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Tropicana Nite in Havana

By Gesel Pereyra-Mangilit as written for The Daily Tribune (www.tribune.net.ph).

Guests in colorful, Hawaiian-inspired garb were spilling out into nearby cafes and restaurants as the Guarana band dished out hefty servings of Latin and Brazilian music while lead singer Eileen Sison, dressed in a canary yellow number, enjoined everyone to move to the samba beat. A lady in white obligingly went in front of the makeshift stage, adorned with a huge, colorful masskara reminiscent of the mardi gras, to regale the enthusiastic crowd with the intricate footwork of the samba and the cha cha cha as guests, some smoking Havana cigars while others imbibing in Havana's very own brew, the Mangojitos, cheered on. Moments later, at the entrance, arriving guests greeted each other like long-lost friends as strains of "Agua de Beber" float through the air. Such was the celebratory mood when Café Havana marked its first year in its spankingly new Greenbelt 3 address. No less than restaurateur/owner LJ Cruz was on hand to greet guests with the casual air of an experienced host, dressed in an all-white get up that even Cuban ____ would approve of.
(I love Lucy)

Vamoso commer ! Vamosos bailar! These words greet you as you enter the glass doors of Café Havana. Nursing a second glass of Mangojitos, a potent mix of soda water, mango juice, Cuervo tequila and mint leaves, I headed straight for the bar for a plate of hors de ouvres, thoroughly enjoying myself, all the while engaging in what has increasingly become a favorite pastime, people watching.

From my vantage point, I espied the group of dance diva Becky Garcia exchanging hellos with a few tall Brazilian ladies in whistle-bait baby tee and jeans attire from the entrance. I was to learn later on that there were the Arriba dance band, a popular band of dancers from Brazil, invited to lend an authentic Brazilian flair to the event. And what a riot they caused when they came to the stage for their much-awaited show-stopper of a dance wearing their skimpy peacock-like costumes, literally shaking their booties, as the party reached its fevered, albeit hedonistic, pitch. It's as if Havana, Rio de Janeiro and Manila melded into one hot, sultry night ala tropicana.

And what's a theme party without its share of figureheads? Notables sighted were Cuban Ambassador Ramon Alonso Medina, Brazilian Ambassador Claudio Maria Lyra, Portugal Ambassador Joao Caetano Da Silva, Brazilian Embassy's Carlos Augusto del Carvalho, US Embassy's Jacki Phillips and William McElligot and hotel and airline executives who are said to be regular habitues of Café Havana.

Judging from the turnout of guests, Café Havana has truly become the place to see and be seen these days.

First opened in Remedios Circle in 1997, Café Havana has since gained the reputation of being the harbinger of authentic Cuban-Rio fare, famed for it daily band entertainment that went on from sunset to sundown. I've been to their Malate branch once before and was quite taken in by the charm of the place. For truly guests are there not so much as to be seen as to be with the company of friends in an atmosphere of fun and good music.

Café Havana's daily band entertainment starts from 6 p.m. onwards, Mondays to Saturdays. For inquiries, contact 757-4371 or 70.

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