HAVANA TIMES— You open the door to Havana’s Café Fortuna – nestled beyond a steep set of steps – to the chimes of little bronze bells shaped like pagodas.
If it weren’t for the glass counter before you, you’d think you had mistakenly stumbled into the living room of some extravagant collector.
A thin layer of dust covers the shelves, vintage Zenik camaras, Russian nesting dolls, Selena-brand transistor radios and archaic reel-to-reel recorders that surround you.
Before you can put your finger on what the ghoulish rag-doll hidden behind the door, the metallic sheet advertising Candado-brand soap and the Soviet sailor cap have in common, a waitress hands you a menu and invites you to tour the rest of the place.
The cafe is an old house with three dimly-lit rooms and intensely-colored walls, a place where – curiously enough – the volume of the background music does not force customers to shout whilst conversing.
You can sit at a sewing table, inside a bathtub or on the landing of an old, wooden staircase that leads nowhere (or, perhaps, the attic where the hermit collector lives).
It might be hard to decide what you want to order with the 24 types of coffee-based drinks.
Since you’re in Cuba, you might be surprised by the fact the waitress does not point out that about half of the menu items aren’t actually available.
Also, the coffee served at Café Fortuna isn’t mixed with roasted chick-peas.
Sitting in the warm ambience of the café and smelling the sweet-tasting infusions, you can almost persuade yourself the collector actually exists, that he likes Picasso and has an obsession with typewriters.
When you’ve finished your coffee, these musings dissipate, inconsistencies begin to appear and questions arise.
Is this a State or a private establishment?
What private establishment makes wallpaper out of cutouts from Cuba’s Granma newspaper and statements by Hugo Chavez?
What State establishment doesn’t have apathetic waiters, monotonous menus and dreadful décor?
Located on 3rd and 28 streets, in Havana’s residential neighborhood of Miramar Playa, Café Fortuna is full the day through.
The menu includes a broad variety of infusions (from 0.70 to 2.75 Cuban Convertible Pesos), imported beer and light (mostly cheese-based) snacks.
The waitresses and waiters are kind and accommodating.
You just have to ask, and find out Café Fortuna first opened its doors in 2006 and – yes – is in fact State property.
It is run by the same State that has set up dodgy junk-food stands in most of Havana’s neighborhoods and, in the best of cases, literary cafes that have gradually run out of coffee and books over the years.
A visit to Café Fortuna and you might walk away thinking State management can actually work…at least in the nicer part of town.