"Fifteen men and the dead man's chest.
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"
R. L. Stevenson
The worst hangover of my life was the direct result of the ingestion in megalithic amounts of a mixture of lemon syrup and alcohol of more than dubious origin. This colorful cocktail was baptized "Industrial daiquiri" by its consumers and was marketed in a dingy corner of G Street and 23rd in Vedado. The analysis of the reasons and circumstances through which I was in such a place on a Saturday night and ingesting such concoctions in such companies falls way beyond the social object of AlaMesa.
I therefore will proceed to tell the story of the second worst hangover of my life.
My girlfriend is tourist by profession, a noble craft internationally esteemed for its low impact on the environment. Or so they say. She has been abroad for a couple of month now on a scholarship related to her specialty (As I said, she is a professional tourist) in an European studies center whose name we will not say given the nature of the events that you will witness. We'll call it University Somewhere in Europe (USE for its acronym in English).
Parte del plan de estudios del semestre en el postgrado es el venir a Cuba a visitar instalaciones turísticas como estudio de campo. Sí, hay personas en el mundo que se dedican a eso y a las que incluso les pagan. De repente el haber estudiado en CUJAE no es tanto motivo de orgullo.
As part of the curriculum for the semester, the students must come to Cuba in order to visit touristic facilities as a field research. Yes, dear reader, there are people out there in the world who do such a thing for a job and even manage to get paid for it. Suddenly I don’t feel so proud of being a CUJAE graduate.
And how do you know Havana without exploring Havana night? Say that yourself.
The first night, we met the boys and girls of USE in Bar Monserrate, and I honestly can’t say how they ended up there. Monserrate intend is to preserve the air of the bars of the belle époque of Havana’s republican period in order to attract both tourists and nostalgic. However, the result of that strategy combines some of the worst things about those times, with the classic missteps of our state-owned tourism offers.
The mojitos with which our guests were regaled (and I won’t say the price to avoid you some tears) were infamous and so where the cigars sold to them: the very bottom of Cuban cigars quality scale. There was a TV set showing a dim view of local channel Cubavisión transmitting a Russian film (The white tiger). As a collateral source of entertainement, they got a street magician stuck to them. Now, as a Cuban, I am well aware of the importance of diversifying and expanding the tourism offer in order to earn foreign exchange to strengthen the national economy therefore ensuring the continuity of the social programs that we enjoy but ... really? A street magician?
Alguien propuso Sangri La, pero finalmente acordamos ir a Espacios.
It is a house built in the 40's or 50's, with two floors (only the ground floor is accessible to the general public) and a very large patio. The furniture, both in the interior and in the exterior, is very modern and comfortable and is designed for groups to sit and enjoy drinks and simple dishes (savories, for example), and not precisely for those who want to have a full meal (although there are also spaces designated for this). The menu is more of the same. Espacios is basically the first place that comes to mind when someone yells "party."
That is why Espacios becomes a place of encounters and gatherings, a place for sharing moments and enjoy good company.
And that did well for the boys and girls of USE. Led by my girlfriend, they took possession of one of the inner rooms, next to the DJ and started dancing.
The interior is decorated with works of art on the walls, antique china dishes and everything else the owners found and considered might generate a nice ambience. The whole set is actually very good: the atmosphere is electric, or at least it was that Friday night, when basically the whole city seemed to be there. It was crowded. Very crowded. Overpopulated.
They keep up with the demand of drinks by using two bars, one inside and another in the patio.
I was watching the inside bartender for a while and I can tell he knows his business, the drinks well actually ok. I initially asked for a caipiroska and it wasn’t properly macerated, a forgivable sin, considering the demand forced him to ensemble 5 cocktail at a time. However, from there every single cocktail we ordered (and we ordered wide and plenty, and we passed them to each other in order to compare) were fabulous.
Local mojito was a scored goal, the very best of the night, although it might just profited from Monserrate’s failures.
We did not ordered savories so I can hardly tell a thing about it, nevertheless prior customers recommend the croquettes. A highlight: according to those very reviews, the price is too high for the size and quality of the dish (I guess that’s how they charge you for the party). In comparison, the drinks were not as expensive.
Despite the storm of people everywhere, the service seemed in control of the situation: orders coming out on time, someone was always available to each customer and the empty glasses were removed so smoothly that I suspected elves. The service stoically endured the nudges inflicted by the dancers and someone came to clean a drink we poured before I even had the chance of asking for wipes. I say “we poured” just out of pure solidarity: the USE team was in charge of all thinkable excesses: they danced so much and so bad thatSecurity (to which I send my greetings) appealed to me as a responsible adult to put a stop to that havoc (no joke, unfortunately).
At 2 am, we were sitting in the courtyard, discussing Oscar Wilde in the cool morning air. Humanness, love, loneliness, joy, dreams are universal and timeless. The language was the same, the space, appropriate.
To be continued…