LITTLE HAVANA WALK

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Little Havana is a working class neighbourhood just west of downtown Miami settled by Cuban refugees and exiles escaping the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The present population is still predominantly Cuban, but now includes immigrants from other South American and Caribbean nations. The language spoken in this district is almost entirely Spanish. The main street is Calle Ocho or Olga Guillot Way, or Southwest 8th. Street. This short stroll will give you a snapshot of the district and allow you to experience Miami's down to earth Latin American lifestyle. Before you go, please be aware that this area has no resemblance at all to the City of Havana in Cuba.

If you can make it, Viernes Cultural (Cultural Friday) is the time to come. On the last Friday of every month, the fun starts at 7 pm, and goes through to 11 pm. The event consists of outdoor musical performances, art exhibits along the sidewalk and in plazas and open spaces, visits to art galleries and cultural centers, cuisine tasting at participating restaurants, and films/art exhibits/ educational programs at the historic Tower Theatre. You can also take a free walking tour of Little Havana which starts at 7 pm.

We will walk a little less than a mile down one side of the street and back up the other to take in all the sights and sounds. Let's start on the northwest corner of 15th. Avenue opposite the Tower Cinema and Domino Park. Walk in a westerly direction.

Homage to Cuba
Calle Ocho looking east
Little Havana Mural

First you will come across the Little Havana Cigar Factory and Lounge (1501), a family-owned cigar store with one of the largest inventories in the country and a luxuriously appointed saloon incorporating deep leather armchairs where you can relax with a fine cigar.

You will find cigar shops all along Calle Ocho. Prices can vary between US$ 1.00 at the dollar stores to over US$ 30.00 at the fabricas. You will get what you pay for, the US$ 1.00 cigars will probably be made with the sweepings. Although these establishments seem to offer Cuban cigars, and they are indeed made by Cubans, the tobacco will have come from the Dominican Republic or Honduras. Keep in mind that the United States has maintained a trade embargo with Cuba since October 1960.

Next door is Azucar Ice Cream Shop. Pop in for an exotic ice cream to cool you down at the start of your walk. Next door is the Ball and Chain Club (1513), now open under new management, which features jazz and jam sessions as well as Latin American dance music (salsa, etc.). It sports a huge dance floor and attractive outside patio.

Next is one of the nicest restaurant in this area, El Cristo Restaurant (1543). Serving typical Cuban fare with an emphasis on seafood, but with a South American touch. Next door is Union Beer Store (1547), which lots of craft beers on tap.

Then comes Cuban Top Cigars at 1551.

Just past the cigar store is a really nice gift shop La Isla (1561), with unique prints and "T" shirts. The delightful owner is a fashion designer. If you are a chocolate lover, don't miss Guayaba y Chocolate (1603), a window into Miami’s artisanal sweet confections and into its diverse gastronomy pairing sweet tropical fruits with premium Venezuelan chocolate, nuts, and the occasional spices.

This block has even more. Fresh oysters? Wow! You've made it to Ella's Oyster Bar (1615) where you can satisfy your craving in a playful atmosphere that's comfortable and casual with the exciting variety of a modern Miami Oyster Bar. .Last attraction before the gas station is the Futurama Art Building (1637) , established in 2011 as a creative workspace in the heart of Little Havana. The space houses 12 artist studios and five offices. Before you cross the street, look behind you to see the artistic mural on the Futurama Building, then cross the street at the corner of 17th. Avenue.

Pedestrian walk at 15th. Avenue
Rooster outside El Pub

The 1600 block contains many art galleries, which generally open at 11, but often don't quite make it. .
1654- Duo Art Gallery with Mildrey Guillot Gallery
1652-Agustin Gainza Gallery
1648-Obrapia Art Gallery
1646-Latin Art Core Gallery
1634-Luis Molina Fine Art
1607-Unzueta Gallery

In the middle of the galleries at 1644 is more food at El Jaleo De La Ocho gets a four-star rating from Yelp, Trip Advisor and Groupon, so it's a good option for Latin and Spanish based cuisine.

At 1620 is one of the most entertaining and unusual looking restaurants in Miami, Casa Panza. Traditional Spanish cuisine is offered here and there is live music and a wonderful Flamenco show on Friday and Saturday nights. Latin American entertainers appear regularly in the nightclub atmosphere in the banquet room behind the main restaurant. To one side is a tapas and wine bar. All in all, on the weekends, it’s a complete night out.

Between two galeries you will find the cafe-theatre Kimbara Cumbara, which features local and international Latin artists. It's open on weekends.

At 1604, an unimposing exterior hides Alfaro's Gallery, Lounge and Boutique (1604). Here you will find excellent vinos & tapas, some of the best fitted guayaberas to be found anywhere and great musical entertainment at the weekends.

On the corner of 16th. Avenue is the so-called Official Little Havana Visitor Center(1600), which includes a great store offering Cuban style apparel and souvenirs.

On the corner of 16th. Avenue is El Pub Restaurant (1548). Outside are two large painted roosters. There are large roosters in a number of spots in Little Havana. Seems it was all part of an art installation a few years ago, somewhat like the painted cows in Atlanta and Denver. The restaurant is nothing to write home about, but by all means stop at the counter to enjoy a creamy café con leche or powerful café cubano.

My favourite cigar shop is The Bello Family's Cuba Tobacco Trading Co (1528). Since 1886, five generations have been involved in the Cuban tobacco industry. The tobacco is Cuban seed grown in the Dominican Republic and hand made by Cuban master rollers. You can often see Don Pedro Bello seated at the entrance to the shop, and inside Pedro Bello Jr. will be only too happy to tell you the family history and everything you ever wanted to know about cigars.

Just down the road, past a dollar store (one dollar rubbish cigars) is El Exquisito Restaurant (1510). It almost seems plucked straight from Havana, especially when you meet mostly local families inside. All the restaurants in this area are very reasonable, serve huge helpings and many have live music on weekends.

Next door is the venerable Tower Theatre (1508). Built as a cinema in 1926 and redecorated in 1931 in Art-Deco style, it is now on the National Register as a historic site and is managed by Miami-Dade College. It shows mainly Hispanic and European movies.

Cuban cigar roller
Don Pedro Bello outside his store

Across a pedestrian street (15th. Avenue), which is the centre of activity for Viernes Cultural, decorated with colourful mosaics denoting dominos and other Little Havana memorabilia, is the tiny Maximo Gomez Park (1446), or Domino Park as it is better known.

Here you will find many old guard Cuban exiles playing what is their principal pastime, dominoes. The park is open from sunrise to sunset and contains permanent domino and chess tables. Look how intent the players are. Stop by a table and learn how the game is played. Play is fast and furious, and each game takes about five minutes to complete. This vacant lot became the centre for casual meetings between exiles, until the county purchased the land and created the permanent park. No gambling is allowed, but you can see players take notes, perhaps to settle accounts later at one of the nearby restaurants.

On the wall behind the players is a large mural depicting the presidents and prime ministers of all the American nations that attended the Summit of the Americas here in Miami back in 1994.

Right beside the park is the inviting Old's Havana Cuban Bar and Cocina (1442) with well recommended Cuban cockails and good wholesome Cuban cuisine.

Havana To Go (1442) is a fascinating gift shop offering Cuban related souvenirs (nothing made in Cuba though). A favourite here are Little Havana T-shirts and domino sets. The owner will often have small cups of strong Cuban coffee for patrons. Look around behind the displays on the right hand side.

Beyond the McDonalds, the only one to my knowledge that serves Cuban coffee, check out the large mural on 14th. Avenue. Pride of place goes to Cuban singer and icon Celia Cruz. You will also note stars on the sidewalk, our equivalent to The Hollywood Walk of the Fame. All these are Latin American entertainment and sports personalities.

If you need to cool off, pop inside the neighbourhood supermarket. Look at the unusual products on the shelves. As well as basics, you will find produce from all over Latin America.

Yesell Bakery (1356) has delicious freshly made Cuban pastries. Try the goyaba con queso, cheese with guava jam. It is so delicious as it melts in your mouth. Their lunch menu doesn't go over US$ 5.00.

Los Pinareños Fruteria (1334) is a traditional open air fruit stand. Look at all the tropical fruits. South Florida is the only place in the USA that some of these fruits, such as mangos, papayas and coconuts, will grow. Go over to the counter on the left and order your freshly made batida de frutas, a smooth concoction blended with assorted fruit (you choose), ice, milk and a little sugar (they will hold on the sugar if you ask). You can also try a coco frio. The top of the coconut shell is lopped off with an evil looking machete and you drink the cool contents with a straw. You can also enjoy guarapo, which is sugar cane passed through a press. The greenish liquid drips right into your glass. Though it doesn't taste as sweet as you may think, it packs more glucose punch than a Gatorade.

At 13th. Avenue you come to the poignant Cuban Memorial Plaza. Facing Calle Ocho is the monument with the eternal flame to the fallen comrades of Brigade 2506 who participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. Regrettably the counter-revolution failed, and the Castro brothers rule the island with an iron fist up to this day. The line of monuments on this avenue commemorate Cuban heroes such as Antonio Maceo and Jose Marti. Behind the small white statue of the Virgin Mary is a magnificent Ceiba Tree. You may see Santeria offerings amongst the roots of the tree.

Domino Park
Little Havana mural

Cross over Calle Ocho now to El Nuevo Siglo supermarket (1305). Much grander and neater than the little one over the road, it has a wonderful old fashioned lunch counter. As you will have realised by now, you will never starve in Little Havana.

Next, in a row of small shops, you will see a barred shop window with shelves full of saints. This is not a Catholic souvenir store, it's a Botanica called La Negra Francisa, (Black Frances) (1323). Here you can purchase items to practice Santeria*, an Afro-Caribbean religion. On Haiti it's called Voodoo, in Brazil, Macumba. The religion was brought over by African slaves. Obviously it was forbidden by the slave owners, so the ceremonies were concealed and the African Gods were represented by Catholic saints. I suggest you read up on this fascinating subject. Do you have the nerve to enter?

Beside this is an antique store Havana 1950 featuring antiques from the colonial period up to the revolution in the 50s.

Set back from the street, adorned with whimsical creatures, is Casa de los Trucos (1343). This is where people from all over South Florida come for fancy dress and Halloween costumes. It's been in the same place for 35 years, and according to the manager, was founded in Cuba over 100 years ago.

Past the Methodist Church, or Iglesia Metodista Unida Tamiami (you are in Little Havana, remember) is The Havana Collection clothing store (1421). Slip in here to look at what the well dressed Cuban is wearing today. Of special note are the fine cotton guayabera shirts for men, women and children. I can't think of a nicer memory of Little Havana than an elegant guayabera, a garment that looks stylish and a conversation piece no matter where you wear it.

We are coming to the conclusion of our stroll. At the end of the block opposite where we started is CubaOcho (1465), This centre's main purpose is to promote Cuban painting, theatre, music, literature, and the arts, as well as sponsor cultural events designed to disseminate the works of Cuban artists throughout South Florida. Cuba Ocho Art and Research Centre also includes Art auctions and fairs. It's an impressive gallery and lounge decorated in hardwood and leather with an attractive bar and dance floor.

I do hope you enjoyed your short stroll along Calle Ocho and that you found plenty to interest you.

Lily's Records
Monument to Bay of Pigs Invasion
Latin Walk of Fame

Bus/Metrorail services from Miami Beach
C (103) From 41st. Street, Miami Beach via Collins and Washington Avenue to Miami Downtown Government Center. Every 20 mins.
S 119 From Sunny Isles Beach, North and South Beach via Collins Ave to Miami Downtown Government Center. Every 15 mins.

At Miami Downtown Government Center transfer to:
8 or 207 Bus runing west on 7th. Street, one block north of 8th. Street. Desend at 15th. Avenue in Little Havana and walk one block south. Every 15 to 20 minutes.
208 Bus runs west along Flagler Street, seven blocks north, and returns on Calle Ocho. Alight at 15th. Street (Domino Park). Every 20 minutes
The 208 takes a bit longer, but is easier as it stops right at Domino Park. Return on the 208 or 8 back to Government Centre.

Driving Directions
Take I-95 to the SW 7th. Street exit (SW 8th. Street if coming from the south). Continue west on SW 7th. street to 17th. Avenue. Turn left and cross over SW 8th. Street. Turn left on SW 9th. Street to the end where you will find a small free municipal parking lot at 15th. Avenue.

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