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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

Saturday, Sept. 20


Starting on Sept. 18 and ending tomorrow is the Extreme Fantasy Wakeboarding Festival in Sunpark by Sredny Suzdalskoye lake in the Ozerki region of the city.


Those after something more laid back can instead head to Jazz and Wine night at TerraVino with legendary jazz guitarist Ildar Kazahanov. 12/14 Admiralteyskaya Emb.



Sunday, Sept. 21


Learn more about African culture and get some exercise during todays Djembe and Vuvuzela, a bike ride starting in Palace Square that includes several stops where riders can listen to the music of Africa or watch short films about the continent. The riders plan to set off at 4 p.m. and all you need to join is a set of wheels.



Monday, Sept. 22


Do you love puppetry? If so, then be sure to go to BTK-Fest, a five-day festival that starts on Sept. 19 celebrating the art. Contemporaries from France, Belgium, the U.K. and other countries will join Russian artists to put on theatrical performances involving a variety of themes, materials and eras. Workshops and meetings are also scheduled for a chance to discuss the artistic medium in further depth.



Tuesday, Sept. 23


Marina Suhih, Director of the External Communications Department at Rostelecom North-West, and Yana Donskaya, HR Director for Northern Capital Gateway are just some of the confirmed participants of todays round table discussion on Interaction with Trade Unions being hosted by SPIBA. Confirm your attendance with SPIBA by Sept. 22.


Kino Expo 2014, an international film industry convention, will be at LenExpo from today until Sept. 26. The third largest exhibition of film equipment in the world, the expo focuses on not only Russia but former Soviet republics as well.



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