Havana has over 100 places to eat lunch or dinner, but if you need a breakfast or brunch spot then Café Arcángel should top your short list.
Located around the corner from the famous House of Music near the corner of Neptuno and Galiano streets this café is something of an atypical find in the rough-around-the-edges feel of the Central Havana neighborhood.
This part of Havana, nestled in between Old Havana and Vedado, is more known for its Reggaeton music, neighbors that hold conversations by yelling between buildings, and looking like it has passed the last half a century without maintenance.
Café Arcángel is an alternative to all of this, a chance for the curious soul take in the local vibes while knowing that a super low-key respite is only a few blocks away.
To drive this point home, a sign on the door plays up this out of place feel: “Alternative ways to prepare Coffee: French press and drip”. This is nothing short of blasphemy in Cuba’s espresso slurping culture.
Alternative is an apt description for the rest of the experience as well. No rice and beans or yucca on the menu. Instead baguettes filled with serrano ham and smoked salmon along with all day breakfast take top billing on the menu. Drinks include more than a dozen coffee infusions, including Irish coffee in case you need to come down easy from a late night at the House of Music.
Even through its differences Café Arcángel still embraces its cultural roots. The doors have been sanded smooth and left to show various layers of paint and wear that people in home décor should probably label “Central Havana patina”. Locals easily outnumber tourists as customers, as I was the only non-Cuban during my afternoon visit.
Even for those exploring solo there is ample opportunity to take in the neighborhood scene by watching residents through the café’s street level windows. It seems as everyone outside knows each other and act just as casual as if they were in their living room. It is sort of like a 3rd world, inner-city version of the Andy Griffin’s Mayberry.
And all of this while surrounded by antiques, photos on the wall of a bygone-era when Central Havana still had a bit of luster, old Charlie Chaplin reels playing on a small T.V. and all set to a soundtrack of the most unobtrusive music I have ever heard in a Cuban establishment.
A small sign on a door says “Room for Rent”. Ask to take a look and you will find out that Café Arcángel, only 3 years old, has its roots as a decade old Bed and Breakfast (known as a Casa Particular in Cuba). Three wonderful colonial style rooms with period furniture that, while not always matching, definitely compliments the tone set by the café.
Central Havana offers everything from fine dining, to quaint brunch cafés, to Santaria ceremonies and street parties that last all weekend. Café Arcángel is part of this landscape that shows a genuine diversity of thought, feeling and style underneath the popular perceptions of this historic neighborhood.
Café Arcángel is located in Central Havana, #57 Concordia Street between Galiano and Aguila. Open every day from breakfast to 10pm. Local phone is 7867-7495, website is www.arcangelcafe.com, and as a sign of entry into the 21st century they also have a presence on Facebook and TripAdvisor.com. They are hoping to offer Wifi at some point in the future.
Photos and Text by Graham Sowa.