Yanelys Nunez Leyva
HAVANA TIMES — A part of the emerging private business sector in Havana are the so-called “bars” that have been rapidly spreading like a rash for some time now.
These are spaces which, from the very beginning, have operated as places where the most privileged young people in the area go to unwind and have fun.
According to the personal experiences of some of these young people – the majority being friends of mine – the bars that have become the most famous over time, are currently establishing very strange regulations which stem from the context of complete government disarray or complicity, allowing them to change prices, giving them the right to reserve admission, undisguised prostitution and absurd behavioral norms with customers.
However, these bars have their own peculiarities. Let’s take a look at some examples.
In one of the most popular bars, King Bar, located on 23 and C streets, you have to make a reservation beforehand if you want to sit down at one of their tables, so even if you get there really early and the place is deserted, if you haven’t made a reservation you can’t sit down. Sometimes this rule goes on well into the night, even when there are still empty seats.
Another questionable position they sometimes take at King Bar, which they share with the majority of their neighbors, is that which is related to the abovementioned “right to refuse admission””. Using purely visual tactics, doormen at each establishment – with their boss’ approval – decide who can and can’t enter, depending on how a person is dressed or the group they are with. Foreigners get a free pass.
It’s important to highlight the fact that the suitable dress code has nothing to do wearing shorts, T-shirts or inappropriate shoes, like they say on many an occasion trying to justify their attitude, but rather has everything to do with the already consolidated statistic, that “the better a person dresses” the greater the spending on drinks and food.
This sniffing out “good customers” can be clearly seen at the entrance of Mio y Tuyo, where the repetitive “closed because it’s full” can exclude more than one young person who has reached this part of Playa by mistake.
The Roma Bar isn’t very different, although it began with a profile that wanted to seek out the financially solvent ones in the art world – one of its initial projects was led by the group Stainless – but drink prices have soared and the level of accessibility has varied greatly as months have passed. As the Roma sometimes rents out the venue for private events, those “you’re not on the list” become common and you can never verify whether the announcement that the place is “reserved” is true or just pure strategy to drive people away.
The Muralla Bar, an old space which used to be hired out for events in Old Havana, while showing off its new decor, also displays its regular offers of 10 CUC with 7 for drinks to a public who don’t have this kind of money a lot of the time and so can’t go in. This policy, in the middle of the Historic Center where almost everything closes at midnight, is a slap in the face for those who are interested in having a drink and enjoying a bit of music without having to go all the way to Vedado.
The bar phenomenon in Havana still needs to be analyzed in depth. Mass prostitution which has been visible – not uncovered – is the reason why some bars have closed their doors. A strange mist surrounds many of them – like the Bing Bang Bar, located right next to Mio y Tuyo, which can be open for just five customers in the whole night. This leads me to ask not only about the future of those who can still enter these sophisticated businesses, but also about the deep social differences that are becoming clearer and clearer everyday, in a society which still declares itself to be socialist.