One day I visited the restaurant my grandfather owned in Cuba. It was a hub for all things cool in 1950’s Cuba. Several years earlier, during the Spanish Civil War, he was fighting on the Basque revolutionary, and finally decided it was time to leave his country, so he headed for Cuba. He built Centro Vasco and made it into a meeting place for athletes, business folks, movies stars, and political figures. It is located one block away from the old Meyer Lansky Hotel, Habana Riviera, where casino’s reigned supreme. Lucky Luciano’s office was tucked beside the restaurant as well. After Fidel came into power in 1959, my grandfathers business was nationalized and taken away from his custody. My father, who was 17 years old moved to Miami with him and decided to bring the family business to Miami, where Centro Vasco was launched in 1963. This is where my mother and father met and fell in love and produced a little baby girl named Jauretsi (me!). I was raised around all the exiles in my dads bar waxing poetics about the good ‘ol days. It always made me year to see this original building in Havana (an idea that made Cuban-exiles angry just at the suggestion).
(Abuelo Juan Saizarbitoria and his kitchen staff)
One day I couldn’t wait anymore and broke all the rules — I decided to visit the homeland. The following photos are Centro Vasco today, 2011. All the photos of my grandfather are still hanging on the wall. The employees running the restaurant, including Luis (one of the longest standing waiters) were open armed and together we had a lovely afternoon reminiscing about the history. They cooked me a paella (my grandfathers old recipe) as I sat underneath a painting of my grandfather holding a big rock, a classic Basque sport. Here’s some photos of the building today.
(Current Waiter in modern-day Centro Vasco, Havana)
(Abuelo Juan Saizarbitoria, Abuela Carmen Saizarbitoria, and Father Juanito Saizarbitoria)
(Current Bartender at Centro Vasco, Havana)