A Smoky Night of Jazz in Havana

Luis Rondon Paz

zorra-y-el-cuervo-2HAVANA TIMES — “Luisi, it doesn’t get better than this!” one of my friends said, pointing towards the sign over the front door. We were outside La Zorra y el Cuervo, a jazz club located on Havana’s downtown 23rd Street, between N and O streets.

We’d arrived a few minutes before 10 at night, when this club belonging to Cuba’s Palmares chain opens its doors to the public charging a 10 CUC (11.50 usd) cover.

When we went in, I noticed we’d almost been left without a table, as most were already reserved. Luck smiled down on us, however, and we were able to secure a privileged spot in the small club.

“You get two drinks with the cover,” one of my buddies said.

“Can’t I order a Red Bull instead of the two drinks?” I asked.

“I think you can, it’s probably included in the cover price.”

That’s what we thought, but, when I got to the bar, I was told that the ticket only covers two light drinks: a mojito, a rum and coke or natural juice.

“What d’ya know, it looks as though this is going to get a bit more expensive, ‘cause I don’t drink alcohol and I’m not in the mood for juice this time of night,” I thought.

So, what I did was let my friends get my drinks in exchange for the money to buy the power-drink that would keep me active for a while.

As the patrons were settling in, I asked about the club’s programming and inner workings.

According to one of the employees, the club has a panel of jazz experts responsible for staging auditions and conducting a rigorous selection of jazz artists. He added that this mechanism ensured that the jazz club maintained a high-quality offer throughout the season.

Zoe Fuentes & Canela performing at the La Zorra y el Cuervo
Zoe Fuentes & Canela performing at the La Zorra y el Cuervo

At half past 10, you couldn’t fit one more foreigner in the place. I felt like a fish out of water: the only Cubans there, other than us, were the musicians and employees.

“I’m surrounded, and not by water,” I kidded to myself.

The show finally started.

As one of my friends had rightly said, the quality of the music was truly good. I believe I hadn’t seen as excellent a live Cuban jazz performance in years. The band that played on this occasion was Zoe Fuentes & Canela. Most of its members are women with much experience in the genre.

I was delighted. It seemed as though it was going to be an unforgettable night, until something began to disturb my peace. At first, I thought it was incense, but then I was able to confirm my suspicions, catching sight of a foreign couple who was smoking.

I couldn’t believe it.

Saying those words to myself, I immediately headed over to where one of the employees was standing and told them my concern.

“Excuse me, I have a question. Is smoking allowed in here?”


“But this is a closed space. People shouldn’t be allowed to smoke in here, right?”

She nodded her head.

“Then why do you allow it?”

“I don’t know,” she replied, turning around to continue to serve the foreigners.

I was left speechless.

So, in addition to the 10 CUC, you have to pay with your health to be able to enjoy a good music show? I didn’t think so.

That is what I told the people I was sharing a table with, who had been kind enough to invite me to the jazz club.

In the end, I made it clear I would never again pay to go to this place. It’s a shame to see such a great space, where such great music is played, have such lousy services and not guarantee a smoke-free environment. I won’t go even if someone invites me. It may be as good as it gets, but health comes first for me.

5 thoughts on “A Smoky Night of Jazz in Havana

  • i have heard that here was a law to stop smoking and it was erased, I´m Shocked!

  • Thank you!
    Magic! Much appreciated.

  • comment was pending and now it’s gone. Wondering why.

  • You bring up a very important point. And since smoking is allowed in clubs all over Cuba — not just this one — and it is very harmful to people’s health — it might be worth starting a larger campaign to make that deep change. But it is going to take a while, no? Cubans smoke like mad, so it is not just in foreigner’s clubs that this happens.
    It would be worth the work…eventually also, with more resources coming in, and eventual changes in transportation, car emissions need to get under control, especially in Havana, where some areas are dangerous not only for club goers, but for the people who live and work in the area, children, the elderly, as in parts of Habana Vieja, and Centro. Very harmful emissions, and those who drive these cars all day, well, their health is also in much danger. I almost passed out in one car, where the fumes were inescapable within the car itself. The driver kept smiling, but I left, and worried for him…

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