Hotel a legacy of the Mob in Havana
Havana’s Hotel Nacional, alleged Cuba headquarters for the Mob during the 1950s when Americans flocked to the island to gamble and play, was restored to its 1930s glamour a few years ago. Its terraced palm shaded lawns overlook the seaside Malecon — an appropriate place for our small group to gather for cocktails on the last evening of our visit to Cuba. Cigars and mojitos were the order of the evening.
The miles-long Malecon is a dramatic seawall stretching along the Atlantic shoreline where people gather day and night. It’s a great microcosm of the city with lovers, teenagers, peddlers, bicyclists, dog walkers and anglers — great people watching up close or from a distance.
U.S. gangsters had taken over the hotels and casinos, including this one, during the pre-Revolution days of the ’40s and ’50s when Batista was in power and a tourism boom ensued. Those times now are recalled at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas — a town also run by the Mob in its earlier days.
A wall of photos at the far end of the Nacional’s lobby pays tribute to its many guests, which included actors and writers to sports heroes including Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Marlon Brando, Errol Flynn, Marlene Dietrich, Rocky Marciano, Mickey Mantle and Ernest Hemingway. Royalty and heads of state stayed here including Winston Churchill and the Prince of Wales. A 1946 Mob summit, called to divvy up Havana, was dramatically recalled by Francis Ford Coppola in The Godfather II.
That night we attended a lavish and high energy show at the Nacional’s Cabaret Parisien, similar to what visitors in the 1950s saw. The dancers were great, costumes were lavish and the drinks were good. I( heard that the show at the Tropicana was even better buts its tickiets were more expensive. But I was glad I’d brought a sweater because the air conditioning seemed aimed at keeping the dancers from overheating.
We took cute little yellow coco-taxis back to our rooms in the suburbs.
You can see one in the driveway of the hotel in the photo here. When I saw these three-wheeled, three-passenger vehicles my first day in Cuba, I commented on how unsafe they appeared. “Not on your life,” I’d said. But we all survived, despite the driver getting lost and losing power en route..