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Reminiscing in Cubas Retro-Soviet Cafe

Havanas new Nazdarovie restaurant gives nod to nostalgia for the islands Soviet ties during the Cold War.

Published: August 27, 2014 (Issue # 1826)



  • Guests enjoying a pre-launch dress rehearsal on Aug. 23, with Soviet propaganda posters providing a fitting backdrop.
    Photo: Ramon Espinosa / AP

  • An appetizer of cooked vegetables being presented at the dinner.
    Photo: Ramon Espinosa / AP

HAVANA Theres no rice, beans or fried plantains at Havanas newest private restaurant. You can order a minty mojito, but itll come mixed with vodka instead of the traditional white rum.

The waiters speak Russian and patrons are expected to order in that language if they want to get served. But dont worry, the menus at this retro-Soviet restaurant come with translations and pronunciation guides for the non-initiated.

Nazdarovie, which is named for the popular Russian toast and opened Aug. 22, is all about Slavic fare like bowls of blood-red borscht and stuffed Ukrainian varenyky dumplings, hand-rolled in the back by babushkas who were born in the former Soviet Union but have long called Cuba home.

Its a nod to nostalgia for the islands Soviet ties during the Cold War, a time when Moscow was Havanas main source of trade and aid and hundreds of thousands of Cubans traveled to the Soviet bloc as diplomats, artists and students.

For most of them it was the first time they ever left this island. They have nostalgia about their time there, about the flavors they experienced for the first time, said Gregory Biniowsky, a 45-year-old Canadian of Ukrainian descent who dreamed up Nazdarovie and launched it with three Cuban partners.

The idea with Nazdarovie is really to celebrate a unique social and cultural link that existed and to a certain degree still exists today between Cuba of 2014 and what was once the Soviet Union, said Biniowsky, a lawyer and consultant who has lived in Havana for two decades.

The collapse of the Soviet bloc largely ended the Havana-Moscow connection and sent Cuba into an economic tailspin. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has talked recently of renewing the relationship. He made a state visit last month, Russian navy ships periodically dock in Havanas harbor and Cuba has backed Russia in its dispute over Ukraine.

Occupying the third story of a historic building on the seafront Malecon boulevard, Nazdarovie is an homage to the old country.

Behind the bar, Russian nesting dolls and a bust of Lenin perch next to bottles of high-end vodka. Reproductions of Soviet propaganda posters line one wall in an attempt to spark conversation among customers sitting at a long communal table. About the only sign of the tropics is the million-dollar terrace view of Havanas skyline and the Straits of Florida.

At a pre-launch dress rehearsal, smartly dressed young waiters set steaming bowls of solyanka, a meaty Russian soup, before about 20 invited guests.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Sunday, Dec. 21


The Zenit St. Petersburg basketball team returns to the northern capital this evening for a matchup with Krasny Oktyabr, a Volgograd-based basketball club. Tickets for the game, which tips off at 6 p.m. this evening, can be purchased on the clubs website or at their arena, Sibur Arena, on Krestovsky island.


Satisfy your sugar cravings during Sweet New Year, an ongoing seasonal festival at the Raduga shopping center. Each weekend of December will welcome hungry visitors to taste hundreds of different kinds of desserts. Workshops are open to visitors and seasonal gifts can also be purchased for those rushing to finish their New Year shopping.



Monday, Dec. 22


Pick out the latest fashions as holiday gifts for loved ones or as early presents for yourself during the Christmas Design Sale at Kraft on Obvodny Kanal, starting on Dec. 20 and continuing through Dec. 27. Designer clothes will be on sale every day of the week or you can buy something more festive to decorate the home while sipping on hot coffee and perusing the various master classes.



Tuesday, Dec. 23


Meet Arctic explorers Fedor Konukhov and Viktor Simonov during SPIBAs and Capital Legal Services event Arctic Expedition this morning in the Mertens House business center at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. The meeting will discuss the explorers ongoing eco-social project and how companies can use the project as a unique marketing opportunity. Email office@spiba.ru by Dec. 22 if you wish to attend.



Wednesday, Dec. 24


The Anglican Church of St. Petersburg we will be holding a Christmas Eve service at 7 p.m. led by Rev Wm. Shepley Curtis of the Episcopal Church. The service will be held at the Swedish Church at 1/3 Malaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa.



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