Ybor City through a newbie's eyes

She'd never seen Ybor City before, so who better to take a look around?

click to enlarge After the rain - Shannon Bennett
Shannon Bennett
After the rain

Editor's Note: Shannon Bennett is a recent addition to the roster of contributors on Creative Loafing's blog, The Daily Loaf. A UCF grad, she's back in Florida after spending her first year post-college living and working in England, France and Spain. Because she clearly loves discovering new places, we assigned her to blog about her newest place: Ybor City. The articles and photos in this section (interspersed with Charles Greacen's beautifully rendered maps) provide a perspective that comes from somewhere between tourist and resident, a middle ground where many of us find ourselves when discovering and rediscovering the many surprises of Ybor.

A Rainy Day

I am brand spanking new to Tampa Bay, so when presented with the opportunity to do a newcomer's travel guide to Ybor City, my little writer's brain got all caught up in fluttery enthusiasm. I pictured myself sipping beer on sun-flooded patios, browsing all sorts of weird shops, and following it up with a night of all-in debauchery.

Imagine my disappointment when I was jolted awake by a crack of thunder to a black downpour of a morning. Suddenly I could relate to every horrified tourist I'd encountered during my college years in Orlando who felt they'd somehow been lied to when they booked a getaway to the "Sunshine" State.

Against every instinct to stay in, eat re-heated Chinese and watch the 6-hour version of Pride and Prejudice, I managed to pull some clothes on, wade out to my car and see what I could make of a truly subtropical day in Ybor City.

My favorite finds were as follows:

Ybor City State Museum

Museums are an obvious indoor choice when the weather is less than ideal. This was my first stop for precisely that reason.

The museum itself is relatively tiny, so I recommend you stop first at the round cubby in the center of the museum and have a seat inside to watch the short but well-made documentary. This will give you a better understanding not only of the museum artifacts, but of the buildings and statuary around the city.

I can't imagine the museum having quite the same allure on a sunny day. Most of the lighting inside comes via multiple glass skylights, which during the storm created romantic and spooky distortions on the artifacts and provided the perfect ambient rain-on-a-tin-roof soundtrack for a trip back in time.

Be sure to keep your umbrella close by to make a dash next door for the on-the-hour tours of the cigar workers' homes (casitas), admission $4.

La France

Everything a vintage shop should be: piles upon rows upon mounds of beautiful antique clothing, hats, shoes and jewelry displayed on as many racks as one could possibly fit into the given space.

In short, it is a fantasy find for the rainy-day shopper. Prices range from the $20-$30 range well up to what you would expect of an authentic Victorian ball gown or the like. Ration off plenty of browsing time and be prepared to walk out with at least one impulse buy.

Joffrey's

If you can score one of their cushiony armchairs, Joffrey's is a great stop to dry out a little, dip into your current reading material and sip a high-calorie whipped confection as the rain pounds away at the pavement outside. You'll be kept company by an array of unique artwork, all of which is available for purchase if it catches your fancy. Enjoy your view of all the other poor saps outside, dashing through Centro Ybor to escape from the rain. It will make your mocha, novel and dry clothes seem all that much more cozy.

Hi, tea

Last Thursday in Ybor City, the afternoon's high tea ceremony at the Tea Rose Cottage was a little bit "curiouser" than usual.

Local artists, re-invented as a variety of Lewis Carroll's beloved creations, invaded the little tea house nestled on the corner of Centinnial Park to share scones, tea and photo ops prior to a group viewing of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

Ringleader Pamela Tipton, who attended the event as the Mad Hatter, says that the group formed when she began hosting tea parties in her home a few years ago. When one guest arrived fully decked out in costume as her own mother, the tradition stuck so firmly that she "couldn't get people to come as themselves anymore."

Events like this one aren't unusual for Tea Rose Cottage. Owners Angie Ceglio and Jennie Weaver have played host over the years to an array of bridal showers, themed parties, bachelorette nights and the occasional gathering of Jane Austen enthusiasts.

It's a setting fit for the ultra-feminine, the fairy-tale and anyone seeking an afternoon of Regency-era pampering. Homemade sandwiches, seasonal scones and local fruit are served up on delicate tiered trays, (literally) topped off with a generous variety of chocolate-dipped desserts.

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