At a corner of the old city directly across from the Bay of Havana tunnel exit and just around the corner from the Museo de la Revolucion, the El Lucero is a stunningly restored café that is a welcoming place for a drink or a meal. Perhaps more important than the food and beverages is the sense of recreating the feeling of Havana past.
The El Lucero dates from the end of the 19th century, when it was right adjacent to the Malencon, which was closer to the town at that time. Inside, there is a slightly photoshopped portrait of the building that shows it more than 100 years ago. The café has been meticulously restored with the ability to transport you to that earlier time.
Behind the project is Habaguanex S.A., the state corporation in charge of the tourist management of the historical old city area of the Cuban capital including a number of buildings throughout Old Havana, the area that has been declared Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO and contains many of the museums, churches, cultural centres and properties linked to colonial time
Currently Habaguanex, which under the aegis of the Office of the Historian of the City, operates 20 hotels, nearly 40 restaurants, some 80 stores and more than 60 cafeterias and bars. These restored buildings contrast dramatically with the many more dilapidated ones, but illustrate what can be done with resources.
El Lucero manager Pedro Fabregat, a Habaguanex employee, previously worked as food and beverage manager at the remarkable Saratoga on Central Park Square, which itself has been superbly restored. He was assigned this project and it is clearly a labour of love for him. The enthusiasm seems to extend to the staff that has a family feel as they serve up grilled chicken and salad in the spectacular space.
Fabregat tracked down independent tradesmen who poured the skill and locally sourced hardwoods into the café. Have a look at the stunning staircase that heads to the second floor. The brand newness is something of a shock until you settle in with a beer and become incredibly comfortable. The second floor dining room is still in the midst of construction – nothing happens quickly apparently – but it is a stunning room that will compliment the lower bar and patio.
Would that all of Havana could be restored to this level. Or perhaps not – you could likely never get in again and at 1.50 pesos for a Cristal beer, let’s keep it between us. It could be worth flying to Havana just to sit on the café’s terrace in the warm sun.