Havana's Gato Tuerto - from locals' favourite bohemian joint to tourist attraction

Posted: 08-Aug-18 09:32

Once upon a time, there was a not-so-hidden place in Havana that very few tourists knew about or stumbled upon. Nowadays, this has changed, as the "house of filin'" has started to attract more and more curious travellers who come for the excellent, reasonably priced food as much as for the music and the cosy ambience. Introducing Vedado's El Gato Tuerto.

Havana's Gato Tuerto - from locals' favourite bohemian joint to tourist attraction

They call it the epicentre of “filin” in Havana, a word taken from the English “feeling” to describe soulful songs, with meaningful, often sorrowful lyrics that speak of longing, devotion regret or heartbreak.

These ballads that pull at the heartstrings of many Cubans are ageless, timeless and as evocative today as ever with generations of habaneros having fallen under their spell and continuing to do so. Therefore, the city needed a dedicated space in which to enjoy those slow-paced, romantic melodies and Gato Tuerto was born, right at the heart of Vedado, Havana’s buzzing downtown and number one nightlife hotspot.

While at first its audience consisted mainly of more “mature” visitors in their 40s, 50s and 60s who came to enjoy the live renditions of old boleros and music of yesterday, nowadays the crowds at Gato Tuerto are getting younger and more varied as they’re no longer consist of just locals and foreign patrons are not a rare sight these days. It seems that the furore for Cuban filin’ has started attracting tourists too, against all odds and without even trying.

According to a recent article published by Prensa Latina, this popular nightlife venue in Havana is now entertaining more tourists than ever, especially those interested in soaking up the city’s bohemian music scene.

With a name that translates as "The One-Eyed Cat", El Gato Tuerto has become a symbol of soulful ballads and Cuban art, as it now also hosts a gallery in its interior. But it’s not all about the music, or indeed, the paintings, as even the even the tableware featured designs by famous Cuban painter Amelia Pelaez (1896-1968).

Standing tall and split into two floors, this peculiar locale first opened its doors in 1960, under the initiative of Felito Ayon, the man behind the legendary Bodeguita del Medio in Old Havana. The idea was to create a soulful place in which like-minded lovers of music could find an ideal gathering space to chat, buy books, records, works of art and listen to live performances.

In the beginning the lower floor was the main centre stage, where pianists, troubadours and bolero singers whiled the nights away with their melodies. The restaurant was on the second floor to offer diners a quieter space in which to enjoy their meal. Walls were decorated by famous Cuban painters of the time. It used to be frequented by national illustrious figures, from poets to writers, politicians and artists.

Nowadays, it attracts a more mixed crowds and its restaurant continues to serve great food at excellent prices. The entertainment will vary according to the time of day and the day of the week, but you can bet there will be a live performance every evening. As the venue started to attract foreign visitors in recent years, musicians and singers now not only perform boleros or “filin” music but have included some international favourites in their repertoire, so it’s not as rare as it once was to hear famous songs in English.

A final word of advice, according to Prensa Latina’s article, is to try the house speciality, which is a cocktail called “El orgasmo del gato”, yes, you’ve guessed it, “The Cat’s Orgasm”, they promise it tastes as good as it sounds. Only one way to find out!


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