Total Pageviews

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Today's post is a Father's Day remembrance of good times in Cuba, 2015
Editor’s note: On a daily basis from June 1 thru June 30, 2015 Pillar to Post online magazine is featuring articles, photos and insights resulting from a recent group tour, an adventure we dubbed: the April 23 Brigade’s Tour of Cuba 2015. 

I’m a lucky man. 

My Father’s Day tale is recalling a father and son night in Havana spent restaurant hopping with Michael Shess, one of the country’s leading beer journalists, who happens to be our second son.  Wife/Mom, Phyllis had bowed out earlier for an evening of bubble bath and quiet time at the Hotel Nacional after we all spent a ten-mile day walking around Cuba’s historic capital city.

Mike, who publishes West Coaster magazine out of San Diego, and I had other ideas for the evening. 

Exiting the Hotel Nacional, one of the flagships of Cuban hotels, we noticed a dusky sun trying to break through the rain soddened clouds.  We walked a couple of blocks away from the hotel and flagged down a Havana Taxi.   Mike said rates were cheaper away from the hotel.  Maybe so, but it didn’t matter. It was the last of the inheritance—spend away, a favorite long ago phrase from a favorite uncle that I’ve always liked.

Our taxi was a convertible 1959 Ford Fairlane.  Bet anyone a cool Mojito or Fanta that the paint job was original.  But, as we approached the cab, the heavens opened up. The shower turned downpour was a harbinger of an even larger storm headed our way.  But for tonight, the top went up on the old Ford and our convertible drive down the Malecon would be in the rain. 

Our driver told us the Ford engine was not original.  So far, no one has lied to us in Cuba.  Sounded like a jerry rigged Russian made diesel.  We didn’t ask.
The Ford followed the no-street-sign streets to Sloppy Joe’s Bar and Restaurant in Old Havana.  This was the bar, where actors Alec Guinness and Noel Coward starred in the 1958 film “Our Man in Havana.”   A few scenes of the flick were filmed inside Sloppy Joe’s and Ernest Hemingway is reported to have been the film’s consultant.
Sloppy Joe's, 2015
Once inside the very sophisticated Sloppy Joe’s, I recalled the words of my late dad, who insisted it never rained inside a good bar—or at least, he couldn’t remember if it ever did.
Mike and Tom Shess inside Sloppy Joe's, Havana           
We dined on sandwiches: a Cubano and a Jamon and cheese.  He recalled living on bread, ham, cheese and olives in Madrid during the year he attended school there.

From Sloppy Joe’s, we hopped a bicycle cab to our next stop at Plaza San Francisco along Havana’s waterfront.  Mike wanted to try out Factoria Cerveza, a microbrewery located in the popular Plaza Vieja.   Our cabbie had to work extra hard given the sheer weight aboard his rig.  Being a Spanish speaker, Mike teased our cabbie for the entire route.  It was a classic “had to be there” moment.  We did enjoy weaving through traffic and zipped along a few dark side streets that our tour guides might not have recommended.  Carpe Diem.

Havana's Plaza Vieja.  Microbrewery is on the right
Photo: Mike Shess          
The microbrewery turned out to be state-owned.  It is situated in a recently government sponsored rehab of the massive building on the Plaza.  They did a nice job on the rehab.  
Mike ordered a light and dark beer while I focused on the Fanta orange soda.  Because our meal at Sloppy Joe’s was light (compared with our standards) we ordered again. I enjoyed a Cuban hamburger and he stuck with the ham and cheese.  Lot of filler in the meat; but plenty of veggies in between the buns.  Potatoes are hard to find in bulk so no fries.  Proudly, it was the only Yankee style meal we had on the island in ten days.

Mike begged off comparing Cuban IPAs vs. what’s available in San Diego.  Reason being he was on vacation. But I pushed him: thirsty readers want to know.  “It’s a good beer.  The IPA is fine.” 

Tasting a Cuban microbrew in Havana
Mike, however, drank Cristal beer throughout the tour.  “Cristal is the beer you drink in Cuba, especially when the temperature and humidity hover at 100,” he added.
The Plaza was alive with music.  The microbrewery had a combo playing what they thought the tourists might enjoy.  No, mas Guantanamera!!!   But, Mike did notice a beautiful Cuban woman at the pub next door singing an amazing medley of salsa and Cuban jazz and no tourist tunes.   
With the tropical climate being so moderate, we were able to sit in the microbrewery and appreciate her singing.
Through the open windows of the brewery we applauded her finale and she blew us a kiss.
From, the microbrewery we wandered around Old Havana stopping here and there, but it came time to call it a night. We hopped a modern Russian made cab back to the Hotel Nacional.
We saved the best of the evening for last.
The Hotel Nacional has the Churchill, a small bar just off the lobby.  Most tourists miss it because the entry is behind the elevator banks.  Classic Mid-town Manhattan bar only better.  Here you could imbibe from a large selection of Port and enjoy a Cuban cigar on the premises.  Puffing on a couple of short Cohiba cigars in addition to more father and son tales, we figured we’d stay until last call.  Trouble with a 24-hour-a- day bar is last call could be years away.  But who cares when the company is good and the stories are flowing. Amid the smoke and bar mirrors, we decided to save up for our next family adventure: Tokyo!
I’m a lucky man.

Cigars and conversation, Hotel Nacional's Churchill Bar

No comments:

Post a Comment