Saturday, May 26, 2018

Round 2 for Sloppy Joe's bar, a Havana original

The original Sloppy Joe's bar is reopening in Havana after being closed for nearly half a century, giving residents and tourists from all over the chance to belly up to the same bar that served thirsty celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Rock Hudson, Babe Ruth and Ernest Hemingway.

It's part of an ambitious revitalization project by the Havana City Historian's Office, which since the 1990s has transformed block after block of crumbling ruins into rehabilitated buildings along vibrant cobblestone streets.

The effort has helped finance Cuba's socialist present by drawing tourists fascinated by its presocialist past, from colonial palaces of the 18th century to celebrity hangouts of the 1950s.

"For the people of this city, I think it's very interesting and very important to rescue a place that has so much history and is so recognized around the world," said Ernesto Iznaga, manager of the born-again Joe's, which will be run by state-owned tourism concern Habaguanex. The bar is expected to reopen next month.

Sloppy Joe's was founded in 1918 by a Galician immigrant named Jose Abeal Otero, who purchased a grocery store in Old Havana after years of tending bar in New Orleans and Miami. Legend has it that the sobriquet comes from the place's grubbiness and Abeal's American nickname, Joe.

As much as any other place in Havana, Joe's exemplified the island's lure as a playground for Americans.

"No Havana resident ever went to Sloppy Joe's," novelist Graham Greene wrote in his 1958 spy farce Our Man in Havana, ''because it was the rendezvous of tourists."

The last call came in 1965 as Fidel Castro's communist government was nationalizing nearly all private businesses, and Joe's has been shuttered for nearly five decades.

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