Robaina's plantation

Thursday 12 April 2012

Jazz Cafe, Havana

                  I've been coming to this place almost as long as I've been coming to Havana. I discovered it about 7 years ago when I took my first 4 day trip into the city. A friend of mine brought me there and I've been hooked ever since.
                  Located on the top floor of Galerias de Paseo at the corner of Calle 1 y Paseo, it looks like an unlikely location for a bar. The Galerias is a 3 floor shopping mall but tiny compared to one of our malls in North America. There are just a handful of stores on each floor and you would never think that one of the hottest jazz clubs in Havana is on the top floor. The building is in front of the Malecon with the Melia Cohiba and Riviera hotels across the street.
                  The place opens at noon when it begins it's day as a restaurant by serving up lunch. I have no personal reviews of the food here. I haven't eaten there in years but from what I can remember the food isn't very memorable. It will fill the hole but there are many better places to grab a meal. The food at Jazz Cafe however is very reasonably priced, cheap actually. The drinks are pretty inexpensive as well at about 2cuc a drink and a bottle of rum at about 12-15cuc. If I'm with a couple of guys that's usually the way we go, especially if they're Cuban, they love rum.
                   Arriving here at night the walk up the wide spiral staircase to get to the club can be ominous. There are few lights and it looks a little spooky. I remember that feeling the first couple of times I went. Sometimes, just before you get to the top, you'll find hookers waiting asking men to bring them into the bar. The cover is 10cuc which goes towards your tab. Once inside it looks more like an 80's pickup joint than a jazz bar. The decor isn't that inviting but the music played here is by some of the best acts in the country. The great Chucho Valdes has played there as well as the late Perez Perez and one of my favourites, one of the best saxophonists in the country, Cesar Lopez. The place is pretty big and the air-conditioning is always cranked up, so ladies, bring a shawl. You'll find mostly tourists here and generally an older crowd. Be prepared for cigar smoke, it's completely cigar friendly and there really isn't any non-smoking section. The service can be a bit slow at times so you have to have a little patience.
                   The band comes on at 11pm and plays for close to 2 hours. The music varies and can be quite loud at times. It's mostly jazz but the variations can be extreme with Rock, Blues and R&B influences at times. It may even turn out to be straight Salsa sometimes. Lately however I've been seeing more Afro-Cuban Jazz bands playing there. Like I said, it can be quite loud so think about it before you pick a table. When the band is done the DJ begins with his usual selection of retro disco and local favourites until 2am. I love this place and suggest it to anyone who can tolerate the; smoke, cold and noise.

PS...A Special Hello to my favourite manager at Jazz Cafe, Aldo. He's been taking care of me since the first time I stepped into Jazz Cafe 7 years ago and is still doing it today. He does a great job, I love this guy.

To view a video clip I took at Jazz Cafe, copy and paste the link below:

Perez Perez

Cesar Lopez

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