November 21, 2016

A Cooking Oil Factory Heats Up Cuban Nightlife

Normally, I wouldn't be terribly excited about visiting a nightclub while on vacation in any foreign land. I'd rather go to a cemetery or some archaeological site or just have a really nice dinner.

But when the club is inside an old factory—that's been rebranded as an "Art Factory"—well, I'm in.

In fact, I'm all in.

On a guided tour, sometimes you've got to stay with the group, regardless of your level of interest in any one specific expedition. But on our second-to-last night in Havana (which was also our second night in Havana), we had our choice of nightlife: the Cuban national ballet at the national theater of Cuba, or the Fábrica de Arte Cubano.

It didn't seem like a very big gamble to choose the factory.

And oh, my, the factory! I'm not much for going to the "place to be," as I prefer to be where no one else is at, but it's no wonder why this place is so popular.

You can climb a spiral staircase up the chimney...

...getting closer to the chandelier that's visible through a window from the street—the only thing that really indicates something is going on in there.

High up inside the smokestack—way above the diners of the restaurant El Cocinero below—there's some kind of sculpture...

...surrounded by a million points of green light that illuminate the brick cylinder from the inside.

El Cocinero isn't just the name of the restaurant, emblazoned on the outside of the chimney—it's also the name of the brand of cooking oil that used to be cranked out of this factory, back in its industrial days.

Although the industrial facades are festooned with all sorts of modern, colorful sculptures...

...very little changed when the building changed hands to the Ministry of Culture.

The windows and walls got a coat of white paint.

The ceiling, however, did not.

Neither did the upper reaches of the warehouse walls...

...nor the honeycomb-tiled floor.

Photo by Yoeztudioz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

They did add some shipping container galleries (and bar) in the back.

Once designed and built purely for utilitarian purposes, this space is now home to flourishing art of all types. Yes, there are the sculptures—but there are also galleries and displays of photography, jewelry, printmaking, video arts, dance, and music across multiple levels, inside and outside.

And there are bars to serve you a multitude of rum drinks (mojitos, daiquiris, or just straight rum) and toaster oven-cooked Cuban sandwiches, no matter where you are and which cultural experience you've decided to partake in.

Maybe London, Paris, Montreal, or Berlin have got something like it. It's kind of got Brooklyn written all over it. But this is Cuba, a place where adaptive reuse is an absolute necessity—a necessity that's started giving birth to some pretty cool experiences.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Picasso of The Caribbean's Surreal, Ceramic Land
Photo Essay: Mr. Brainwash Art Show 2011 Closing Night
Crossing the Border (Cruzando la Frontera)

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