Though Cuba’s borders aren’t truly open just yet, the Cuban tradition of hand-rolled artisan cigars escaped the country long ago. And it landed in Tampa Bay, where the craft has grown in Ybor City, a neighborhood known for its Latin flair. While the historic district and its surrounding area offer dozens of cigar shops, these standouts strike a balance of history, comfort, and quality, each in its own way.
Thick, sweet smells waft from the patio of King Corona Cigars, where regulars sit puffing hand-rolled Olivas and Padróns and discussing La Gaceta, Tampa’s English/Spanish/Italian weekly newspaper. Located in the heart of Ybor City, King Corona is five generations deep in cigars, its own family blend sitting alongside the well-known brands on display in the shop’s massive humidors. Select your cigar first and then your seat -- be it at the bar, in the lounge, or on the patio -- then settle into a long, slow smoke. With long hours, King Corona invites you to linger, offering a simple but satisfying all-day menu of Cuban coffees, breakfast staples, tapas, and sandwiches as well as craft brews and wines by the glass. Ask for a recommended pairing or go straight for the house specialty espresso, which is spiked with a cayenne-laced caramel sauce.
1523 E. 7th Ave., Tampa, FL
Owned and operated by one of the oldest cigar-making families in the States, Tampa Sweethearts Cigar Company specializes in handmade Dominicans -- unsurprising, given that it was Arturo Fuente Jr. who opened the shop some 20 years ago. Inside the bright yellow house-turned-storefront you won’t find any bells and whistles but rather a fine selection of slow burners: varieties of Ashton, Brick House, La Aroma de Cuba, Cuesta-Rey, Diamond Crown, La Unica, Prometheus, San Cristobal, and Arturo Fuente line the humidors, as do the apprentice-rolled Tampa Sweethearts. A few over-sized leather chairs dot the unassuming shop, which puts emphasis on quality and customer service over showmanship. Plan to visit the early, as most days it closes before dark.
1603 E. 6th Ave., Tampa, FL
To see artisans and their craft in action -- from wrapping and binding cigars to filling them -- visit Tabanero Cigars. The shop has an open kitchen of sorts, where visitors can sit with a Cuban coffee and watch tabacaleros at work, crafting the very cigars that eventually fill the humidors and empty your pockets. The micro-brewery of cigar stores, Tabanero guarantees that whichever cigar you’ve chosen to light (using the in-house blowtorch, of course) is just 20 days old. It’s a source of pride for owner Yanko Maceda, who runs Tabanero with a small but passionate team of cigar artisans from Havana. His is also the only factory in Tampa to make long-filler cigars exclusively -- and for just $10, he’ll prove it to you on the factory tour.
1601 E. 7th Ave., Tampa, FL
The only thing between you and lighting up a specialty cigar from one of these shops is booking a slip at a local marina. The closest marina to Ybor City and these cigar shops is Tampa is the Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina.