A tour of closed hotels in Havana with few tourists
By Juan Diego Rodríguez (14ymedio)
HAVANA TIMES – I walk up and down Obispo, the main street in the historic center of Old Havana, which for decades was a commercial and tourist artery of unparalleled importance on the island. Now the main hotels on this street are closed and without visitors, a situation that extends to other areas once full of people with sunglasses and souvenir vendors.
With its large central courtyard and stately entrance, Hotel Florida offered a colonial experience in Old Havana, close to nearby bars and restaurants. But after the pandemic, its doors have not reopened, and now it looks like an empty shell that guardians are trying to preserve from deterioration.
Nearby, the Ambos Mundos hotel attracted travelers last August under the magnetism generated by the American writer Ernest Hemingway, who stayed in one of its rooms. But neither on its vast terrace on the fifth floor, nor in its colorful lobby nor in the old elevator, is the voice of customers no longer heard. The place is also “temporarily closed” by thick chains at the entrance to the mythical building.
The employees of the Armadores de Santander hotel, on Luz street, rush on distraught passers-by, whether foreign or Cuban, to force them to have lunch. This is the only way to guarantee a tip, no matter how small. And if the potential future diner refuses to read the menu, they may earn some insults.
Humblely, the gatekeeper to the towering Telegraph Hotel heard that “they are planning to open it soon, maybe in October, but who knows”. Another worker, kneeling near the service door, confesses to having prayed to “the eleven thousand virgins” for the rapid reopening of the hotel.
The doors of the famous Hotel Sevilla — where the protagonist of the novel Our man in Havana is recruited to be a British Secret Service agent — are blocked by a solid crossbar. The shops in the shopping arcade, which communicates with the establishment via a portal on Rue du Prado, are open. The door, of course, is closed and a Creole “spy” guards it.
Another complete closure, with sticks serving as crossbars to immobilize the gate, is the Plaza Hotel, still majestic on its corner of Zulueta Street, guarded by Virtudes and Neptuno. For its part, the Gran Hotel Bristol, located on Teniente Rey a few meters from the Capitol, is still awaiting its opening, announced with great fanfare by the authorities.
In another hotel colossus, the Inglaterra, customers are looking for lunch at all costs. But there are no tourists, only Cubans: a bad sign for waiters hoping for a tip.
Also on the Prado, the Hotel Parque Central waits in vain for the arrival of sweaty and hungry strangers. The restaurant staff sees the time passing extremely slowly and packs the suitcases of some customers who are leaving very soon.
The hotel in Deauville, on Galiano and San Lázaro, has not reopened since it closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Through its windows, a brigade of workers was observed this week working fix the entrance. Asked about the date of reopening of the establishment, someone who looked like the site manager limited himself to waving his hand as he ventured out: “At least until next year, I think. “
The luxurious hotel Paseo del Prado, recently acquired by the Canadian firm Blue Diamond, is open but “uninhabited”. The company’s aggressive campaign to get its hands on various establishments on the island contrasts with the calamitous state of tourism. Same goes for the Packard, where you can see few guests in the lobby and only two strangers in the “infinity pool”.
No traveler likes to stay at the Manzana Kempinski Hotel, which is open but under repair. The noise of cranes and excavators makes the summer bitter for customers, who also do not enter the very expensive shops on the ground floor of the building.
Businesses that preyed on tourists staying in Old Havana also closed. Café París, at the corner of San Ignacio and Obispo, is in absolute silence. This place, where the songs of the Buena Vista Social Club repeated all day like a jammed record, hasn’t started toasting again with its “baptized” drinks of distilled rums, nor is there work for the musicians, who earned endless tips. under his roof.
Some boys joke that in La Mina [The Mine] “nothing is exploited anymore.” In better times, restaurateurs have lived up to its name by digging into the pockets of tourists. It is said that serving drinks at this corner of Obispo and Oficios streets was a guarantee to rise two levels in social class. Some bartenders literally became millionaires shipping watered down drinks mojitos and low in alcohol Cuba Libre.
Indispensable in the national map of alcoholism, La Bodeguita del Medio looks more like a deadly dump than the gastronomic legend that it was. A quick read of its menu, with pork at 1,050 pesos and Cuban-style lobster at 700, is enough for the customer to opt for the fast.
Better to go to La Vitrola, a private restaurant whose terrace extends over Plaza Vieja. But not even all tourists dare to eat there, where the combination of several monthly salaries — for a Cuban — is not enough for lunch.
Some hotels still open offer a lunch service to Cubans and foreigners. (14ymedio)
If the body demands at least a sip of coffee, it will not be possible to go to El Escorial, whose employees devour their food while playing with their mobile phones. Once he has given up the decent food, the necessary infusion and the unobtainable cigar, the hungry pedestrian will stumble upon the less touristy circles of Havana’s hell: the killer money changers of Cathedral Square, the the dying pigeons of San Francisco, the horde of taxi drivers with improvised horse-drawn carriages, and the currency traders, who complete the fauna of the historic center.
There is no choice but to abandon the area, where the remnants of a glittering and effervescent tropical city’s past are fading away. It’s a Havana that exists only in old photos and in the silhouette of its closed hotels.
Opposite them, suspiciously, rises the construction of luxury hotels that does not stop, like the brand new Grand Aston or the so-called Torre K, much criticized by specialists. The origin of the funds for this work, carried out by the military conglomerate Gaesa, remains opaque.
Translated by Regina Anavy for Cuban Translation
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