I watched in amazement as the master cigar roller expertly folded gigantic leaves of tobacco into compact cigars at the Cuba Tobacco Cigar Company. We drank tiny cups of fragrant Cuban espresso served out of a window on the street, then watched dozens of elderly gentlemen playing spirited games of dominoes in the aptly named Domino Park. “The men here discuss three things,” our guide told us. “Baseball, dominoes and Castro.”
We weren’t in Cuba, but instead in Miami’s Little Havana on Calle Ocho, where you could swear you’d traveled 90 miles to this Caribbean island. During our tour we heard harrowing tales of desperate escapes from Cuba like the one from Roberto Ramos, owner of Cuba Ocho Art and Research Center. After being jailed three times for collecting pre-revolutionary art, Roberto escaped in 1992, smuggling out 14 works of art, which sparked his passion for preserving the art and culture of Cuba and founding Cuba Ocho, a jam-packed art gallery that also serves as a gathering spot and bar for locals, specializing in freshly made mojitos are popular.
That evening, we drank more mojitos under the stars in the open courtyard at the recently reopened historic Ball & Chain and danced in the plaza at Cultural Fridays, a free monthly street festival. It was a delightful taste of Cuba on American soil.