"" Writer's Wanderings: Port of Call: Havana--Parisien Cabaret

Monday, December 03, 2018

Port of Call: Havana--Parisien Cabaret

In hindsight, I wish I had researched the Hotel Nacional de Cuba a bit more before our evening out in Cuba at the Parisien Cabaret. The only thing I noted from our Enrichment Lecture was that the hotel was based on the Miami Breakers Hotel. I would have done a bit more exploring had I known more of its history.

The hotel is built on the ruins of the Santa Clara Battery on a hill overlooking the ocean and which dates back to 1797. Part of the battery has been preserved in the gardens including two of the cannons. Of course it was dark when we were at the hotel and even though we glimpsed the garden, I didn't notice them. There was a lot more to see inside.

Hotel Nacional was opened in  December of 1930. It had American managers connected to other large hotel chains at a time when Cuba was a desired destination for American tourists. It was the site of a bloody siege in 1933 during the time when Batista was taking control.

A Chicago developer acquired the hotel in the 1940s and it was a part of the Kirkeby Hotels for over a decade. In 1946 the hotel hosted the Havana Conference which was a gathering of mob leaders organized by Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky and attended by many other prominent members of the mob. It was dramatized by Francis Ford Coppola in the Godfather II movie.

In the 1950s the hotel changed hands and was invested by other Americans some of whom belonged to the mob as well. A casino would be added to the hotel as just one of many established in Havana.

The Parisien opened in 1956 with a performance by Ertha Kitt who was also the first black to be allowed to stay at the hotel. Earlier Nat King Cole had been refused a room even though he was performing at the Tropicana.

Fidel Castro nationalized the hotel in March of 1960 shutting down the casino there as well as in other hotels in Havana. The hotel was used mostly to house visiting diplomats until 1991 when the fall of the USSR forced the Cuban communist party to open again to tourism because of the need to boost the economy.

The Hotel Nacional has had many famous visitors in its more than eighty years of existence. Frank Sinatra, Rita Haywood and Ernest Hemingway among many more are pictured in the small museum by the bar.

We walked into a beautiful lobby with glamorous chandeliers and were ushered into a large ballroom to meet some of the cast members of the show we were here to enjoy. Our glamorous show was held in a room that we were told seated 350. Of course to get that many in, we were quite cramped at the tables set up. The show was energetic and colorful with a large cast and a lot of costume changes. Along with the singers and dancers were acrobats, a drum player and a contortionist.

While it was a great night out, we were glad to be back to the ship and hustled into bed as it would be another early call in the morning for our walking tour of Havana.

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