14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 26 May 2021 — The image of La Bodeguita del Medio without the thousands of signatures on its walls, which were part of its character, surprised locals and strangers. A few days ago, Robin Pedraja, creative director of the art magazine Vistar, shared photographs of the restoration of the premises on social networks and wondered who had the idea to erase “all that patrimony.” Many customers showed their rejection of a work that, according to various opinions, has resulted in the iconic place losing part of its identity.
“The signatures are not patrimony,” disagrees José Miguel Pumarada Fernández, manager of the premises, in an interview with 14ymedio. The official maintains that the premises have already undergone three renovations and argues that this intervention was necessary, due to the poor condition of the place.
“There were leaks everywhere, customers were eating and water was dripping on the tables, there was a lot of dampness. Paintings were falling off the walls because the plaster was decayed, the dampness was high and this was part of the complaints from customers who visited the establishment,” he says.
“There were leaks everywhere, customers were eating and water was dripping on the tables, there was a lot of dampness. Paintings were falling from the walls because the plaster was decayed”
Pumarada explains that three years ago the moment to start the repairs was expected, preserving everything that is considered a patrimony asset, including museum objects. “The signature book, all the framed photos – dating from the 40’s and 50’s – the house structure and its architecture, the wood, all of this was respected.”
The manager, who has been in charge of the emblematic place for seven years, adds that the City Historian’s Office door was the first one they knocked on to start the work, and although for no apparent reason he (the Historian) did not oversee the work, they have “all levels of approval” of the Monuments Commission.
However, a specialist of the Master Plan of the Office of the City Historian consulted by this newspaper affirms that he was not aware of the remodeling, but considers the elimination of the signatures “regrettable and a violation” and defends that such interventions should be controlled. “If they erased everything, it’s terrible. It’s an iconic place, it’s not just any tavern.”
Salomé García, a graduate of Plastic Arts from the Higher Institute of Art, considers that this intervention is part of “the iconoclastic offensive of the Cuban State” against patrimony
Salomé García, a graduate of Plastic Arts from the Higher Institute of Art, considers that this intervention is part of “the iconoclastic offensive of the Cuban State” against patrimony.
“This is a location of State/public property, and of high patrimonial value. The contracts for these interventions (and for many others) should be public tenders. In addition, these are interventions that should be covered in the press due to their relevance, that way, misrepresentations would be avoided,” adds the specialist, who is currently completing a Master’s Degree in Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Assets at the Polytechnic University of Valencia.
It is not the first time that La Bodeguita del Medio has remodeled its interior. In 1997, there was a physical attack against the facility, along with other tourist places such as the hotels Tritón, Chateau Miramar and the Copacabana, and part of it had to be restored and its walls painted, recalls Pumarada, who stresses that this establishment has been in operation for 78 years.
This year’s repair was necessary, he insists, because the walls had several cracks that needed to be sealed, in addition to adding strength and security. “We used the same color paint as before and everything else remained intact.”
Currently, and complying with the rules to control the pandemic, the La Bodeguita del Medio Bar remains closed, although it keeps open “a little store” on one side of the premises where food is sold.
“Any bite from a seedy inn is better than these. I was hoping they were of higher quality since this place is what it is, but it is a sandwich from a community dining room”
“The only thing they are selling are ham sandwiches at 25 pesos each,” a local resident told 14ymedio. “But they don’t have enough, only 30 loaves. According to what some workers said, whatever is in the inventory is sold,” says the Havana resident who decided to buy four sandwiches and ended up outraged. “Any bite from a seedy inn is better than these. I was hoping they were of higher quality since this place is what it is, but it is a bite from a community dining room.”
La Bodeguita del Medio, which is sold to tourists as “the cradle of The Mojito,” is located on Empedrado Street, a privileged place in the capital, a few steps from the Plaza de la Catedral, in Old Havana. This area belongs to the Historic Center, and in 1982 it was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
The property had long since lost the best it had: to become a place for the national bohemian, for the regulars of the patio. Since it was dollarized and became a place with fast food for tourists, it lost its most important asset, and it was not its signatures, but its identity, its hallmark.
Translated by Norma Whiting
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.