I awoke early on this fourth day of April 1930 to an unusually cold day. My oil heater did little to keep the chill out of the wooden boarding house I called home. I looked down from my second-story window to the activity on the street below.
Cigar makers, bundled in warm coats and hats, walked rapidly to their factory jobs. Usually, their pace was slower as they reluctantly headed to work, but on this severely cold morning, they wanted nothing more than to escape the chill as quickly as possible.
I must down my morning coffee, grab today’s papers, and head to the factory. I cannot be late. The workers will anxiously await my arrival to hear details of the previous raid at a popular restaurant.
When I arrived, some workers were busily preparing their tobacco on their worktables while others were using the sharpening stone to make the blade of their chaveta sharp enough to cut tobacco.
“Good morning tabaqueros!”…. “Good morning Lector”.
I climbed to my chair on the Lector’s platform and began to read the morning’s Tampa Tribune headline: “Raid Tampa Restaurant–Dry Agents Seize $12,000 Liquor in Fashionable Resort.” “I heard it was El Pasaje they raided Lector. Is that right?” asked one of the bunchers. “Yes, it was El Pasaje.”
I continued reading from the paper, “Federal prohibition agents raided the fashionable El Pasaje Spanish restaurant here last night during the dinner hour and seized imported liquors valued at $12,000.”
“That’s more money than I make in a year rolling cigars,” said one of the workers.
I read further. “The officers searched the building for half an hour before they reported they had found the liquor stock hidden in a storeroom behind a concealed trapdoor.”
“I knew they had liquor hidden in the restaurant and that one of these days they were going to be raided,” said José, who, at age 94, was the oldest of our cigar makers. “I have gone there for dinner many times with my Maria and have seen people drinking from demitasse cups that did not contain coffee or tea. The waiters always ask if I want something stronger, but I gave whiskey up years ago on the recommendation of my physician. Did they arrest Alvarez, the owner?”
“Yes,” I replied. “It says here, ‘José Alvarez, a restaurant proprietor, and a waiter were arrested. The liquor, including champagne, Benedictine, vermouth, and other imported whiskies, was hauled away in a truck.’ ”
“I bet the police made a slight detour to their homes on the way to the police station!” laughed a worker. “Did they arrest anyone else?”
“No,” I responded. “It states the restaurant was filled during the raid, but diners were not bothered.”
“When will this prohibition end, Lector? Even Señor Ybor said keeping wine and spirits from the workingman is not right. It is part of our history and culture. We have been drinking wine in our family for generations,” said José. “All it does is force people to break the law!”
“My friends, we can do nothing,” I said. “It is the law, and we must abide by it. Maybe someday, our lawmakers will see that depriving a man of his occasional enjoyment is wrong and will use their power to change the law. It is all we can hope for. In the meantime, the rumrunners are becoming rich, hiding liquor in the hollowed-out logs of wood that float down the Hillsborough River and secretly distributing it around the city. It indeed forces the honest man to do things contrary to his beliefs. Well, let us hope Señor Alvarez and his waiter are released soon and can return to serving the wonderful Cuban and Spanish food cooked at El Pasaje!”
CIGAR CITY MAGAZINE- MARCH/APRIL 2007
Art & Photography Contributors: Hillsborough County Public Library, Tampa Bay History Center, The Florida State Archives, The Tampa Tribune/Tampa Bay Times, University of South Florida Department of Special Collections, Ybor City Museum Society, private collections and/or writer.
MARILYN L. FIGUEREDO
Marilyn was Cigar City Magazine's co-owner and managing editor until her passing in 2007. Marilyn was born in 1948 in Tampa, where she lived her entire life and, more specifically, her early childhood in Ybor City. After a successful 30-year career at Delta Air Lines, Marilyn embarked on what became her true passion: reinvigorating the colorful, multicultural history of Ybor City through the lives and personal stories of the families and individuals who made up the uniqueness of this Tampa quarter. She did this primarily through Cigar City Magazine, serving on various committees and organizations, and attending cultural events throughout Tampa. Her work alongside her niece Lisa Figueredo, founder and Publisher, was instrumental in producing Cigar City Magazine.
Marilyn's legacy will live forever throughout the pages of Tampa's first historical magazine–CigarCityMagazine
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