On my recent trip to Cuba, one of the places I had to visit was the hotel Habana Riviera. Simply called the Riviera, overlooking the famed Malecón in Vedado, this hotel is the stuff of Havana legend and is still a throwback to the 1950s, when it was built.
Twenty-one floors with 352 rooms, the hotel was originally owned by mobster Meyer Lanksy (any Boardwalk Empire fans?) and built to rival the Riviera Casino on the Vegas strip. Designed by Igor Boris Polevitzky, one of the leaders of the Miami modern architecture wave at the time, and Cuban-based architect Manuel Carrera Machado the project was to be completed in 6 months with Albert B. Parvin doing the interior decor. Lansky also hired two of Cuba’s great artists, muralist Rolando Lopez Dirube and sculptor Florencio Gelabert, who designed the white marble sculptures of an intertwined mermaid and swordfish that fronts the entrance porte cochere, and “Ritmo Cubano,” a large lobby sculpture that depicts twirling male and female dancers rendered in bronze.
Opening in December 1957, guests that performed at the hotel’s famed Copa room cabaret are a who’s who including Ginger Rogers (who performed on opening night), Abbott and Costello and Nat King Cole. If you go now you’ll see a mural of some of their more recent famous guests like Paris Hilton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Danny Glover and so many more.
By January 1, 1959 Lanky’s dreams were over as Battista stepped down from power. On January 22nd, Fidel Castro held a press conference from inside the Copa Caberet. The following year, he nationalized all the island’s hotel-casinos (the most poignant example that I saw of this was with the Habana Hilton, it became the Habana Libre) and outlawed gambling.
Havana’s been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember and I did know a good amount of this history. What I did not imagine was that we’d stay there for a night on an impulsive whim, and I’ll be the first to say, I’m glad it was just for a night.
The Riviera is rich with history no doubt, and it’s ridiculously charming. Why not spend an afternoon lounging in a cocktail bar overlooking the Malecón. But it’s definitely stuck in the past. While there is as a steady stream of well-to-do European tourists, this hotel is in NO WAY ready for Americans. Unless they are bloggers looking for a great place to shoot some fall looks ;).
All shot by my mom at Hotel Habana RivieraPaseo y Malecón, Ciudad de La Habana, Cuba