To step over the threshold of La Bodeguita Del Medio is to traverse the globe in the span of a single heartbeat. From glittering lights of Monot the world is transformed into the hustle and bustle of a night in Havana, the clink of tall mojito glasses just audible through the wail of a Latin band. The décor is quintessentially Cuba, with low tables, high balustrades and two cozy cigar lounges tucked into the corners of the upper and lower decks. Under the bright lights, faint blue wisps of cigar smoke drift and swirl, a ghostly reproduction of the movement of turning, dancing bodies on the floor below.
El Bodeguita Del Medio, restaurant and cigar lounge, celebrated its opening last month with a massive fiesta. The event was attended by the Lebanese Minister of Tourism, as well as the Cuban ambassador, and stretched late into the night.
The restaurant is inspired by the famous Bodeguita of Havana, a spot infamous in history as a secret haunt of celebrities, writers, radicals and intellectuals for the last hundred years. The original was patronized by such historical figures as Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Naruda, and is reputedly the birthplace of the mojito. And those years are well documented: the walls of the Beirut Bodeguita are covered, floor to ceiling, with snapshots of famous celebrities, rockers and personalities reclining in the same corner. Some are hard to recognize – Pierce Brosnen is slightly disheveled, looks like he’s taken up the latin habit of foregoing sleep – while others simply look like they’re having a good time.
The opening lived up to that legacy. Mojitos were in abundant supply, as well as a galaxy of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, all taken straight from the milieu of traditional Cuban cuisine. In the center of the room guests were treated to a unique sight – a low table piled high with wide, brown tobacco leaves, stacked like pelts, were being rolled and clipped into fresh Cuban cigars.
A mariachi group played Latin classics until the party’s close, and had the guests up and on their feet in a new conga line every few minutes. No one appeared to be enjoying themselves more than the Ambassador, who, laughing and slapping backs, pulled the guests into the dance one by one. As he was no doubt one of the few individuals present who had seen the original La Bodeguita, his enthusiasm served as a kind of benediction to the authenticity of the new branch.
The evening’s finale was a massive birthday cake for the newborn restaurant. Sparklers blazing, and accompanied by a Spanish rendition of the Happy Birthday song, the cake ushered in what is sure to be a welcome addition to Beirut’s nightlife and restaurants.