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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, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the clubs website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit Neophobia at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBAs Marketing and Communications Committees round table discussion on Government Relations Practices in Russia this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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