The neighborhood of Vedado seems to be a melting pot for the few changes visible in Cuba. I spent a lot of time two years ago, since the linguistic faculty of the University of Havana is located here. A part from the improvement of a WIFI connection in most part of Calle 23 towards El Malecon, there are several privately based improvements around this area:
One of the changes I encountered was a small square of privately own restaurants, shops, bares, and even a playing ground for children. Under a year ago it was an abandon parking lot, today a lively modern meeting spot. The modern design and clean cuts in the architecture stand in clear contrast to the old houses with a clear need for renovation in its surrounding.
The nice waiter in one of the restaurants explained that the Cuban state around a year ago chose to sell the abandon parking lot to various private investors with the aim of recreating a variety for shops and restaurants. He smiles shyly when he comments that it properly is not such a big deal with private investments where I come from but in Cuba it is a big deal. Only a couple of years ago it was almost impossible to think of a project like this becoming true through private investment.
The Cuban state sits heavily on most businesses around the island, however, few years ago it opened up for the possible of establishing smaller private businesses. The private restaurants, or “las particulares” as the Cuban calls things not been stateowned, can highly compete with the poor standard in many of state-run restaurants. The waiters are nice and polite, and the food and drinks are on a complete other level. The square in Verdado is a recent example of this.
A cross the street from the square, you can find another great example of these new private restaurants. “La Paila” is located on the stop of a little hill which gives it a nice little view and on hot days a pleasant breeze. They offer a great variation of food for a decent price.
Location: Behind Hotel Habana Libre, Calle 25 between Calle M and Calle N.
Fabrica de Arte Cubano
A place I visited frequently two years ago is “Fabrica de Arte Cubano” (FAC); a by then newly opened museum-club-cultural center in the far end of Vedado. For me FAC was my first encounter with this new modern private movement in Cuba. As a friend of mine said back then: “It could be in Europe…”. And yes, it certainly lives up to many of the standards European culture melt pots offer. Here two years after FAC has expanded with several rooms for dancing, shows… well, basically anything. The private investment and alternative (for Cuba!) approach of combining culture and bars appear to have been a success.
Location: Calle 26 on the corner of Calle 11, and Facebook here.
However, do not overdo these changes. The state is still sitting heavily on most businesses, and has a last say in many questions. Stories floating about how offers from private businesses have been turned down in favor of a state-run business offer, even though the private offer was of same quantity and a cheaper price. Rumors claim it is because the state does not want people to get too much money between their hands. However, the truth is hard to know.