LITTLE HAVANA WALK
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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 The Duke Bistro (1547), presently closed.
Then comes Marakka
2000 which rents and sells Latin American movies and CDs and Cuban
Top Cigars at 1551.
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.
1646-Cremata Fine Art
Molina Fine Art
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
Gallery, Lounge and Boutique. 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
Next door is the venerable
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.
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
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.
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.
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 "green"
eco-store and cultural centre called BorderCross
(1333).Pop in for information and brochures about ecological and cultural places
to visit, browse the fine quality arts and crafts, greetings cards, books about
Florida and CDs by local artists.
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.
Over the block at 1419 is
This is probably the best stocked record store in South Florida for Latin music.
Apart from the best son
and salsa music from Cuba, you will find traditional and modern music from
all over the southern continent, from Mexico to Argentina. The staff are very
knowledgeable and can answer all your questions.
Just beside Lily's is Pepe
and Berta 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.
Monument to Bay of Pigs Invasion
Latin Walk of Fame
services from Miami Beach
From 41st. Street, Miami Beach via Collins and Washington Avenue to Miami
Downtown Government Center. Every 20 mins.
From Sunny Isles Beach, North and South Beach via Collins Ave to Miami
Downtown Government Center. Every 15 mins.
Miami Downtown Government Center transfer
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.
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.
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.
Return to top of Little Havana Walk