Gato Tuerto, A Bohemian Hang-Out
By Idania Machado Photos: Yander Zamora
In a city as open to the sea as Havana, each twilight graces its inhabitants with an amazing present. Whether on the Malecón - the sea wall running along the north side of the city - or from any building with a line of sight to the horizon, Havana's sunsets are a beautiful natural spectacle worth pausing for.
Later into the evening and throughout the Cuban capital, doors start opening to invite lovers of music to a sleepless night full of rhythm and sound. Their options include the soulful Boleros and Filin ballads and the more energetic Afro-cuban jam sessions called the Descargas. During these jams, musicians gather for the sheer enjoyment to improvise and open their hearts. They are free to anyone who wants to give themselves away to feelings of joy and that, amongst Cubans, is more than enough.
Among the more formal night clubs and piano bars, the "King", thanks to its history and tradition, is without a doubt the Gate Tuerto or the "One-Eyed Cat" Bar.
In the words of Cuban poet Virgilio Piñera, at the Gato Tuerto there is a night within a night. Once the favourite hangout for arty bohemian types in the 1970's, the bar regained its popularity with night-owls after a 12 year hiatus with good music, great artists, and the everlasting draw of Cuban rum.
This is where uninhibited music ﬁns end up and the artists have to be comfortable sharing the stage with members of the audience. The musicians on stage are aware of the inevitability of this and can't escape from that fact. Those are the nights to listen and treasure each moment until the sun rises.
In the meantime, while many things can and will happen in a place considered to be a haven for spontaneity, you can count on some things like the quality of the cocktails.
The Cat may be one-eyed but it has other talents such as lending its name to the specialty drink of the house, the "Orgasmo del Gato". Try to imagine the taste of this drink: coffee liquor with lrish cream whiskey topped with a layer of flaming whiskey.
I don't know if this description will tempt you enough to taste it but I urge you to try. l was also told that the coffee with brandy at the Gare can raise the dead. There is the Piña Catalana, a Piña Colada with Crema Catalana, the Spanish version of Crème Brulée.
Not so well known due to the fame of the bar, is the restaurant upstairs. It opens at noon and offers Cuban and international dishes. There is the "Compay Lobster", in homage to singer Compay Segundo, and the Olla del Diablo, or the "Devil's Pot," which are pricey but delicious. The lobster is breaded and served with vegetables and a spiced sauce. The Devil's Pot looks a little more complicated to describe - it has a combination of grilled chicken, lobster, and squid with a cream-based Creole sauce.
You better get to the Gato early if you want a table or you can just crowd up to the bar. One thing is for sure, there is always a new guest invited to play on the stage. If you don't believe me, trust the words of Piñera's poem:
"At the Gato Tuerto There is a night within a night With a moon coming out for some A sun shining for others And a rooster singing for everyone".