DISCOVERING CUBA – TROPICANA

 A NIGHT AT TROPICANA

The beautiful Cuban capital is finally coming in from the cold isolation, state controls loosen and a wave of optimism and creativity is unleashed. And you can catch this vibe day and night in Havana…especially night time. The Revolution may have curbed the debauched excesses of the Fabulous Fifties, but Havana’s brand of rum-fuelled hedonism still lures mega stars and tourists to its vibrant clubs and bars. La Habana Vieja is brimming with bars, tango houses and cultural centres. The main strip of Calle Obispo is the place to begin an old town bar hop, where a seductive musical soundtrack and spontaneous street side grooving provides some of the city’s best free entertainment. As the bars, close at midnight, the clubs get into full swing, continuing until the early hours. Havana moves to the sound of a musical score. She sways, flirts, ruffles and twirls to notes that have been cooked with Bantu beats, Spanish strings, reggae thumps and melancholic love songs. It’s all about the music – and the rum. The minty mojito and the chilled daiquiri were created in Cuba and sparkling cocktails or light Cristal and dark Bucanero beer can be found in her drinking dens, speakeasy-style bars, salsa venues, hip haunts and open-air patios.

Only one spot in the town manage, since 1939 to keep the same aura of glamour and decadence, ignoring completely the political or social tornadoes shaking the country and its capital. Its marketing slogan as a ‘paradise under the stars’ is no hyperbole: the outdoor, tropical setting of the world-famous cabaret is the perfect stage for an art extravaganza to multiply the Cuban happiness of a true tropical night.

WELCOME TO TROPICANA! IT’S SHOW TIME!

Tropicana’s history is as fascinating as its own show.

Once the lush gardens were the property of Guillermina Pérez Chaumont, known as Mina, a Havana socialite. She decided to sell it to an entrepreneur in 1939 who dreamed of opening a 300-person capacity night club. The socialite put one condition on the sale: the new owner had to maintain as many trees, shrubs, and plantings as possible. This historic detail is part of what makes Tropicana so special – the setting is wonderfully lush, with royal palms, mango and cedar trees surrounding the entire club.

Originally known as El Beau Site, de Correa decided to rename the club Tropicana, because of its tropical atmosphere and “na” after the last syllable of the original owner, Mina. With a fanfare from the Alfredo Brito Orchestra, the Club Tropicana, opened on December 30, 1939. In 1950 Martín Fox, a burly, gregarious and well-connected gambler took over the place and this is when Tropicana’s glory years really began. Construction continued through 1951. Giant fruit trees were left in situ during construction to punctuate the interior. When the cabaret was re-opened on March 15, 1952, it had a combined total seating capacity of 1,700 for the interior and outside areas with furniture designed by Charles Eames.

But it was the arrival in Havana in 1946 of Floridian mobster Santo “Louie Santos” Trafficante Jr. that would alter the future of The Tropicana. Within a few years, Trafficante owned The Tropicana. The club served drinks and meals which just about covered the operating costs. It was suspected that he also had behind-the-scenes interests in other syndicate owned Cuban gambling casinos.

The list of celebrities who have graced Tropicana’s stage is long and illustrious: Nat King Cole, Josephine Baker, Libertad Lamarque, Cheo Feliciano, Rita Montaner, Elena Burke and Bola de Nieve all performed under the stars here back in the day. The showgirls at the Tropicana, known collectively as “Las Diosas de Carne” (or “Flesh Goddesses”), were renowned the world over for their voluptuousness, and the cabaret showcased a kind of sequin-and-feather musical theater that would be copied in Paris, New York, and Las Vegas

The Cuban Revolution was to have serious repercussions for the mob’s involvement in Cuba. As early as December 31, 1956, a bomb exploded at The Tropicana. Set by communist rebels, the explosion was contained to the bar area and one woman lost an arm. The new Cuban president, Manuel Urrutia Lleó closed the casinos and nationalized all the casino and hotel properties

In 1992, the American Academy of Restaurant Industry honoured Tropicana as the best cabaret in the Americas, awarding it the “Best of the Best Five Star Diamond.” It was singled out for its quality and rich history, with which it has been staging performances for over half a century.

The Tropicana continues to operate to this day, attracting tourists to its Cabaret Shows taking place at 10pm, Tuesday to Sunday, in the open-air Salon Bajo Las Estrellas.  Couple of tips if you want to experience a night at Tropicana:

  • Book on line or as soon as you arrive in Havana. If you hope that you will get a table at your arrival, without pre-booking forget it. Best case scenario you seats will be somewhere when you can only hear the music.
  • Arrive at Tropicana earlier; the show starts at 10PM but the best idea is to be there around 9.15PM. Even if you have an expensive ticket, the Maitre D’ will place you at the worst table for the price that you paid. Therefore, couple of minutes of negotiation, couple of notes discretely place in his hand (maximum 10-15CUC) and couple of smiles will make him to move you to a better place. I did that and it worked! And is quite nice to be early as a cameral orchestra is playing for 60 minutes light classical music.
  • When you buy a ticket, you have different options with different prices. I will not recommend to have dinner there; the service is mediocre and the food didn’t look amazing. Just go for the show. The different prices are linked to the table position and the type of drinks included
  • At the entrance, everybody receives a little present: a cigar for gentlemen and flowers for ladies. Don’t’ expect a Cohiba but if you don’t like cigars the one offered can be one of the presents for your return home.
  • The ticket includes a glass with sparkling wine, some nibbles and a ¼ l of Havana Club and coke per person, which is more than enough. You can order some extra cocktails (the Mojitos are surprisingly decent) and the prices are not much higher than in the town.
  • Don’t expect a courteous service or amazing customer service after you enter Tropicana. Everybody there possess a “rich clients” radar and if you are not keen to leave a tip at the end you will not get too many smiles. But the service is efficient and hassle free.
  • If you need a “technical break” for the next hour do it before the show or just before the end, The toilets are quite far and the queues are longer than the show girls legs

    At the end of the day you are there for the show. And is AMAZING! Almost 2 hours of nonstop dancing, live music, fabulous costumes and colours, excellent choreography and sensuality. A cocktail of iconic Cuban rhythms, mixed with rumba, mambo, danzonete and even Latin jazz, it’s accompanied by the hot choreography Tropicana is famous for. Breathtaking!

    The headliners are all fantastic but one. For me is still a mystery the inclusion in a night packed with high quality live acts of the Cuban version of IL DIVO. Actually was more than that or, worse than that: 5 male and 2 females singers killing evergreens and opera arias gave me the feeling that they enter the wrong stage. That was not Tropicana. Not necessary because of their voices (karaoke style) or the stage presence (inexistent) but was 100% playback. When the entire show was live and high quality the local Volo (the original band won San Remo in 2015) were lip-syncing quite badly. You couldn’t miss the audience reaction when the 7 singers sounded like Royal Opera cast singing the famous Brindisi from Traviata. But, is Cuba, and you don’t know who’s related with whom!

    After the show, if you are not very tired, a musical interlude (quite weird, something like a bad Britain got talent act) started the after-show party. Great MC bringing everybody from the audience on stage and excellent music. You can dance the night away until 1.30-2.00AM with no problems. And the advantage is that most of the tourist will be gone by that time and will be easy to find your way around and even to call a taxi to take you back home.

    Tropicana was at the pinnacle of high society in Cuba before 1959. It was the very best. But the existence of such a place has never been discordant with the revolution. And that explains why it has kept its doors open. Tropicana is the same as it has always been. The show can no longer be changed every two months, but it always fills up to capacity. There is no casino now, and Santo Trafficante is gone, but it still has the same spectacular shows and the same lush jungle. The story of Tropicana is a story like any other, composed of light and shadows, luz y sombras.

    “In the beginning, before God created Cuba, the earth was chaos, empty of form and without music. The spirit of God stirred over the dark tropical waters and God said, “Let there be music.” And a soft conga began a one-two beat in the background of the chaos” wrote Richard Blanco.

    https://youtu.be/m8KJ5EgTY3A

~ by leonard69 on January 27, 2017.

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