Welcome to the photo series Eater Scenes, in which photographers visit some of the world's great restaurants to capture them at a certain, and very specific, point in the day. Here now, Gina Weathersby at Tampa's landmark Spanish eatery Columbia Restaurant.
For well over a century, Columbia Restaurant has been hosting Tampa visitors and residents in its now-iconic Ybor City location. Serving Spanish and Cuban-inspired cuisine in a historic building, Columbia has several proud superlatives to its name. It is home to Tampa's first air-conditioned dining room. It is Florida's oldest restaurant, and according to its website, it is the largest Spanish restaurant in the world: "The total number of dining rooms [is] 15, with seating for up to 1,700 people. The restaurant has a grand total of 52,000 square feet, and encompasses an entire city block."
Founded in 1905 by a Cuban immigrant named Casimiro Hernandez — his family continues to run the restaurant five generations later — Columbia Restaurant actually began as a smallish "corner cafe." In 1919, Hernandez bought the neighboring restaurant space, turning it into Columbia's dining room. The next major expansion came in 1956, with the addition of the Siboney Room, where dancers and musicians could entertain Columbia's guests. Fast-forward some 50 years, and the family has spent more than $6.5 million on improving the place — tiles from Spain, a brand-new kitchen (the old kitchen has been converted into dining rooms), new wine cellars, and other upgrades have helped keep Columbia fresh for Tampa. Here now, a look inside the many rooms of Columbia Restaurant as dinner service begins on a Thursday this month.