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As a Tampa native, today's Ybor City is highly disappointing. The robust, vibrant, culturally unique neighborhood where my parents and grandparents grew up (see pic) AND the artistic bohemian community that began Ybor's comeback in the 80s have both been largely replaced by an unexciting collection of bars and "upscale" boutique franchises.
It goes like this: several decades ago, Tampa's 'civic leaders' visited New Orleans to see how we could transform an aging Ybor City into our answer to the French Quarter. Apparently, they never got farther than Bourbon Street. What we have now is an endless row of trashy bars where 'party animals' from miles around come to drink and puke every weekend. Culture? History? Local music? Whatever! Gimme another beer...
Two exceptions are the Columbia Restaurant (which is still excellent) and 'Centro Ybor', a collection of 'specially shops' and 'chic restaurants'. To build it, out-of-town mall developers gutted the historically priceless home of the Centro Espanol, a mutual aid society most of Ybor City's Latin residents belonged to at one time. It's a travesty that the beautiful building where my grandparents and their parents before them went to attend concerts, receive free medical care, and socialize with their friends and neighbors is now home to overpriced bistros, an underattended movie-plex, and yet another Tommy Bahama store.
To top it off, Centro Ybor is not doing well financially and, due to some ill-advised city decisions, the place is soaking up millions of dollars in tax money to stay open. Grrr...
But there may be hope for the future. The weekend party & puke crowds are thinning and some of the more boring bars are beginning to disappear. Even better, new housing is planned for the area and our new mayor promises to revitalize some of Ybor's old charm. Stay tuned!!!
Unique Suggestions: If you're going at night, leave the kids at home if you're planning on going anywhere besides the Columbia Restaurant. There's nothing for them to do -- unless you want them learning how to make fake IDs from the dozens of inebriated teenagers stumbling about.
Also, crime is a ongoing issue when the late night crowds are out. Don't get so wasted that you aren't aware of your surroundings.
Fun Alternatives: During the day, there are a few interesting places to visit. The Ybor City State Museum gives you a good sense of the area's past, as do a scattering of interesting shops and markets.
The architecture itself adds a nice ambiance, with brick buildings and iron railings everywhere (albiet housing many another dull drinking establishment). Most of the worthy places close up in the afternoon, giving you a little breathing room before the bars wake up.
Also, you can't miss the Columbia Restaurant (see details in the restaurant section). You can go for dinner, make a quick run down 7th Ave. so you can say you saw it when it was hoppin' (and hurlin'), then get out.
And for lunch, try a cuban sandwich at La Tropicana. It's a Tampa tradition.
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