What’s Going On at Havana’s Yellow Submarine Bar?

The Gens band at the Yellow Submarine of Havana

By Irina Pino

HAVANA TIMES – When the Submarino Amarillo bar, an ARTEX cultural center, opened in 2011, it was a real success. It paid tribute to The Beatles, the legendary English band, their music and cultural influence.

The bar’s design couldn’t have been more original, artists had painted the interior of the small submarine from the song, using yellow and blue.

On the walls, there were scenes with characters from the movie, posters, lyrics from their songs, and photos of their record jackets at the bar.

It was furnished with tables for two and four people in the middle, while comfortable sofas and round chairs, uphoistered in yellow vinyl, were placed around the sides.

It couldn’t have been any more welcoming. It became one of the best places in Havana with its smart decor. This and the bands that covered their songs, putting all of their energy into making it become what it was. I’m speaking in the past tense, I know, and I’ll tell you why.

Back then, my first book of poetry had been published, but I was already writing my second, Mientras hago el amor con George Harrison, so I had it on me that night to show it to Ernesto Juan Castellanos, the Cuban researcher and writer who wrote several books on The Beatles’ music.

Castellanos was the venue’s host at the time. He later emigrated to the US.

You could feel the good energy in the air, a full house and everyone was happy, because a rock bar had finally opened with the Government’s approval, after all the repression the genre had suffered over the decades. Rock was always condemned in our country, and nobody can deny it.

I started going every weekend. Prices were affordable, entry used to be 50 regular pesos, or 2 CUC. Plus, they had a great menu of soft drinks and alcoholic beverages.

It became so popular that you had to get there two hours in advance in order to get in on the weekend, because it opened its doors at 9 PM.

I have some beautiful memories from this beloved place, but everything got turned on its head when the pandemic broke out and the bar closed down for renovations.

When it reopened, it had suffered changes that contributed to its declining fame. All of the staff were replaced, some of its employees had emigrated. Right now, the manager and waitresses are all new…

I must admit that I didn’t go back straight away, my fear of catching COVID-19 stopped me. Then, I began to go again because I missed the atmosphere, the bands, and their music, and catching up with friends.

Months ago, people began to notice that strange things were happening at Submarino Amarillo that couldn’t be hidden, the drinks menu was poor, there was never any beer, juice or sodas. They only sell Cubalibres, which they call Cubatas, which is prepared with rum of dubious quality, which only gives you a headache.

The public are mistreated. One night, one of the waiters gave me back the wrong change, they cut me short, and they didn’t just do it to me, but others too.

The last day I was there, they were selling lemonade with rum, but the taste was unmistakable, they’d use the bottles of lemon juice sold in agro-markets (which are made with lemon peel) which don’t even taste like the citrus fruit.

Those who go quite regularly say that the bar is selling its quota of drinks to other venues, and they give their customers hogwash.

I’m really surprised that none of the bands have come forward and dared to complain, I guess it’s because they’re afraid they’ll be fired and won’t be able to play there anymore.

But people keep talking, word has it that they’ve sold beer to the Salon Rosada de la Tropical venue sometimes.

It makes no sense that they are only selling the awful Cubata, even if they are only open Friday to Sunday.

Nobody is regulating anything. That means to say that the bar is full of furniture in the corridors and the back area, where people used to dance. The idea now is that people only go now to consume and they hardly have any space to move. Crafty evil that leads to overcrowding, because people can’t keep their space and they take off their masks.

I caught a virus that had me in bed with a fever and sore throat for five days.

One other thing, they’ve imposed a new measure: you’re not allowed in with a backpack anymore. They don’t want people taking in their own drinks.

It’s awful how they’ve defamed Havana’s so-called “best” cultural center.

Read more by Irina Pino here.