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Bar Brings Cuba to Panama

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Written by Matt   
Sunday, 11 January 2009 09:45
Cafe Havana PanamaIt's rare when a bar has the ability to transport you to another place and time. Certain spots in New York City have managed this disguise masterfully: a show that goes far further than importing furniture and recreating food, illness instead entering the deep and genetic-like bowels of environmental cloning: an exercise in which is seamlessly put together in Casco Viejo, ampoule Panama via a bar called Havana. I once heard from a famous chef that food and drink in a restaurant are, in a sense, the easy part: an allusion to the fact that conducting an orchestra requires far more attention and detail than the music selection. A new spot in the ever-growing Casco Viejo nightlife scene has managed to replicate a tattered den in the middle of bustling Havana. The food and drinks just serve as compliments.

The interior of the place is blissfully simple, a true tonic from the glut of haunts in Panama City that try too hard and come up too short. The whitewashed walls are left chipped and exposed, the original tile floor reads years of wear and tear in that really cool vintage, antique sort of way. The tables and chairs are simple and non-fussy, framed by offset pictures on the walls of old Havana. All the simplicity of this aged world feel seem to showcase the star bar of deep mahogany brown behind which stands a massive mirrored backdrop. Hanging from the ceiling is the type of near-rusted chandelier that appears to have been rescued from an 18th century church.

The inside has a decidedly Cuban feel, a faint distant cousin from the tapas bars that line the streets of Madrid. Throw a large piano down in the center and you'd be transported to a local spot in New Orleans. It's the kind of place one could envision quite easily filling up to the brim with people spilling out into the streets and leaning over the bar anxiously to order another glass of wine. That the place has no real outside lights or sign adds to its underground charm, something we've come to expect from Casco Viejo: the scent of being in the old part of some very distinguished place, far from the exhaustive hipness of the modern world.
It's a small physical space, a room probably sixty square meters, flanked on two sides with tall floor-to-ceiling doors that open out to the cobblestone street, framing like postcards the passing cars and adjacent presidential guards (yes, the café sits about one block from the entrance to the Presidential Palace). Fans move crosswind air through the dining room as if you were sitting outside and old bottles of Cuban rum speak of a war-time spy watering hole so out of the ordinary and unique. There was something bizarrely intriguing about sitting in this wide open room, eating ceviche and staring at a man with a machine gun in army fatigues: perhaps the allure of something new in Casco Viejo, probably more likely the feeling of being transported to somewhere distant. The foreigness of it all.

Café Havana has a small menu consisting of fresh ceviches, paellas, and Cuban sandwiches: in my opinion, the most perfect combination of bar food that exists on the planet. The brainchild of the owners of nearby, and always popular, Casablanca, Café Havana drinks run anywhere from two to five dollars and food runs from about six to twelve. When it comes to bringing the real Cuba to Panamanians, this place does everything short of delivering boarding passes.

Image (this isn't actually the bar, as I forgot to take a picture when I was there. But it looks pretty darn close):
Comments (2)Add Comment
Cuba. Here?
written by Sumfin Furryvrone , June 18, 2009
poverty [check]
idiots looking for bargains [check]
whores [check]
rum [check]
3rd world looking to a glorious past [check]
thinking deals with the US will solve all problems [check]

Yep, Cuba is coming.
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written by Rok Alwar , November 01, 2010
Hopefully, when I visit Panama next month, this so called Cuban Restaurant would be like PreCastro days or Miami's===Right now, the island's restauratns are pieces of craps...
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Last Updated on Sunday, 11 January 2009 09:46