
The Columbia Restaurant Spanish Cookbook by Adela Hernandez Gonzmart and Ferdie Pacheco – The Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City is legendary and here is a cookbook with 178 recipes and a narrative of the history of the restaurant.
Ybor City, The Columbia Restaurant And Getting Ready For Your Bar Crawl
Ybor City is tucked between I-4, I-275 and the Selmon Expressway. The main stretch of Ybor is on 7th Avenue and the streets that branch off of 7th Avenue. Finding a place to park isn’t too difficult. Also, you can use the old-timey TECO street car to get between Ybor City and the Channelside District. For reference, on the below map, the Channelside District includes The Florida Aquarium.
Before we get to the bar crawl, I must make at least one recommendation that will add a splash of class to your evening: The Columbia Restaurant.
The Columbia Restaurant was founded in 1905 and is the oldest restaurant in Florida, the oldest Spanish restaurant in the U.S., and one of the largest Spanish restaurants in the world. It has 1,700 seats, 15 dining rooms, and takes up an entire block. The evening includes live music, flamenco dancers and Spanish-Cuban cuisine. They now have a few locations around Florida but the Ybor City location is the original and the best and it is still run by the founding family. Check out the below video to get a good idea of what your visit will look like if you decide to go. (Link: Official Columbia Restaurant Website)
You will not be disappointed if you dine at the Columbia Restaurant.
7 Best Bars For Your Ybor City Bar Crawl
The bars on this list are in no particular order and they range from fancy wine-sipping to pirate themed guzzlers to absolute hole-in-the-wall dives. And you can always just forget about any of the bars on this list and let spontaneity rule the night. Either way, have fun!
1. Bad Monkey | (Official Bad Monkey Website)
The Bad Monkey has 105mm howitzer shells on the bar that pour beer and a Flying Tiger P-40 Warhawk plane crashing through the wall. 12 beers on tap, 11 televisions, and handmade Ybor City cigars for sale. The Bad Monkey has military roots and is dedicated to those who serve their country.
2. James Joyce Irish Pub | (Official James Joyce Ybor Website)
The James Joyce Irish Pub and Eatery is an Irish pub that has an atmosphere that could have been taken straight out of Dublin. I’ve had the good fortune to tour Dublin’s finest pubs and eateries on a couple occasions–for educational and cultural reasons, of course, I’m all about expanding my horizons–and I must say this pub nails the essential elements of the Irish public house. They have won the Tampa Bay Times “Ultimate Bar” title 7 years in a row. Also, they know how to properly pour a pint of Guinness:
3. Gasper’s Grotto | (Official Gasper’s Grotto Website)
Gasper’s Grotto is Ybor City’s pirate-themed bar, billing itself as Tampa’s Notorious Pirate Bar and Restaurant. Whenever I go to Ybor, Gasper’s is always a stop of mine. You can get a beer and a shot of whiskey for $2, see live music on the outdoor porch, and have amazing Cuban sandwiches, which, if you have never had one, you should definitely order. They also do karaoke. I once had a friend sing The 12 Days of Christmas in July there. I never realized how long that song is. He wasn’t very popular the rest of the night.
4. The Boneyard | (Official Boneyard Website)
The Boneyard, located near Gasper’s, is a self-described dive bar and is probably described as a dive bar by other people too. It’s great fun and will be a treasured stop on your bar crawl. They specialize in beer, beer, liquor, beer, booze and chicken wings.
5. Ybor City Wine Bar | (Official Wine Bar Website)
The Ybor City Wine Bar has 200+ handpicked wines and 100+ craft beers for your tasting pleasure. On duty sommeliers can walk you through a wine tasting experience and help you pick the perfect wine, which is nice because a guy like me likes wine but doesn’t know the first thing about it. Wine can be purchased by the glass or bottle.
6. The Castle | (Official Castle Website)
The Castle is a goth, dimly lit, dungeon-like nightclub that attracts a very fun and varied crowd. During my visit I saw men wearing mascara, people in face paint, and full-blown storm troopers. There are multiple mazelike floors, many bars, and various rooms and nooks and crannies hidden throughout. It’s a crazy place with a devoted following and the regulars are nice and friendly. You may feel out of place but I promise that you will have an interesting time. The Castle is located a couple streets over on 9th Avenue.
7. Coyote Ugly Saloon Tampa | (Official Coyote Ugly Website)
Coyote Ugly Saloon is a saloon/bar in which patrons and bartenders may end up dancing on the bar together and some women may throw their bras onto the ceiling joists. The crowds is fun, the music is loud, and the beer is cold.
I remember all my Ybor City adventures fondly and this truly offers an experience that can’t be had anywhere else. I didn’t even go into the many cigar shops that are available in the area either, but I will say that the legendary Cuban cigars that everybody talks about are matched by the ones found in Ybor; the craft was brought to Ybor straight from Cuba.
There is an AMC movie theater in Ybor City as well and several tattoo parlors. I don’t recommend making your tattoo decisions while touring Ybor City’s drinking establishments. If you need help getting around you can use the Lyft code FLEXPLORER to get $5 off your first ride with Lyft. There is an escape room in Ybor City that can add some puzzle solving to your night and there is also a cool Ybor City Food and Drink Tour Groupon currently available.
On an unrelated note, don’t forget to check out my #1 Bestselling Busch Gardens guidebook, available right now on Amazon! Thank you so much for reading! I hope to see you out there!