Oh Cuba, how we love to glamorize you. That Caribbean island of temptation, one of the planet's last bastions of communism, a place where brown sugar and bulging cigars come together in sweet chachacha harmony. How we lose ourselves, delude ourselves, in your sultry, sinful charm
Cuba Cafe is one big fat Castro-smoking illusion, and a good one at that. From the Spanish salsa music to the sepia Che Guevara photographs, the place reeks of Cuban cigars. In one corner a national flag dangles from the DJ's mixing box. In another, coconuts rest haphazardly against cactus plants, struggling to survive the Baltic's penetrating March cold.
This Latvian krogs-turned-Havana-cabana on the corner of Dome Square is sure to be packed with nightclub trendsetters. Granted, they may not know the Bay of Pigs from the Bay of Tallinn, but they've mastered the art of sipping a mohito in style. And oh how that green drink deserves it.
Cuba Cafe's mohito is everything a mohito should be. The crushed ice is bountiful and the peppermint leaves are fresh enough to outdo an Orbit drop. The frosty cocktail is so good, your taste buds might actually boycott any other drink you order. Mine did.
Yet the mohito is just one of several drinks offered for a decent 3 lats (4 euros). Caipirinhas, Margaritas, Pina Coladas, Mai Tais, Tequila Sunrises, and Cuba Libres float around the smoky room like escaped birds of paradise, lost in a Riga fog.
Everyone seemed aware they were in a place called Cuba Cafe, which had something to do with an icon named Che, something to do with beautifully dark women, something to do with the clandestine, the exotic, the cool. In a backward, inside out, upside down sort of way, I felt it too.
But just when I was beginning to enjoy my bubble of Cuban delusion, it was popped. Two sips away from the sweet end of my sweet mohito, I woke up to reality. I was painfully hungry.
But as we all know, hunger doesn't exist in a place like Cuba. And this is where Cuba Cafe falls short of its name. Considering whether the table's salt and pepper would tie me over until my food came, I skimmed the menu for some sustenance. Nachos, labi. Cheese plate, not so labi. "Cuba this and that," what? Smoked chicken strips, perfect.
And this is where my Cuba fell apart.
Before me appeared a portion of thin, cold mini-slices of chicken served on a saucer. The poor prisoners at Guantanamo Bay probably get bigger and better portions than this (I later found out that the nachos were merely dry tortilla chips, and that each various salsa cost one lat, the same price as the chips.) Or maybe this was just Cuban culinary cool, where less and worse is more and better.
So there I was, face to face with a few kitty cold cuts. My heavenly Havana days were suddenly a thing of the past. The lively beat of Cuba, still blaring around me, started to sound more like the sad blow of a tuba. Goodbye my Cuba, I sighed, Goodbye.