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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, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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