A historic city just a streetcar ride from downtown Tampa
Ybor City is a Tampa neighborhood, transported from a time of simplicity and the perfumatic fog of freshly baked bread that sweeps across town, inviting home-dwellers into the streets to help define an everlasting culture. A visit to Ybor today has a welcome sense of walkability, abundant parks, fine eateries within the comfortable grasp of your wallet, antique stores that seem to be more generationally fitting than the patrons inside them, and cigar shops that envelope the entire town: a postcard lost in time from the golden age of East Tampa.
This culturally diverse town, founded by Cuban immigrants, is in its essence, convenient. Just a short trip away from downtown Tampa on the TECO streetcar line, it’s easy to see the city in its entirety on a Friday or Saturday afternoon when the cars are running every 15 minutes until 2am.
Here’s a 23-minute walking map. And here’s a link to Tampa’s TECO streetcar line website.
And if you make the short trip over to this historical, small world that was almost forgotten in the mid 20th-century, be sure to stop at each of its most unique breweries. Each honoring the fabric of Tampa’s diverse, coastal culture, these are 5 places that are as unforgettable as they are essential to a self-made bar crawl in Ybor City.
For the sake of practicality, I’ve put Coppertail first on this list. As it is almost a mile from the rest of these breweries, and the only one not accessible by Tampa’s very convenient streetcar system, I figured it best to open with the community-involved, old-world-styled production brewery that shouldn’t be left off of any Florida beer list.
Using natural carbonation, whole leaf hops, and an unfiltered brewing technique might lengthen the process, but it is a worthwhile effort for Coppertail as it has proven to produce a truer, more delicious product. With 4 core beers gracing the taproom year-round, my personal favorite time and time again has been Night Swim: a porter as toasty as you might feel after a day in the Florida sun and advertised as a luxurious dip in St. Pete’s warm gulf waters.
And if you’re not into dark beers, then tough, get into them with this chocolatey, aromatic masterpiece. (Just kidding. Coppertail has so much to offer and their bartenders are experts in finding exactly what you’re looking for). Free Dive is their signature IPA and Unholy is a Belgian Trippel that packs a style warranted 9.2% ABV.
Zydeco Brew Werks
Stop 2 on this delightful list of Ybor City breweries is Zydeco Brew Werks, a relative newcomer in the craft beer community. Inspired by the likes of one of the nation’s most culturally significant cities (New Orleans), Zydeco has proven to be masters in the brewery as well as the kitchen. From their food menu, consider the shrimp and fontina havarti grits that pairs well with their Pablo IPA, brewed with citrus and pine notes.
Marvel at the historic streets from the second floor of this brewery which sits inside the former residence of a 1906 hardware store. With great prices on food and drink, stay for a couple or taste the full spectrum of their beers, starting at just $1.50 for select 4oz pours. Whatever you decide to do, be grateful that there is a place in this world that truly understands the meaning of the French phrase that gives it its name, translated as “the times are hard.”
Tampa Bay Brewing
With almost a quarter-century in the business, Tampa Bay Brewing is the oldest active brewery in Tampa and one of the oldest in the state of Florida. In that time, Tampa Bay has reached much of the state with a wide range of distribution and with its Ybor City location being centered inside of Centro Ybor Station, it has definitely become a staple in the revived, thriving downtown area.
Tampa Bay Brewing specializes in hop-centric styles such as IPAs and APAs, as well as sours and fruit-forward brews like the Florida-weisse. Their signature beer is Reef Donkey: a dry-hopped APA brewed with a variety of hop flavors that lend it a lemon/lime aroma as well as a tropical taste. Look for their collaborations with other brewing companies on their website, or ask about them in either of their taprooms.
Rock Brothers Brewing
This is one of the most innovative young concepts in the state of Florida, nay, the country. Rock Brothers Brewing has brought to Ybor City a brewing company/music venue that even in the realm of unusual mashups has taken things to a new level. With only a few beers dawning the Rock Brothers label, they might not be a craft beer playground, but how many breweries do you know that also have their sights on becoming a premiere venue for musical artists?
Co-founder Kevin Lilly created his passion project concert venue “The Attic” after 15 years in the music industry doing everything from concert promoting to tour management and more.
Bringing together both worlds in this 8,000 square foot, centuries-old building is a creative concept layered with unexpected twists. In their “Tasting Room,” guests may experience an entirely new conjuncture in the alcohol world, using hops to create hop bitters for their one-of-a-kind cocktails.
Cigar City Cider and Mead
Although the name might ring a bell and need no introduction for craft beer enthusiasts, you might find it interesting to hear that Cigar City Cider and Mead is a second location for the Tampa famous brewery that specializes in exactly what the title suggests. Although Cigar City doesn’t particular deal much in the realm of meads, you can find a very wild assortment of flavors in their guest meads, as well as an always rotating and usually Floridian guest beer list to go as an alternative to Cigar City’s own craft ciders.
With flavors such as Homemade Apple Pie and Passion Fruit Smoothie, it’s hard not to make this a refreshing end to this crafty 1.1-mile crawl in Ybor City. And with just about all of their ciders touching down at an easy going 5.5% ABV, be sure to try a couple of these sensational brews that are more intoxicating to your tastebuds than your blood alcohol concentration.
In Case That Isn’t Enough, or You Fancy Something Different
By this point, if you’ve enlightened your senses at each of these unique destinations, you should be good and ready to call it quits and get back on the streetcar back to downtown Tampa or in a ride-share back to your Airbnb (or for you locals, taking the old terrestrial locomotive to wherever you call home).
But if you skipped a few of these steps or are just in the mood for that kind of night, feel free to pop next door to Florida Cane Distillery for a vernacularly age appropriate nightcap of new world cocktails in this old world city.
Whatever you decide to do, as always, drink and enjoy quite responsibly.