Centro Vasco, Havana

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 23 years old, moved to Miami with Abuelo Juan and decided to relocate 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 yearn to see this original building in Havana — an idea that made Cuban-exiles angry just at the suggestion. Anyways, I finally decided to listen to my voice, and took the short (but psychologically long) journey back to the motherland. I had finally reached my mecca… and made my peace. Here’s some of the images from that day.

(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)

5 thoughts on “Centro Vasco, Havana

  1. I love the pictures of Centro Vasco in Cuba. My parents (Juanito Jr.& his first wife, Fabiola my mom) were married at the restaurant in 1960, prior to the Nationalization. I have great pictures too.

  2. My name is Ed Brouwer I am also a Cuban exile who came to the US in 1962 as part of Operacion Pedro Pan my brother and I were reunited with our parents in 1965 in the US.
    In spite of the Dutch surname I am part basque. The Dutch surname is the result of a Dutchman named Cornelius Brouwer who was born in1740 and migrated to the Basque Country of France and gave his last name to his second wife’s child otherwise our family surname would be Marot,
    My great grandfather was named Jean Baptiste or Juan Bautista Brouwer who went to Cuba to help built the railroad he settled with his wife in Matanzas where my grandfather Julio Brouwer was born, he married another Basque Cuban named Mariana Leganoa the name was originally Legagnoa but the locals had trouble pronouncing it so it was changed to Leganoa( sorry no tilde in my English keyboard).
    As a child I went to El Centro Vasco with my parents and enjoyed the food.
    I know live in California and often frequent El Centro Vasco Restaurant in Chino, California. I visited Cuba twice in 2018 but did not visit your family’s restaurant.
    Like you I was criticized by some exiles for visiting our native land

    Thank you, Ed Brouwer,

  3. Hola. Just read this late. Thank you for the beautiful family history, and for your kind words. It’s incredible you dined at Centro Vasco as a child. Small world. The Basque-Cuban bloodline is a strong one. I hope you had a lovely trip back to Cuba.

  4. Great history ad photos. I am happy you went to Cuba and touched the place where you grandfather and father once loved and also touched. I arrived in 1962 as a Pedro Pan and I have never visited Cuba. Hopefully one day I will. Had quite a few dinners as a little child in Cuba at that same place, which I can not remember much and many more at Centro Vasco on 8th St., Juanito always smiling at the door and always had a good table available….Best wishes.

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