Blame It On Havana’s Tropicana – Part 1
The story of the Tropicana is as colorful and statuesque as the talented women who performed at the cabaret through Havana’s roaring 40’s and 50’s. The biggest personalities on the planet came to see Cuban culture, music, dance and to gamble at the casino, restaurant and nightclub that made Cuba and Havana the most popular destination for the rich and famous and anyone else who wanted a good time.
The setting on the six-acre suburban estate combined everything a grand Cuban estate should feature along with the most imaginative floor shows ever arranged. The surrounding tropical gardens were very much part of the mystique and were always incorporated into the grandest stage performances ever seen. The artistry, spectacular costumes and novel choreography would soon be copied by Paris, New York and Madrid. The Tropicana did more to spread Cuba’s musical and dancing culture than any other institution before or after the Revolution, which ironically sealed the fate of casino at the world’s most notorious cabaret.
The Tropicana has proven time and time again that Cuba has a unique allure. From roots established at the Depression-era bohemian nightclub known as Eden Concert, a cabaret entrepreneur, Victor de Correa, envisioned a new more expansive cabaret with casino to be staged at the famous Villa Mina in Havana.
After lengthy negotiations, de Correa successfully entered into a lease with owner Guillermina Perez Chaumont. Her famous gardens would serve as a backdrop for the cabaret and the setting of a lavish outdoor restaurant that did not have an unreserved table for more than ten years.
Correa moved his troupe of dancers, musicians and performers onto the estate in December 1939. Correa oversaw the food and beverage operation while Rafael Mascaro and Luis Bular operated the casino, which was housed in the estate’s spacious and chandeliered dining room off the front hall entrance. As soon as patrons entered, the casino stared them squarely in the face.
The Tropicana was originally called El Beau Site but wanting to combine “na,” a reference to the estate’s owner, and “tropic” describing Havana and Cuba, Correa changed the name to Club Tropicana.
The Tropicana opened its doors for business on December 30, 1939. It was an instant hit. The Alfredo Brito Orchestra entertained high-end gamblers, diners and lovers of elaborate stage shows. The club prospered until the outbreak of World War II, when tourism to Cuba came to a halt.
The Tropicana star rose so quickly that casino and nightclubs in New York, Las Vegas and Atlantic City would later try to emulate the model with degrees of success and disappointment. As soon as travel to Cuba became safer at the end of WWII, the Tropicana regained its momentum and climbed to new heights in its three coordinated components.
After the war, a burly, gregarious and well-connected gambler named Martin Fox began to rent table space at the biggest casino in Havana. Nicknamed “Guarjiro Fox,” Fox rose from a peasant background to accrue enough profits from his gambling and numbers enterprises to buy Correa’s interest in the Tropicana.
The acquisition of the Tropicana Club was a major coup for Fox, who was an uneducated hustler but knew a good deal when he saw one. Fox teamed with Alberto Ardura and Oscar Echemendia to take the Tropicana to new heights. But, that is another chapter in the history of the amazing Tropicana.
Does your People-to-People Cuba tour include a trip to Havana’s Tropicana? The shows are still dazzling. For information, contact Dave or Yordi at Info@travelguidecuba.com.
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