Historic restaurants are my absolute favorite spots to check out when visiting different cities. My family and I have had the pleasure of eating at the oldest restaurant in the United States while visiting Boston. I had a date with my hubby in the oldest restaurant of Savannah. So when visiting a city like Tampa it would practically be a cardinal sin not to visit and eat at the oldest restaurant in Florida, the Columbia Tampa Restaurant.
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Columbia Restaurant is not only historic, it is an iconic landmark.
Columbia Restaurant, Tampa, Florida
Picture this – it is 2 pm on a regular Thursday afternoon. Not a holiday, not even lunchtime. We arrive to the Columbia Restaurant with a reservation. I was considering not doing the reservation all together. I mean, why would the largest Spanish Restaurant in the world and definitely the largest restaurant in Florida, over 1500 seats, be busy during off hours?
Not only was the restaurant completely full, but there was also a huge waiting line to get in. Why? And where are all these people coming from? I haven’t seen this many people exploring the city, how did they all end up here.
The truth is, this is the norm at this restaurant day and night.
Did you know?
The famous Cuban Sandwich was invented in Tampa, not Cuba. Columbia Restaurant is known to serve the best Cuban Sandwiches, beating out Miami and Cuba.
With that knowledge, it was almost a no brainer what my lunch would be. But that’s not all they are known for. With the restaurant opening doors in 1905, they have a salad that they have been serving for over a century.
And, being a Spanish restaurant, how can they not serve up Sangria. If you order a pitcher, they make it right in front of you.
If you aren’t up for a Sangria, Columbia Restaurant has one of the best wine collections in Tampa, and even have some wines that are only served at this particular restaurant.
Columbia Restaurant History
Columbia Restaurant Beginnings and Growth into the Most Iconic Restaurant in Tampa
- Its full name is Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City.
- It was founded in 1905 by a Cuban immigrant called Casimiro Hernandez and is known as Florida’s oldest restaurant.
- It is also the largest Spanish restaurant in the world.
- It started as a 60-seat corner café known for its Cuban coffee and authentic Cuban sandwiches. In 1919 the restaurant next door was bought and turned into an additional dining room.
- After Casimiro’s death, his son took over the restaurant in 1930.
- During the Depression, he built the first air-conditioned dining room in Tampa with an elevated dance floor. He named it the Don Quixote Room.
- Casimiro Jr.’s daughter Adela Hernandez Gonzmart, who was a concert pianist, married Cesar Gonzmart, a concert violinist. They took over the restaurant.
- They persevered in keeping the restaurant open during the late 1950s and 60s when Ybor City was dying.
- Upon taking over direction of the restaurant Cesar built the Siboney Room in 1956.
- Some of the top Latin talent during that era came to perform in this large showroom.
- During Cesar Gonzmart’s reign, Columbia also expanded to other locations in Florida.
- In 1959, Columbia Restaurant opened on St. Armands Circle in Sarasota.
- It is now Sarasota’s oldest restaurant, too.
- Cesar and Adela’s sons, Richard and Casey, began working at Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City when each turned 12-years old, but left to keep studying.
- Both Casey and Richard returned to Columbia Restaurant upon completion of their education and worked in the family business with their father.
- Richard and Casey, along with their father, opened another Columbia restaurant in St. Augustine in 1983
- In 1987 they opened at the Pier in St. Petersburg, Sand Key in 1989, and in Central Florida’s town of Celebration in 1997.
- In 2009 The Columbia Café on the Riverwalk in Tampa at the Tampa History Center opened. And the most recent one (May 2012) at Tampa International Airport.
Information for Visiting Columbia Restaurant in Tampa
Definitely make a reservation. It will save you a long wait. When you are a walk-in, you need to wait till everyone with reservations is seated.
Phone: (813) 248-4961
Address: 2117 East 7th Avenue, Tampa FL 33605
Hours: 11:00 – 22:00