Once the “Cigar Capital of the World,” Tampa Still Offers a Taste of the Old World
One of Ybor City’s famous roosters struts in front of an old casita’s covered porch where tabaqueros from another era may have once relaxed on a peaceful night drawing slow, contemplative puffs from a freshly made Havana.
The pleasant, wood-framed bungalow is now home to Tampa Sweethearts, its inner walls lined with cigars for sale but still offering a quiet respite on the same shaded porch.
But Tampa has grown up around the 1603 E. 6th Ave. store, which now sits across from a parking garage just one block from a popular nightclub district.
Arturo Fuente Jr., grandson of a man with the same first and last name who founded the famous brand more than a century ago, is proud of his family’s company and the city’s great cigar-making heritage.
“Tampa was the cigar capital of the world,” he said, noting that the city’s first hand-rolled premium cigar by a major manufacturer was made in 1886. “At one time, more cigars were produced here than anywhere else.”
Indeed, Tampa became Florida’s most diverse city, filled with immigrants of Cuban, Italian, Spanish, Irish, German and Jewish heritages. Fuente said they ventured here to either work in the cigar factories or in a local economy supporting them.
Hundreds of millions of premium cigars were made in and around Tampa over the decades, especially in Ybor City, which is now a part of Tampa just east of downtown.
Today, most of the hand-rolled production has migrated to Latin America and the Caribbean. But the rich, proud tradition lives on in Tampa’s many small shops, especially in Ybor City, where men and women still ply the old tobacco craft and sell their freshly made wares to natives and visitors alike.
Of course, local cigar makers also sell many of the popular offshore brands that aficionados expect.
So, try a Fuente – or one of its many other brands, including Tampa Sweethearts – and sample the rich, full taste to enjoy in the here and now.