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The Tropicana, an exotic template for Las Vegas

© By Mike Keenan
  The Tropicana in Cuba I'm sitting at a front row table in the Tropicana, the world famous cabaret and nightclub in Havana, Cuba. Beside me sits mobster, Myer Lansky and a few associates. Across from me is Al Pacino (The Godfather), as well as Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack. I almost forgot; Lucy and Desi Arnaz are here too. In my dreams, but I am actually at the Tropicana, only a few tables removed from the huge wrap-around stage that features a live orchestra up one level and a ramp that takes dancers up higher and higher to promenade in the background while the next act occupies the floor below. This is lavish, la crème de la crème of nightclubs, where, in the fifties, the rich and famous as well as the infamous gathered to watch the show, the epitome of 1950 Cuban pleasure-seeking and, some would say, decadence.
     The Tropicana launched in 1939 on a six-acre suburban estate in Havana's Miramar neighborhood. Sumptuous shows were staged by choreographer, Roderico "Rodney" Neyra, and the headliners included Xavier Cugat, Carmen Miranda, Nat King Cole and Josephine Baker. An open air nightclub, it was heralded as "paradise under the stars," known for its showgirls, conga sounds, domino tournaments and flashy, spectacular productions. Celebrities included Edith Piaf, Ernest Hemingway, Jimmy Durante and Marlon Brando. In 1956, Cubana Airlines' Tropicana Special featured a round-trip flight, whisking customers from Miami to the Tropicana, and then returning them to Florida at 4 a.m. Now that's a party!
     Those who faithfully watched I love Lucy shows realize that The Tropicana created a huge impact in spreading Cuban culture. New York's Tropicana was a Latin music club launched in 1945 by two Cuban restaurateurs, brothers Manolo and Tony Alfaro. They made it the most glamorous nightclub in the Bronx. Ricky Ricardo (Cuban-born Desi Arnaz) sang and was bandleader at Manhattan's fictional Tropicana on the TV series. In 2004, the Atlantic City Tropicana opened The Quarter, an attempt to recreate the architecture, atmosphere and cuisine of Old Havana during the 1940s.

The Tropicana in Cuba  The Tropicana in Cuba  The Tropicana in Cuba  The Tropicana in Cuba  The Tropicana in Cuba  The Tropicana in Cuba 

     From the opening act, we are treated to stunning costumes worn by equally stunning dancers and an infectious musical rhythm that keeps one swaying in time. Showgirls saunter past in the aisles wearing incredibly sexy outfits which include chandelier headdresses. I will never look at a light bulb in quite the same fashion. Group after group perform in fleshy waves while we dine and drink light rum.
     After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Tropicana proprietors fled to Miami, for in its prime, the Tropicana was a key site for gambling, elegance and being seen by international gangsters and jet-setters. The Revolution brought an end to gambling and the U.S. crime syndicate, and the Tropicana waned but revived with the need for tourism dollars.
     Shows take place at 9 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday, in the open-air Salon, Bajo Las Estrellas (under the stars). Foreign tour groups comprise the majority of patrons. Tickets begin at CUC $65 (1 CUC = $1.08 US) Preferred seating will set one back $100.00 Canadian per seat. The beauty and talent on stage is amazing. Exquisite costumes and beautiful dancers portray the musical history of Cuba. Good singers complement exotic costumes and dancers, salsa, ballet, flamenco, and amazing gymnastics! The Tropicana experience is not to be missed for it's a glimpse of pre-revolution Cuba, when Miranda, Baker and others entertained the wealthy with Latin dance numbers performed by women adorned with seemingly neck-breaking headdresses.

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     Earlier in the evening, I tried the Havana Café with its retro-chic look, furnished with three classic American cars: a shiny yellow Chevy, a Pontiac and a Buick along with some token Hemingway pictures adorning the walls. Its floor show was close but no Cuban cigar compared to the Tropicana. Massive, the Tropicana seats 1700, and it served as the template for Las Vegas shows and showgirls. It must have been a pleasurable oasis for mobsters performing their dizzying research.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

If you go
Miramar, Cuba
as seen on
Cuba Tourist Board: http://www.gocuba.ca/en/index.asp
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miramar,_Havana

What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/

Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/


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