Olé Schmolé!

I went to the Columbia with Ted and two friends from out of town, and I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t really impressed either. I don’t really know what I was, to be honest.


We ordered sangria, which was concocted tableside. I’m not so sure the tableside gimmick made the drink taste any better (although it tasted good), and all the pitchers our waiter had to mix for other tables made the service as slow as an elephant on barbiturates.


And I’m pretty sure a drugged-up Dumbo would’ve been more entertaining than the famed Flamenco show. Not that it wasn’t good. The dancers were extremely talented, to be sure—after all they’ve been performing at the Columbia since 1985. But the problem is that they look as if they’ve been doing this show for 22 years, with their plastered-on faces and unthinking twirls. They take themselves for granted, expecting that just doing a quality show is enough.


It isn’t. An audience can’t possibly have more fun than the performers are having, and I don’t think this troupe was having much fun at all. I chewed on my pompano en papillot, which like everything else was very high caliber but ultimately boring (except for the yellow rice, which was the fluffiest stuff I’d ever had the pleasure of masticating), tried unsuccessfully to get a few pictures of the dancers, and waited until halfway through our meal for the waiter to bring our bottle of Condesa de Leganza Reserva. Despite its tardiness the wine was delicious—a 1995 from none other Don Quixote’s home region, so the bouquet had a certain literary flair—but we got one of the last five bottles in stock, so order it quick.


And then we left, and I didn’t feel any more like a Tampa local than when I had arrived.


The most memorable moment of the evening occurred a block or two down 7th Avenue, just past the ground upon which Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders once stampeded. If they rode by today, not only would they notice warehouse-sized clubs blasting DMX songs about their roving band, they would notice pavement, and sidewalks, and on one of those sidewalks they would notice several constellations' worth of hexagons inscribed with personal messages. And in one of these hexagons they would see the following message, perhaps the most expressive, nuanced, layered, and even confused sidewalk quotation I’ve ever encountered:


“AT LAST JOY IN MY LIFE…FOREVER—JOY?”


For several minutes, my friends and I stared at the ground contemplating this poetic proclamation. Is this person talking about joy in a “Joy to the World” sense? Or as a personal emotion? Or is he referring to a woman named Joy?


It doesn’t matter. It’s difficult not to imagine the writer speaking the line, his or her voice lifting up at the very end to denote the question mark. The depth of the subtext stretches on forever. The line drips with all the pathos of the world, simple and sad and true, and yet is spiked with a smart dose of sarcasm—all compounded by the fact that hundreds of crude feet stomp unknowingly over these words every day without so much as a thought.


Ah, such is life.


Not to mention that the inscription was far more interesting and free-of-charge than anything we had seen or tasted at the Columbia.

What: The Flamenco Show

Where: Columbia Restaurant, 2117 East 7th Ave, Tampa (Ybor City)

When: Mon. – Sat. @ 7 pm and 9:30 pm

Must-Do? Says Who? Everyone and his or her mother, including the old Must-Do list (and its mother).

Casualties: $6 for the show. Too much for the meal.

Notable Quotable: “Olé!”

Yeah yeah yeah, so the Columbia is Florida’s oldest Spanish restaurant, and the world’s largest of the same. So you get the privilege of dropping $25 on an entrée. So it’s all fancy schmancy. So there’s a dinner show.

So what?

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