On the renovated and luminous Plaza Vieja in Old Havana, Café Bohemia was recently opened in loving memory of Cuban journalist Ricardo Sáenz, member of the prestigious group that founded Prensa Latina, and which included Jorge Ricardo Massetti, Gabriel García Márquez and other icons of journalism in Latin America.
Spanish people in Cuba are customarily called gallegos (Galician), and this was precisely how Sáenz was known among his colleagues—El Gallego—although his family came from a different region in Spain. He is remembered among journalists for his professionalism and the passion he put into his job as editor-in-chief and deputy director of the weekly newspaper Juventud Rebelde, which was created in the early years of the Revolution, and afterwards, of Bohemia magazine. The latter, emblematic publication of journalism in Cuba, is considered by many as the first of its kind in Latin America and has kept track of the evolution of Cuban society for 100 years.
A careful selection of cover pages of different issues of Bohemia dating from the early 20th century bears witness to Diana’s marked cultural intention when she—Sáenz’s daughter—opened this bright café on the first floor of the majestic Palacio de la Casa del Conde de Lombillo, at Calle San Ignacio #364, right next to the popular brewery Factoría Plaza Vieja. The Palacio del Conde de Lombillo is an architectural jewel from the late 18th century, restored by the Office of the Historian of Havana.
Thanks to its location in the cool inner courtyard of the colonial building, Café Bohemia is perfect for taking a break from long walks and seeking shelter from the stifling Cuban heat as you explore the Havana’s Historical Center.
Entering the cool inner courtyard where Café Bohemia has set up shop you feel your temperature gauge go down a few notches. More than an escape hatch from Cuba’s sometime stifling heat this is meant to have a Bohemian vibe. A meeting place for Cuban musicians, singer-songwriters, authors and journalists, despite its touristy locale.
When you have lemons make lemonade. Produce here is sourced locally—Cuba is the original slowfood, local and organic when given half a chance! There are a range of salads and sandwiches on the menu include the typical country-made white cheese and ham from Pinar del Río Province, resulting in a great mix of colors and flavors with spices, herbs and vegetables dressed with imported extra virgin olive oil.
I particularly like the fresh juices with flavors and tropical colors that give life to a rhapsody of recipes both new and old. If you are ready for a cocktail try the gin with pepper and rosemary, or hot spices and apple.
This café is a welcome addition to Old Havana’s café circuit—no doubt it will be popular. More than that though this has been developed in a classy and sensitive way, which integrates and adds to its surroundings. I think El Gallego would have been proud.
Ground floor of the Palacio de la Casa del Conde de Lombillo
Calle San Ignacio #364 (next to Factoría Plaza Vieja)