14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez, Havana, 22 November 2023 — With few of its walls still standing and pieces of rubble strewn about, the old Lisboa pizzeria in Havana’s Playa district has gone from being a popular restaurant to a complete ruin in the span of a few years. Neighborhood residents, who watched as the state-run business became a den of drunkards and night owls, pray that private business interests take over what remains of the building before the few columns supporting it finally give way.
“It has been abandoned for a while,” says Reina, who lives on the same block. She remembers that, about four or five years ago, the pizzeria still had customers. As she recalls, Lisboa was closed during the pandemic though she does not know if the closure was due to health restrictions. “Now it’s just a reference point,” she says. If anyone who asks me for directions, I tell them to look for the block where everything is in disarray. No one gets lost.”
Under some almond and palm trees that provide shade during the day and shelter at night, the pizzeria has become what local residents describe as a public toilet. “In the last hour I have seen three people go over to that wall and urinate, including that guy there,” says Reina, pointing to a man who parks his motorbike, slowly approaches the wall and “draws his sword.”
Nor has Lisboa escaped the ravages of “scavengers,” as she describes those who have, out of sight, been chipping away at the walls of the restaurant until it becomes what she describes as a living brick. “They’ve taken the doors, windows, rods, everything they could carry. Even the walls have become thinner because they’ve torn out bricks,” she says.
“When they saw what was happening, the authorities put up some flimsy metal barriers to keep the building from collapsing.” Some very rustic rebar fences are the only thing that separates the interior of the restaurant from passersby on the adjoining street. Amid the rubble inside, the remains of windows and plaster can be seen as well as bags of gravel and a few cement blocks.
A pyramid of boards is stacked on one side. “It looks like they were brought in to prop things up but they never did anything with them,” she says.
“People have been saying for a long time that a private investor is going to take over Lisboa. I’m not sure about that but at least I held out hope that would happen before it fell apart or became a nest of criminals,” says Reina.
On one side of the old pizzeria is La Copa, a shopping center whose tenants are mostly private businesses whose good condition stands in contrast to the rubble that is Lisboa. Several cafes, a hair salon and a barber shop – all in private hands – put the mediocre state-run businesses, that are also part of the complex, to shame.
Customers might think twice about opening their wallets after seeing the menu at one of the cafes. An espresso costs 100 pesos, a capuccino goes for 150 and a café bombon — equal parts espresso and sweetened condensed milk — for 300. Except for the Michelada,* which costs 350, the cocktails are all around 550 pesos. Beer is purchased separately.
La Copa’s other tenants include a pharmacy without medications, a vacant hard-currency store and two ATMs — only one of which works — in a corner which more often serves as a makeshift urinal. The dilapidated Servando Cabrera gallery a few steps away, which authorities describe as a “bastion of emerging art in Cuba,” pays homage to Lisboa’s old slogan: “In line with the Revolution.”
*Translator’s note: a Mexican drink of beer, lime juice, assorted sauces, spices, and chili peppers, served in a chilled, salt-rimmed glass.
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