YBOR CITY — The historic Cuban Club was on island time Saturday when it played host to thousands of people who came to the tropical Summer of Rum festival.
This is the second year that Big City Events — the same company that puts on the annual Tampa Bay Margarita Festival and the Spring Beer Fling — has hosted the rum festival, said organizer Ferdian Jap.
Representatives from seven major rum brands, including Bacardi, Naked Turtle and Cruzan, set up booths in the courtyard behind the Cuban Club. Between 4,000 and 5,000 people — all 21 and older — celebrated National Rum Day by sipping brightly-colored daiquiris, mojitos and pina coladas. Some set up lawn chairs to watch the live bands performing island-inspired music on stage.
In a tasting area in the Cuban Club’s fourth-floor ballroom, a separate ticket gave some the option of trying 40 different rums at the “Island Party.” A “Pirate’s Cove” area was set up on the second floor and a “Mojito Cantina” was on the first floor.
“This is the best festival I’ve ever been to,” said Tara Rehmer.
She and her friends bought tickets for the tasting in addition to the $20 general admission tickets. It was a great deal, she said, because they got to try a lot of samples and go home with lots of free giveaways.
“The music’s great; the atmosphere’s great,” she said. “The tasting was the best part.”
And Rehmer usually prefers vodka to rum, she said.
The idea to host a rum festival came about after the Tampa Bay Margarita Festival was formed, Jap said. The annual margarita festival, which began in 2013, has sold out each year.
A representative with Cruzan rum, which had a booth at the margarita festival downtown, thought it was so successful that the company offered to work with Big City Events and form the Summer of Rum festival.
Last year’s event, held at The Heights Waterfront, was sold out.
This year’s island-themed extravaganza was even bigger and better, Jap said.
“And it’s at the Cuban Club,” he said. “It’s the right fit.”