Irina Pino

Photo: Isbel Diaz

HAVANA TIMES — I had never gone to Havana’s Las Vegas cabaret before. I only went there that night to accompany a professional photographer who was interested in taking pictures of the performers in the show.

When we got there, we asked if this was possible, and the manager told us he could take a maximum of three photos. We decided to wait outside until the cabaret opened. The show starts at one in the morning and lasts till four – but one can go inside and sit at a table or the bar as of 11 at night.

The star that night was Imperio, a flamboyant transvestite who wears low-cut spangle dresses, high-heels and a wig. He lip-sinks female singers and has guests in his show. The most interesting thing about the cabaret, however, is the people who wait outside.

That night, there were four or five twenty-year-olds with huge muscles who were showing off their rare charms. They even openly bragged about injecting themselves with substances that pumped up their muscles. They spent the entire time saying banal things and exhibiting themselves like goods in a market. These young people take advantage of their bodies: they are male prostitutes and live on what the customers they can hook give them.

Inside the locale, decorated with ugly black arabesques and fitted with uncomfortable plastic chairs and metal tables, the ambience becomes much more permissive. One sees lesbian and gay couples, women in short and tight-fitting dresses and some foreigners.

The gay patrons dance among themselves without any kind of inhibition. They greet one another with a kiss on the cheek and converse enthusiastically. Other transvestites move sensually about, dancing with lesbians.

Music videos of the worst kind, showing the mandatory half-naked and sexually objectified woman, the kind where we catch a glimpse of the typical male chauvinistic perspective, are projected on two large screens and played at a defeaning level. Monotonous music that repeats the same, empty cacophony.

Imperio finally came on stage among bright, psychedelic lights, and my photographer friend set out to get his pictures. At that exact moment, one of the security guards came up to us and told us professional photography was forbidden, that we could only take pictures with our cell phones – that those were the instructions from management.

In short, we couldn’t do anything we planned and our frustration exceeded all expectations. We went out of that place and looked at the desolate landscape about us: La Rampa was a sea of darkness punctuated by small, distant lights.

There was a group of people, possibly “working”, in front of the fountain on 23rd. By pure chance, we found a private cab willing to take us home down the Malecon ocean.

Nightlife in this part of town is marked by the underworld these days. Decades before, at this same time at night, the streets were well-lit, people had empty pockets and there was a glimmer of hope in their eyes.

Irina Pino

Irina Pino: I was born in the middle of shortages in those sixties that marked so many patterns in the world. Although I currently live in Miramar, I miss the city center with its cinemas and theaters, and the bohemian atmosphere of Old Havana, where I often go. Writing is the essential thing in my life, be it poetry, fiction or articles, a communion of ideas that identifies me. With my family and my friends, I get my share of happiness.

One thought on “Late Night Havana

  • I used to hang out at the Las Vegas Cabaret several years ago before it became a full-time gay establishment. In those days, only Thursday nights were dedicated to the “transformistas” as these transvestite performers are known in Cuba. In front of Las Vegas is the Radio Progeso building where young people who don’t have the money to go inside the Cabaret hang out to drink and socialize. My good friend, Alexis, was a barman there who worked the outside bar. Alexis, a former doctor, has since left Las Vegas but he and I would sit for hours watching passers-by and discussing every topic that came to mind. Irina is correct about the decline in the neighborhood surrounding the Cabaret. Every time I visit Havana, I can’t help but notice how much the neighborhood, and Central Havana in general, is changing for the worse.

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