Blue skies, a lively Cuban heritage, freshly minted Super Bowl winners – the city of Tampa in Florida has many attractions to offer, including the history-steeped University Club of Tampa, a city club with a vibrant social scene.
What does Tampa, Florida have in common with Winston Churchill? There is no record of the great British stateman having ever visited Tampa Bay, but his most iconic attribute – the perennial cigar – most certainly also came from here. Tampa, also known as Cigar City, was one of the largest cigar-producing centres in the United States. The city’s first cigar factory opened in 1886 in what later became the Ybor City quarter. Over the next 30 years, more than 200 cigar factories rose up across the region, employing tens of thousands of people and turning what had been a tiny town in 1884 into a major metropolis by the turn of the 20th century. At its peak, the cigar industry produced more than 500 million cigars a year and Tampa Bay cigars could be found in pool halls, boardrooms and palaces around the world – including in far-away London in the hand of Winston Churchill. The city still boasts many artisan cigar boutiques, many of which are in Ybor City, now transformed into an arty district with a vibrant clubbing scene – but one which has preserved much of the unique character of the immigrant community that founded it. One example is the famous bakery, which has been making Cuban bread for over a century according to the same time-honoured recipe, and ships its crispy loaves to shops and restaurants across the United States of America.
Tampa boasts a charming mix of historic architecture and modern landmarks, a culture infused with Cuban and Spanish flavours, a vibrant business community and a waterside location, all making this city on the west coast of Florida a true gem. Tampa also hit the headlines recently with the spectacular NFL Super Bowl win of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers captained by Tom Brady, a thrilling game that took place in the team’s home stadium in Tampa and was its first Super Bowl victory ever.
Soaring high above the city, with stunning views over the bay, the University Club of Tampa resides on the 38th floor of Tampa City Center in downtown Tampa. Founded nearly 80 years ago, in 1946, the University Club was the brainchild of a group of prominent businessmen who wanted to set up a downtown luncheon club that would provide a pleasant friendly atmosphere and allow its members to enjoy good company in comfortable surroundings. Rules required that members be college graduates with a quota of alumni from each of the state’s universities. The first premises were in the mezzanine of a hotel, with facilities including a dining room and a cocktail bar. To accommodate the steadily rising number of members, UCT relocated twice in the following decades, finally opening up in the present club quarters in 1982. As you enter the club, a large oak panelled foyer, serviced by brass-trimmed elevators, has the ambiance of a traditional English club. A spacious reception area features comfortable furniture for relaxation and conversation. A number of accessories and a console date from the original club. Photographs of past presidents, old English prints and paintings and the club’s gold crest adorn the walls.
Conveniently located in the business district, UTC is right next to the Hilton Hotel. The club boasts some of the finest cuisine in the area, an unparalleled view of the downtown skyline and beautifully decorated dining rooms designed to accommodate any business event or special occasion. Large pewter chandeliers provide lighting for the Hillsborough Room, which accommodates 180 seated guests. The Harbour Room, seating 100, is adjacent to the bar and cocktail lounge. These rooms overlook Tampa’s Hillsborough River and Hillsborough Bay. The view from large picture windows extends across the city, and on clear days the Sunshine Skyway Bridge is visible. Three private dining rooms, the River Room, Gasparilla Room and Ybor Room complete the club’s spacious amenities. UCT can also accommodate bespoke private functions for up to 400 people and is a popular wedding venue.
The club’s rulebook requires members and guests to wear professional dress, although denim is permitted during lunch service. Jackets are preferred for evening functions. Lauren Ibey, the club’s Membership Director, describes the membership as, “local business owners, government officials, thriving young professionals.” Past members have included many of the city’s leading lights. The club’s management team prides itself in the attractive events they organise for their members, including golf outings, BBQs and seasonal parties.
Members visiting this attractive city are invited to make their way up to the top of Tampa City Center, grab a seat in the club’s comfortable lounge, and savour one of the local cigars and a cocktail from the bar as they drink in the magnificent view over the sparkling bay.