This past month I spent a few days in Tampa, Florida. I was in the city for a work conference, but I flew in a few days early and had a chance to actually enjoy the city a little bit. One area that I immediately fell in love with was their historical district, and you can tell why just by the name: Cigar City.
Tampa has been at the center of American cigar culture since the first hand rolling cigar makers opened up shop there in 1886, with cigar manufacturing quickly becoming the city’s primary source of revenue.
These days most of the actual manufacturing has shifted elsewhere, but the area of Ybor City just northeast of downtown Tampa still maintains that vibrant nightlife and a generous smattering of cigar lounges, all within walkable distance of a number of good hotels and conveniently connected to the city by a free tram line.
Looking at it on a map, the area generally consists of a single street arranged running east to west, with a number of bars, restaurants, and cigar lounges along the length of the street. Just north of the center of that area is a modern shopping complex with some additional food options (none of which I would recommend — the Tampa Bay Brewing Company served me a burger that looked like something McDonald’s would reject).
What I wanted to focus on were the cigar shops and lounges along the street, and to help anyone looking to make a trip down there to whittle down their itinerary to just the good stuff. Basically asking myself the question: if I were to go back, where would I choose to sit and have a cigar?
#1: Sterling Cigar Lounge & Bar
1531 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
This may be the most difficult place on the list to find, but it is 100% worth the effort. Their storefront on the street is just an open door that leads to an elevator, which takes you up to the top floor of the building where their bar and lounge is located. There’s a generously large indoor seating area, two covered patios on either side of the building, and a well stocked bar that you can sit at (but they also offer table service if that’s not for you).
In terms of the cigar options, their walk-in humidor is well stocked, every table has an ashtray, and the folks on hand were knowledgeable and helpful when it came time to pick a stick for the day.
Of all the places on the street, when I was done looking around and finally wanted to settle into a single place, this is where I chose. Their leather chairs in the indoor seating area were plenty comfortable enough to spend a couple hours, and the staff was just the right level of attentiveness — refilling my drink when it was empty, but otherwise leaving me to my own devices.
One other thing to note is that the lounge has live music on the weekends, which I didn’t get to experience firsthand but sounds like a great time.
My only complaint is that the total space is a bit small. The seating arrangement had me feeling more like I was at a Parisian bistro than an American lounge, and not necessarily in the best way. It also means this place probably fills up quickly on busy nights, so make sure to stop by early.
#2: King Corona Cigars
1523 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
If the Sterling Lounge was the upscale and premiere cigar lounge on the street, then King Corona is the more laid back cousin downstairs. Located pretty much adjacent to each other, this large and open bar offers not only an impressive selection of spirits but also a large walk-in humidor stocked with plenty of rare and interesting cigars as well as the usual favorites.
One thing I appreciated during my time there was that the bartender was excited to try out new cocktails and mix up some different and interesting versions of an old fashioned for me. It really felt like somewhere comfortable, where you could sit back and watch the football game while enjoying a cigar with some friends.
The only reason this isn’t #1 on the list is because if I’m in Tampa, it’s because there’s something special going on and I want to go somewhere a little special. If I’m in town for a longer period of time, or if I lived in the area, I’d practically have my name on one of these chairs. I could absolutely live here.
#3: Nicahabana Cigars
1605 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
So far we’ve looked at places that were essentially bars that also had cigars on offer. This is the first place on the list that felt like a cigar shop first and foremost, and the alcohol is just the tacked-on product.
Between a large walk-in humidor, a wide selection of cigars, and plenty of comfortable armchairs in the back of the shop, this is one of those places where you can just go and relax for a while. It’s ideal for sitting down with a fresh made cup of coffee from the bar and a cigar while reading the daily paper.
It looks small from the street, but don’t let that impression fool you — there’s plenty of space behind the humidor that you can’t see at first.
#4: Tabanero Cigars
1601 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
Of all the lounges on the street, this one felt like it was the most recently renovated. The space is large and airy, with plenty of seating options and drinks on offer. Their cigar selection was good… but compared to some of the other locations on the list, this just felt a bit sterile to me. That said, the chairs are soft and comfortable, the prices are reasonable, and the folks behind the counter were helpful and pleasant.
This one is probably best if you have a group of people rather than going by yourself, mainly due to how they have the chairs arranged.
#5: La Faraona Factory and Lounge
Factory: 1515 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
Lounge: 1315 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
These are actually two different locations on the street that are owned by the same company — an actual cigar rolling facility closer to the center of the district, and a lounge located on the western end of the street.
What puts this pair of locations higher on my list than the decor might otherwise suggest is that they roll their own cigars in-house. All of those tables in the image on the above left are for rolling cigars, and they will happily sell those same cigars to you at the counter.
Prices are a little high for their stuff in my opinion, but the appeal of having a locally manufactured cigar is pretty convincing. Also a nice touch is that rather than putting a moisture pack in the sealed plastic bag to keep your cigars from drying out, the just shove a handful of loose moist tobacco in there instead. I thought that was a fun touch.
#6: Long Ash Cigars
1728 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
There are additional shops on the street that roll their own cigars, and Long Ash Cigars is one of them. It’s a little bit of a hike from the center of the district to the eastern end of the street, but it might well be worth the trip. The crowds are a little smaller and the place feels more like a neighborhood hangout than tourist trap.
The bar is well stocked, prices are reasonable, and the location feels comfortable to sit and hang out for a while. (Plus, just down the street is an Italian restaurant that actually has some decent chicken parm.)
#7: Ybor Cigars Plus
1725 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
I’ll be honest, I didn’t care for this lounge. It could be the psychedelic lighting choice when I arrived that’s throwing me off (see above right image!), because on paper everything else seems good. The bar is well stocked, the humidor has a large selection… but it just seems more like a nightclub to me. I decided to give it a pass this trip.
As always, these are just my opinions and impressions. I guarantee that there’s something in this city that I missed, some hidden gem that still needs to be uncovered. Let me know in the comments if there’s anything that should be on this list, and what your opinions are of the cigar shops in Ybor City — the only American city I know of where you can smoke a cigar while answering the question of why the free-roaming chicken crossed the road!