You’d think that a restaurant named Café Habana would be a perfect fit in Miami. But when it emerged this week that the New Yorker-owned joint specializing in Cuban/Mexican fusion was “inspired by a storied Mexico City hangout, where legend has it Che Guevara and Fidel Castro plotted the Cuban Revolution,” all hell predictably broke loose.
The restaurant, slated to open in downtown Miami in the spring, has since scrubbed the Castro and Che reference from its website. But no amount of damage control will appease commie-hating Miamians, many of whom are surely cooking up protest plans, pots and pans at the ready.
The original Café Habana opened in New York in 1997, and like so many other restaurants before it — the famed Carbone, etc. — its ownership decided to head down south to escape the cold and blue-state pandemic paranoia. Miami, the restauranteurs surely thought, would be a free-for-all and a haven for its overpriced and overrated fare. They’re mostly right, of course. Miami is open and free and down for just about anything. But that same Miami, my ignorant blue-state friends, is not down with communist-themed restaurants.
The restauranteurs are feeling the heat and are sure to alter Café Habana’s theme, but if they want a true down and dirty Miami-style free for all, maybe these New York bros should commit to the commie-loving gimmick and open the place as they originally intended. Throw up some pictures of the bearded bastards. Have waitresses parading around in olive-green military garb while they puff on fat Cuban cigars. Perhaps even have a kitschy little theme night where guests playact as political prisoners and are holed up in a private dining area away from all the other guests to eat in near darkness — fancy candle lights provided, of course — and munch on some high-end slop infused with beet puree and tamarind extract.
Go all in, amigos. It’ll be such a fusion of chaos, old Cubans in walkers and bullhorns descending on downtown Miami and reliving the Bay of Pigs invasion alongside young Cubanitas letting it all hang out and looking for any excuse to take the dancing to the streets. The New York bros would never have to advertise again. Café Habana might be in ruins by the end of opening night, but no one ever said the restaurant game was easy.
The restauranteurs surely — sadly — won’t go this route, but their massive mishap couldn’t have come at a worse time, and not because Miami is fresh off of last summer’s anti-communist protests. Miamians have a long history of hating commies, but there’s a new band of usurpers they’re beginning to hate almost as much: monied blue-state outsiders, especially from the Northeast, who are invading the city and attempting to take it over.
The pandemic-influx honeymoon is over now and the disdain for the invaders is beginning to bubble to the surface, driven by skyrocketing rents and a mayor who’s seemingly obsessed with courting tech bros. So it’s beautifully ironic that Miamians newfound hate for elite outsiders will be directed at a band of clueless New York restauranteurs who just so happen to idolize the only people that locals hate more than them. This is a category five shitstorm.
Miami is a free-for-all, but the chaos is for the most par controlled. A Miamian knows that certain American traffic laws don’t fly down here, and if you take to streets with the mindset of a sweet Midwesterner, you’ll never get where you’re going. A Miamian knows which hoods to avoid, and which hoods offer up a good time, and how these hoods are often separated by a single street. A Miamian dreads, but also kind of looks forward to hurricane season — there’s nothing like a party induced by an incoming storm.
The point is that, down here in the 305, away from all you Americans, Miamians have been mostly left to our own devices. In the past, outsiders came for a weekend, got a taste of the action, and then bolted. But now the outsiders have taken command and are ushering in a new form of chaos Miamians are unaccustomed to.
Miami feels like it’s transforming before our very eyes, and there’s not much, if anything, that we can do about it. Rents keep going up and up. Outsiders with no connection to the city’s culture and history, like the Café Habana crew, are flooding into town and reshaping Miami in their image. Local politicians are either welcoming the outsiders or clueless as to how to even begin navigating this shifting landscape. The controlled chaos they were used to — that they controlled — is gone. For better or worse, Miami, a city of perpetual change, of booms and busts, in transforming once again.
The guys behind Café Habana surely didn’t have any ill intent behind their idiotic mistake. But their arrogance and lack of due diligence epitomizes what Miamians have feared ever since their city became the “freest” and hippest place to be — that they’re coming, they’re staying, and they’re changing everything.