By Michael Shaw (*)
HAVANA TIMES, April 23 — Havana Times, along with a small number of other web-sites, carries details of what’s on and where to go in Havana. However, finding those things out for Cuba’s second city, Santiago, is much more difficult.
I spent the first three months of 2011 in Santiago and greatly enjoyed the vibrant cultural life that exists there. In order to assist future (or potential) visitors there, I have prepared a guide of the main entertainment venues in the city. This web-site: http://promociones.egrem.co.cu/ contains details about who is performing at some venues.
Casa de la Trova, Calle Heredia
A great city centre venue, on two floors. The main room is upstairs, with a wooden balcony overlooking the street below. Live music every night, normally son bands. Admission normally 5 CUC. Mostly tourists.
Downstairs is a smaller room where they have bands playing in the afternoon. Next door is another room, where older singers sing boleros from about 11am onwards.
Casa de la Musica, Calle Corona
Another great city centre venue. More like a night club, with air conditioning. A band – either son or salsa – and DJ most nights, although Saturdays and Sundays it’s DJ only. Saturdays is for youths.Admission normally between 3 and 10 CUC. Mostly tourists, but a few more Cubans than Casa de la Trova
Patio de Artex, Calle Heredia
One block from the Casa de la Trova, a single storey venue in an old city centre house, with the music in the patio behind. Live bands mornings, late afternoon and evening. Admission normally 2 CUC in the evening. Normally son. More of a mix of tourists and Cubans.
Has superb bolero sessions on a Saturday afternoon, between 2.30 and 5pm. Admission free. Various singers, often from the big cabaret venues.
Patio de los Dos Abuelos, Plaza de Marte
Another venue with son and salsa bands playing on the patio. Live music every night. Admission 2 CUC. Same kind of mix as Artex.
Casa de las Tradiciones, Tivoli
A really great venue. A traditional style house, with the band playing in the front room. The audience – a good mixture of locals and tourists – sit on up-turned barrels or rocking chairs. Some great son bands. Admission 2 CUC.
Bar Claqueta, Santo Tomas (next to Rialto Cinema)
An outdoor venue with son bands and a DJ. Admission 2CUC.
Casa del Caribe, Avenida Manduley, Vista Alegre
A great venue in the leafy Vista Alegre district, in a grand old house. The stage is to the side of the house, in a courtyard surrounded and sheltered by high trees. There is a statue to murdered Grenadian socialist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. Music most nights. Each Sunday afternoon from 4.30 until about 7pm is a rumba (traditional Afro-Cuban style) session. Hardly any tourists. Tourist admission 1CUC. Well worth visiting.
Cabaret is a popular entertainment form in Cuba. This can range from a few singers and dancers with a compere, to a magnificent floor show with dozens of dancers and an orchestra.
This is situated about 4 or 5 km from the city centre. Should cost no more than 5CUC in a cab. An immaculate venue built in the 1990s, when tourism was taking off. The cabaret is situated outdoors. A huge show that lasts about 2 hours, with a full-size orchestra playing in the background.
Admission is 20CUC for foreigners or 30CUP for Cubans on the door. The travel agencies offer trips from the Santiago hotels for 37CUC, which includes transport, admission, half a bottle of rum and two cans of cola for each couple; and a small plate of cheese, ham and olives for each person. If there are two or more of you, it’s probably cheaper to do it yourselves.
After the show there is music and dancing in the cabaret area. There is also an adjacent discotheque, which I have not been to, but my understanding is that you pay an additional entrance fee (5CUC); it is open until 4 or 5am; and it is full of hustlers.
In El Caney, about 4 or 5km from city centre. I have not been there, but have heard mixed reports. A cabaret followed by a disco. Priced in CUP. Some say it’s good, others say that it is a very young crowd with occasional trouble.
On the road to El Caney, opposite the hospital. About 3 or 4 km from city centre. Small show followed by disco. Priced in CUP, although when I went there (which was after 1am) they wanted me to pay admission in CUC (5).
Hotel Las Americas, Avenida de las Americas
A small show in the gardens of the hotel, later repeated inside the disco. From memory, it is 5CUC admission with a couple of drinks included.
In the UK the word discotheque fell out of popular usage more than 20 years ago. We now refer to such places as nightclubs. However, in Cuba they still have discotecas. I am not a big fan of them. The music is nearly all reggaeton. The DJ generally does not interact with the crowd, but instead sits behind a booth whilst what the dancers see is a big video-screen. However, these are some of the discotecas in Santiago:
In the Hotel Melia Santiago. Big queues at weekends. I tried to get in once, but the queue was too long. I think that admission is 5CUC – I’m not sure if that includes any free drinks or not.
Hotel las Americas
Opposite the Melia Santiago. Cabaret show followed by DJ. 5CUC admission (includes three drinks). Loud, smoky, full of jinateras (Cuban girls looking to hook up with tourists)
See cabaret section above
Club Iris, Calle Enramada
Near to Plaza de Marte. Small club, mostly Cubans. Admission 2CUC.
(*) Michael Shaw’s blog with stories from Santiago de Cuba and Havana.