The hottest night out in Havana

tumblr_inline_nzd6ejrhvE1tgl2nu_540HAVANA, Dec.16th  Forget the Copacabana, forget the Tropicana — the hottest spot in Havana now is a former peanut oil factory turned art house. Fábrica de Arte Cubano is more than just a place to drink and dance the night away. It’s a premier cultural institution, hosting art installations, film festivals, and theater performances.

Fábrica isn’t exactly a hidden underground spot — if you don’t get there before 10 p.m., you’ll end up waiting in a line that wraps around the block. (The space holds 600 people.) But for a notorious hotspot, it’s incredibly diverse, inexpensive, fun, and cool. This edgy party space is, at any given moment, putting on the country’s most eclectic combination of entertainment options under one roof.tumblr_inline_nzd6ekQX9z1tgl2nu_540There are three multipurpose rooms for concerts, dance performances, lectures, and films. As you head through the hallways, music videos play on the walls and the odd patron dances along or lazily plays board games with friends. There may be a fashion show starting around 9:30, or a play. (Last month it was The Vagina Monologues.) A band usually kicks off around 11 p.m.  Maybe it’s rock, maybe it’s Afro-Cuban, sometimes it’s jazz.

Other partiers browse thought-provoking photography, paintings, and sculptures in the half-dozen exhibition spaces dedicated to art and design installations.

Food kiosks and bars are dotted throughout, where bottles of rum hang from the ceiling, dragged lazily along by a conveyor belt system. Underneath, bartenders mix strong cocktails for 2 Cuban convertible pesos ($2). (Stop for a piña colada on the ground floor. It’s a house specialty, sometimes mixed by the self-proclaimed “King of Piña Coladas.”) Or if you need a cup of strong Cuban coffee, you can get that too.

When you buy food or drinks, the server writes down your charge in a little square on a small, gridded card. It’s a nod to the Cuban libreta, or supplies booklet, that Cubans use to get their monthly rations of groceries and home goods. If you lose your card, you have to pay about 30 CUC ($30) to leave. (While that may seem like a good deal to the average tourist, keep in mind that the average Cuban makes about $20 per month.)

The crowd is diverse: young people hanging out, celebrities (think Katy Perry and Mick Jagger), and an ageless crowd of artists, musicians, intellectuals, and straight-up fun-seekers all under the same roof.tumblr_inline_nzd6ekjoVK1tgl2nu_540It’s all the brainchild of Cuban hip-hop and Afro-rock musician X Alfonso, who developed it with the support of Cuba’s Ministry of Culture. Alfonso based the concept on the home where he grew up. His parents, Carlos Alfonso and Ele Valdes, were the founding members of a famous Cuban band called Síntesis, which he later joined.

Speaking at a TEDx event, he described being a young child and “already being surrounded by artists in my father’s small house, which was the art factory. All of the artists would meet there, they’d watch movies together, listen to records together.”

Fábrica de Arte Cubano is his re-creation of that environment, where “people can be exposed to art, cinema, music, and workshops.”

The mix of DJs, dancing, and people-watching is more than enough to keep anyone entertained until closing. (Officially, opening hours are Thursday through Sunday from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m., but people have been known to keep going much later.)

Before you head out, you can grab a strong cup of Cuban coffee — after all, 3 is early when you’re on Cuban time. Or, if you didn’t lose your drink card, you may still have enough local currency left over for a taxi ride home in a classic car.tumblr_inline_nzd6elFPtd1tgl2nu_540