A Guided Tour: The Infiltrator
July 19, 2016 by Kevin Wiatrowski
The new film, "The Infiltrator," which opened nationally July 13, tells the gripping story of Bob Mazur, a Tampa Bay-based federal agent who infiltrated Pablo Escobar's Medillin drug cartel and brought down one of the world's biggest banks for laundering millions in cocaine cash.
Much of the story -- and much of the movie -- happened here in Tampa Bay.
Now you can take your own tour of locations that played important roles in Mazur's take-down of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. Some of these locations are featured in the movie, some are featured in the Mazur's 2009 memoir "The Infiltrator."
WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
601 N. Florida Ave.
Le Meridien Tampa
Let's start at the end: the courthouse where federal district attorneys secured 76 convictions against the bankers and drug traffickers targeted by Mazur's undercover work. Downtown's Beaux Arts-style courthouse served the cause of justice from 1905 until the late 1990s, when a new, bigger federal courthouse was built a few blocks away.
Today, the courthouse has been restored and reborn as the Le Meridien Tampa hotel. The renovation kept many of the building's best features -- walk on the same terrazzo floors Mazur trod on his way to testify, have breakfast in the hotel's Bizou Brasserie restaurant beneath the same coffered-wood ceiling where dozens of bankers and drug traffickers sat for trial and received their sentences. The hostess stand is the courtroom's former witness box -- the same box where Bob Mazur spent months as a witness for the prosecution. The wall surrounding the outdoor pool and courtyard was built to shield judges and prisoners alike from potential assassination on days they arrived for trial.
What you won't see: the rows of concrete-and-steel holding cells that filled the hotel's ground floor. They were removed to create the stylish lobby -- complete with the judge's bench beneath the windows.
100 W. Kennedy Blvd.
Aloft Tampa Downtown
This boutique hotel filled with thumping music and a great view of the Hillsborough River once housed the West Florida branch of the London-based Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). It was here that Bob Mazur laid the groundwork for the 2-year undercover investigation that would eventually bring the entire bank crumbling down.
655 N. Franklin St.
This office tower serves double duty: Bob Mazur (Bryan Cranston) jogs around it early on in the movie during a discussion with another officer about the best way to take down the drug cartels. In real life, the building's parking garage was where many of the key subjects in the investigation were arrested one by one. Mazur told them they would be attending his bachelor party in the club at the top of the building. According to Mazur's book, the funniest exchange in the movie (you know the one) happened here. While Mazur's staged wedding was held at the nearby Innisbrook Resort, Mazur preferred this spot for the take-down in real life to avoid traumatizing the families of the men being arrested. The filmmakers (and Mazur's boss, according to the book) preferred Innisbrook.
711 N. Franklin St.
This ornate 1926 movie palace hosted a red-carpet, invitation-only private screening of "The Infiltrator" complete with Bryan Cranston, Benjamin Bratt, and director David Furman. Downtown's architectural grande dame also has a cameo in the film -- Mazur and Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) have their first meeting here as Alcaino watches an old black-and-white film alone amid a sea of red-velvet seats in the balcony. The scene was set in Miami, but filmed here. See if you can figure out how to sit in the same seat.
1701 E. 4th Ave.
Cephas' Hot Shop
A colorful fixture of Tampa Bay's Ybor City neighborhood, this Jamaican store and restaurant gets lots of attention in "The Infiltrator." Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo) and his snitch wait outside Cephas' (the snitch stuffing money into his pants) before going in to what becomes a life-or-death confrontation. Cephas' was also transformed into the spot where Mazur and another man go through a voodoo ritual before being allowed to see Alcaino (the ritual doesn't go so well for the other guy).
1901 E. 5th Ave.
Casa de Lala
Peer through the iron gate at this yellow building on 5th Avenue in Ybor City. Does the courtyard look familiar? This is where Emir Abreu convinces Gonzalo Mora Jr. to trust Mazur as a man who can "wash" a lot of "clothes."
2117 E. Seventh Ave.
While you're in Ybor City, swing by the Columbia Restaurant, Florida's oldest restaurant and one of Mazur's favorite places to wine and dine the targets of his investigations. Come for the authentic Spanish and Cuban food (including Tampa Bay's culinary gift to the world, the Cuban sandwich), then stay for the Flamenco dancing.