El Floridita: a versatile ambassador of Cuban club culture
Nestled in a side street just off Kärtnerstraße, the Cuban dance bar El Floridita is an underground haven of alegria y pasión tropical (joy and tropical passion, the motto of its Saturday night dance club), a cavernous, peach-coloured dance hall with long, well stocked bars and an excellent humidor welcoming Vienna’s pan-Latino community and indigenous "tourists" alike.
With a jam-packed schedule of music and dance events, which Floridita you experience depends on the night you go, making it a many-faceted Caribbean jewel.
On weekdays, El Floridita is the kind of place you hear before you enter, sweet salsa beckoning you downward like a siren’s call.
Small groups sit around tables in the smoking lounge, conversing in Spanish while nursing daiquiris and cigars (Cubans, of course), while aspiring Latin lovers lean against the bar, shirts half-open, attempting to chat up a few blonde Austrians, occasionally taking them out to the dance floor to show them some basic moves.
On weekends however, El Floridita is the kind of place you feel before you enter, the unfamiliar beat of reggaeton thumping in your gut as you descend, long before you’re in earshot.
Once there, it’s not so much Buena Vista Social Club as a Daddy Yankee music video: more bare midriffs than Copa Cagrana, black lights making panama hats glow blue, a sea of people sailing a crest of corona and tequila, grinding away to the rhythm for want of space for more elaborate moves.
El Floridita is not simply named after the Havana institution, the storied catedral del daiquiri that served countless celebrities- and counted Ernest Hemingway among its regulars (honoured with no less than four separate photographs on the wall, both young & handsome and old & bearded): it’s a full-blown franchise of the original, a scheme hatched by the Cuban government to promote their paradise overseas (and bring some much-needed cash to the embargo-plagued island).
Vienna was the lucky pilot club, opening its gates ten years ago; others have followed in London, Dublin and Madrid. It is admittedly a bit of a cliché – perhaps unavoidable with a concept so far removed from its native soil.
Like a Bavarian beer hall in California or an Irish pub in Kuala Lumpur, it may seem almost cartoonish at times, a daiquiri-drenched Disneyland.
With dance courses and live concerts promoted by the Cuban ministry of culture, paranoiacs may be tempted to see something sinister in the pictures of Dr. Guevara (still Cuba’s most recognisable brand) smiling down upon the crowds – or Castro, the maximo lider gesticulating wildly on the photograph above the dancehall entrance.
But the patrons care about politics as much as Americano tourists did in Havana in 1958, identifying far more readily with Shakira and Juanes than Fidel and Che.
So as a guy with abs so defined you can actually see them through his t-shirt gets carried away by the beat, he starts twirling about an invisible dance partner while a group of girls ask one of the bartenders for more bottles of Havana Club and Coke.
The draw is irresistible, so you may as well join the party. ¡Viva Cuba libre!
Open every day from 19:00
1., Johannesgasse 3
(01) 513 91 62