ELIZABETH SHERWOOD REVIEWS CUBAN FIESTA AT BUSBOYS AND POETS
When you walk into the new Busboys and Poets in Takoma Park, District of Columbia, you see a simple coffee bar. Behind the bar, next to a sign that says “Compass Coffee,” is a framed picture of Ernest Hemingway talking to Fidel Castro.
Past the shelves of Politics and Prose books and into the second dining hall and performance space is a mural of Cuban images. In this massive collage, painted by owner Andy Shallal, is a poem written by Afro-Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén called “Tengo.”
The room was perfect for a night of celebration of Cuba culture. The new space was holding a weekend of talks, classes, film screenings, and events focused on Cuban culture called Cuba Week, and the Cuban Fiesta on the last Saturday night was its last hurrah.
I, having been to Cuba in January and becoming subsequently obsessed with Cuban culture, was desperate to consume anything Cuban again, to find something that could remind me of the country I grew to love in a span of two weeks. Despite the pricey ticket (which included one free mojito and a meal), I took a friend, who knew nothing of Cuban culture, for a noche cubano.
The event page of Busboys and Poets’ website boasts “sweet drinks mixed by the Cuban Embassy’s bar tender” which is a stretch because there is no Cuban Embassy in D.C. There is only an interests section, just like the American version in Havana. The free mojito was delicious but a second mojito was around $10, which is outrageous (a mojito at Havana’s legendary Bodeguito del Medio, frequented by Hemingway, would go for no more than about $7). To accompany the drinks, we ate from a buffet of finger foods, including pizza and vegetable skewers. This was the only disappointing aspect of the night; the food was not Cuban. I would have enjoyed having ropa vieja or arroz blanco. There was also a raffle of Cuban cigars.
A highlight of the evening was when the Rueda All Stars dance troupe performed. Hailing from Santiago de Cuba, the troupe specializes in Casino style and contemporary Cuban dance and made their first U.S. appearance, with help from the American troupe D.C. Casineros (of which many members were Cuban-American). At the end, they encouraged everyone to dance with them, as Cubans do.
The setting for this Cuban Fiesta was perfect; it was airy, open, and had a mural dedicated to the celebrated country. There was a sense of excitement among the guests. Just as the President is eager to mend political relations with our neighbor, the people were eager to learn about and revel in such a unique culture. As a fellow I met on the streets of Havana told me after I told him I was American: “leave the politics for them, it’s about the people.”
CUBAN FIESTA: Busboys and Poets
Takoma | Main Dining Room | March 7, 2015 | 8:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Featured image source: http://www.busboysandpoets.com/about/takoma
Elizabeth Sherwood is a Baltimore-based writer and exuberant pursuer of adventure and travel.