Riviera Hotel

Grand prix / People

Riviera Hotel

| By François Monti

The Havana Club Grand Prix is not only a chance to immerse yourself into a unique cocktail culture. It’s also a chance to discover some of the most fascinating places in the world...

Two years ago, the Havana Club Grand Prix took place in the mythical roof garden of the Sevilla Hotel, the first luxury establishment to be built by Cubans, an essential bar for Cuban cocktails in the 20’s and home to the most important cantinero’s school on the island. This year, the Grand Prix moves a good thirty-five years forward as the competition will be held at the Riviera.

 

Inaugurated in 1957, built on Vedado’s waterfront, towering over the Malecon, the Riviera has quite a story: it was the brainchild of the infamous Meyer Lansky. In the United States, Lansky was the brains of the mafia and could not operate legally. In Batista’s Havana, though, his activity was entirely legal: he was the regime’s unofficial gambling minister. The Riviera was meant to be the crowing achievement of his career, twenty-one stories (built in Y for better views on the sea) that would show how far the poor Jewish boy had come. It didn’t last: the revolution came, and the mobsters were sent packing. The Riviera, though, remains, and little has changed in 50 years.

 

The architect was Igor Polevitzky, a man who had made his name in the so-called Miami Modern school. He came up with an exterior covered in turquoise mosaic, so the hotel would seem to have sprung out off the Caribbean. Inside, Polevitzky let the creativity of some of the most prominent Cuban artists go wild: abstract sculptures, tributes to the country’s dances, mermaids and swordfishes playing together, carnival-themed murals… To this day, the Riviera remains a feast for the eyes.

 

Of course, the hotel boasted restaurants (L’Aiglon), bars, a casino, and three entertainment venues. The main one, the Copa Room, was inaugurated by no less than Ginger Rogers (Lansky is supposed to have quipped “She can wiggle her ass but she can’t sing” at the end of her performance) and numerous US stars performed on its stage. Guests included such luminaries as Lou Costello, Steve Allen, William Holden, Ava Gardner or Nat King Cole…

 

According to architecture historian Peter Moruzzi, the Riviera is “the best-preserved example of mid-century Las Vegas-influenced Miami Modern resort architecture in the world. (…) The period atmosphere (…) actually survives in its original splendour at the Havana Riviera”.

 

The Havana Club Grand Prix is not only a chance to immerse yourself into a unique cocktail culture. It’s also a chance to discover some of the most fascinating places in the world, thanks to the unbelievable architectural legacy of Havana. This is what makes the Grand Prix such a stand out event.

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