HOTEL Y RESTAURANTE ROMA
Every corner of the city is bursting with life.
Foul-smelling, in the form of waste and debris.
That’s what life is like on the streets of Havana.
It swallows you up.
Its obscenities, scurrilities and excesses overwhelm you.
It caves in on you and bowls you over.
Like the thin shattered glass in the windows and certain crumbling ceilings.
People get by, making ends meet between a game of dominoes and a glass of rum, coming up with the most astonishing plans to do some tourist or other out of a few pesos.
And in the meantime, time, the rain and the sun strip the plaster off the façades. The chipped marble slabs covering the steep staircases crumble away and tattered shards of rotten wood drip from the heavy carved wooden doors, which are always open onto the street.
Yet in some corners of the street it seems that the very same ungracious time has never passed.
Now in decay, the Liberty, Baroque and Art Deco style buildings still exude the glory of the past.
Their entrances, animated by the hustle and bustle of people noisily coming and going, are windows on a world that is both timeless and out of time.
And so, in Calle Aguacate, the soul of ancient splendour, Hotel Restaurante Roma, has been surviving beyond time since 1926.
The original lift, an open wrought iron cage, continues to run relentlessly up and down its 5 floors.
More than fifty years ago, however, the porter stopped wearing a suit and tie, and the wealthy, selected clientele stopped climbing up to their rooms.
Today the building is inhabited by ordinary people, divided into viviendas (homes), to all extents and purposes just another popular apartment block in one of the many barrios in Havana.
A laconic lady with a friendly face can always be found sitting at the entrance.
Her hair in curlers, flip-flops on her feet.
Whether newcomers or habitual visitors, at the nod of a head she gets up from her chair, dragging herself after them into the squeaky lift. She closes the rusted cage and, with tried-and-tested automatic movements, sets the motor running.
The ropes begin to slide, and she and her passengers disappear upwards. A few minutes later the cage descends, and once more, with her air of boredom, she takes up her position on the chair in the hall. Until the next client.
Some enter and climb the stairs without even glancing at her and, passively, she exchanges that indifference.
The perpetually lit lamp next to her creates a magnetic atmosphere.
Beneath the wrought iron canopy and a small Liberty window, the picturesque sign still says ROMA. The iron candleholders still protruding from the wall help you to imagine the time when candles were once lit to make the place shine, along with the marble chip mosaic floor in the entrance hall.
These seem to be the last details left reminding us of the past of this charming and sophisticated Hotel in the heart of La Habana Vieja, the old district.
But something equally magical has just been inaugurated on the top floors of the Roma.
The Capitolio stands out above the panorama of crumbling roofs, framing a large terrace that looks down on the city.
A long counter and a makeshift console become the new stars of the Roma.
It is in this place that a new, unique chapter of history begins.
Initially for political and thereafter above all for economic and technological reasons, Cuba’s musical panorama has never been fertile terrain for alternative music. Even today you will have a hard job finding a place to listen to anything other than traditional musical genres.
Alain Medina Naranjo, alias DJ Alain Dark, born and raised in the Roma, is the mind behind and the owner of what he has christened Bar Roma, Havana’s first and most fashionable electronic music club, which hosts internationally renowned DJs on a rotational basis.
The sun sets over the city, and to the sound of electronic music, the Roma’s panorama and lights blend into a single atmosphere.
Today, the ghosts and traces of that illustrious and noble past which was once the Hotel Roma, this place steeped in history and nostalgia, live side by side with the present.
La Habana, Cuba.
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