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Re: [CubaNews] HOTEL RAQUEL

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  • Timothy Harding
    Walter: I share your appraisal of the hotel Raquel. The prominence of the large bar in the Lobby struck me as a non Jewish touch. If the food is really kosher,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2004
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      Walter:
      I share your appraisal of the hotel Raquel. The prominence of the large
      bar in the Lobby struck me as a non Jewish touch. If the food is really
      kosher, as the told us, perhaps the ice cream is not dairy and if so it
      might help to explain what went wrong.
      Tim
      Walter Lippmann wrote:

      >HOTEL RAQUEL - Catering to the Jewish tourist market
      >a few notes by a first-time lunch visitor...Walter!
      >
      >Awhile ago I saw an article in the Miami Herald with
      >something unusual: a rather favorable article about
      >a tourist attraction in Havana, Cuba. It was about
      >the new Hotel Raquel, a newly-opened (summer 2003)
      >hotel built in a former office building. And while
      >Jewish, Jewish cuisine isn't really high on my own
      >personal agenda, I wanted to check the place out
      >personally, and wanted to eat something different
      >from my familiar Cuban cuisine.
      >
      >Showing up on Saturday morning around 11:30, the
      >place was an exceptionally lovely visual feast in
      >all respects. The Cuban corporation Habanaguex
      >which is run by the Historian of the City, Eusebio
      >Leal, has the task of building up the Habana Veija
      >[Old Havana] section of the city. Part of this is
      >the construction of new hotels to house the large
      >and growing tourist influx. The week before I'd
      >visited the new PALACIO O'FARRIL, another one of
      >the small hotels, with about thirty rooms in all.
      >
      >The HOTEL RAQUEL is similar in size, but makes a
      >big and favorable impression. Walking through the
      >giant wooden gates (the word "door" just doesn't
      >do justice to something perhaps twenty feet high)
      >with a large mezuzah prominently displayed. Many
      >Jewish people have this small object, which is
      >supposed to be a constant reminder to people who
      >enter, of the presence of God. Entering the lobby
      >one walks up to a vast first floor, in which we
      >see a bar, the front desk, a gift shop filled with
      >Jewish or Jewish-representational art work done by
      >Cuban artists. This lobby seems about 2 1/2 stories
      >high, but there's a hollowed-out area in the center
      >where you can look all the way up to the top floor,
      >the third. To the left, divided by standing folding
      >doors, with blue and white (and other colors, but
      >blue predominating) stained glass. Among the figures
      >in the glass were menorahs and stars of David.
      >
      >Before being served (the restaurant doesn't open
      >until noon), one of the bellmen took me around to
      >see several of the rooms. They are also pretty much
      >as Larry Luxner describes them in the articles from
      >him reproduced below. Being a bath and not a shower
      >person, I was most impressed to see bathtubs and
      >grab bars on the walls. Yes, I'm getting older and
      >grab bars are something I notice.
      >
      >On the roof there's an expansive sun deck and if
      >you were to lie down on one of the lounge chairs,
      >you couldn't see over the edge and you might think
      >for a moment you were in the Middle East. (Having
      >never been in the Middle East, this is the idea
      >I get from television and movies, of course.) Those
      >rooms which face inside to this sun deck have large
      >curved sun-shades which both reduce the light that
      >comes in, and makes it impossible for someone who
      >walks by to casually look into the rooms.
      >
      >The elevator must be of ancient vintage, but was
      >in perfect order. It had wire sides and was not
      >surrounded by glass. I walked down the stairs,
      >but if you do that, I'd recommend holding tightly
      >onto the handrails because these stairs aren't
      >very well illuminated, and each step is somewhat
      >narrow. The rooms do have biblical names on each
      >one.
      >
      >Other than a concert hall and a classical music
      >radio station, this must be the only place in
      >town which has classical, baroque-style music
      >piped into the lobby and restaurant, and at a
      >modest and pleasant volume.
      >
      >To get a broader sampling of the cuisine, we had
      >one main dish (turkey with papaya strips) which
      >like most turkey on the planet was cooked dry,
      >and half a dozen appetizers, each one more tasty
      >than the last. One was red beets with yogurt,
      >and the rest were various salady-things. All very
      >tasty. And with three beers and two scoops of ice
      >cream each, the bill came to $32.00.
      >
      >The only fault I would find with the food was this:
      >the ice cream was on the thin side, and one of the
      >two flavors we ordered (they only had these two)
      >had obviously been melted and refrozen. If I could
      >have any influence (and the service staff agreed,
      >too), they should get rid of the cheapy ice cream
      >and use Coppelia, which is the best ice cream in
      >the city.
      >
      >I've no idea if there's any Israeli money invested
      >in this hotel, but an excellent job has been done.
      >A large Canadian-Jewish group was coming in for
      >lunch as my friend and I were on their way out.
      >Some had baseball caps with Canadian and Israeli
      >flags on them.
      >
      >Though Cuba has no diplomatic relationships with
      >the state of Israel, and firmly supports the cause
      >of justice for the Palestinians, commercial ties
      >with Israeli business is active. There's a large
      >office complex in the Mira Mar section which was
      >built with Israeli money. The telephone company
      >Teldor, and Israeli firm works closely with the
      >local company Copextel to provide high-speed
      >communication cables. Cuba has active economic
      >relations with many countries you might not think
      >of, such as Taiwan. They try to avoid putting all
      >of their eggs in a single basket. Having seen the
      >bottom nearly fall out when the Soviet Union went
      >belly-up tended to reinforce this attitude and so
      >Cuba guards its independence fiercely.
      >
      >The staff after lunch was very anxious that we put
      >a note in the hotel's book, which is just at an
      >early stage. I flipped through and found Ruth Behar,
      >the Sephardic Jewish professor from Ann Arbor who's
      >made two films about the Cuban Sephardic experience,
      >and edited books on Cuba as well. Everyone else who
      >had written in were pleased, and so were my Cuban
      >friend Dania and I. I'll try to go back again before
      >leaving in a few more weeks.
      >
      >Here are two articles by Larry Luxner, who is not a
      >competitor of CubaNews at Yahoo, even though he's
      >got another service called CubaNews as well.
      >
      >His is located at www.cubanews.com and you can take
      >a look, but he charges $425.00 per YEAR, and that's
      >in US dollars, not Cuban pesos...His service is very
      >informative, from what I've seen of it...
      >=====================================================
      >
      >MIAMI HERALD
      >Posted on Sun, Jan. 18, 2004
      >CUBA
      >Oye or Oy! New Havana hotel calls to Jewish visitors
      >
      >Cuba's first boutique hotel catering to Jewish tourists
      >with disposable income could use some refinements (no
      >horseradish, oy!). But it merits a visit.
      >BY LARRY LUXNER
      >
      >Special to The Herald
      >
      >Just outside the elegant Hotel Raquel in Old Havana, street
      >vendors along Calle San Ignacio sell greasy french fries,
      >chicharrones (pork rinds) and jamón y queso (ham and
      >cheese) sandwiches to locals paying in Cuban pesos.
      >
      >But inside the hotel's Garden of Eden restaurant, foreign
      >tourists -- paying in hard currency, of course -- dine on
      >Israeli salad, cheese blintzes and matzo ball soup. At the
      >adjacent bar, appropriately named L'chaim, they can even
      >enjoy an authentic Cuban mojito.
      >
      >Welcome to the Hotel Raquel -- Cuba's first boutique
      >establishment catering specifically to Jewish tourists with
      >dollars to spend.
      >
      >Richly illustrated passages from the Old Testament cover
      >the walls of this small but decidedly upscale property,
      >located at San Ignacio and Amargura streets in what was
      >once a thriving Jewish neighborhood in Old Havana.
      >
      >Four ornate chandeliers patterned after Stars of David hang
      >in the lobby, while contemporary paintings by Cuban Jewish
      >artist Jose Farinis decorate the hotel's walls.
      >
      >= [100.0] = [100.0] and the place makes Jews feel
      >especially welcome with second-floor rooms named after
      >Biblical matriarchs like Sarah, Hannah, Leah, Ruth and
      >Sephora (first-floor rooms have names like David and
      >Solomon).
      >
      >And the Raquel is the only hotel in Cuba whose phone system
      >plays the theme song from Schindler's List when placing
      >callers on hold.
      >
      >One of the hotel's first foreign guests -- even before it
      >officially opened -- was Stanley Cohen, international
      >chairman of the B'nai B'rith Cuban Jewish Relief Project.
      >
      >''They have tremendous potential and they've done a
      >wonderful job,'' said Cohen, who lives in Pittsburgh and
      >has traveled to Cuba 21 times since the mid-1990s.
      >
      >Atlanta educator Miriam Saul, who left Cuba as a young
      >girl, also brings Jewish humanitarian groups back to the
      >island of her birth. During her last visit, Saul's group
      >lodged at the Raquel.
      >
      >''It's a beautiful, Jewish-themed hotel, and even if you
      >stay there only one or two nights, it's worth it,'' she
      >said.
      >
      >Beautiful -- but not perfect. ''The rooms are nice, in
      >keeping with the style, but they're very dark inside,''
      >said Saul. ``It's almost impossible to read or put on
      >makeup.''
      >
      >NOT FULLY KOSHER
      >
      >Cohen, too, took issue with the dining-room service and
      >food preparation.
      >
      >''I love this hotel and really want to see it become
      >successful, but I'm not going to bring anybody back unless
      >they improve the food,'' he complained.
      >
      >``The last time I visited, they had Jewish-style food like
      >gefilte fish, but they didn't have horseradish. They had
      >potato pancakes without the applesauce. And the knishes
      >needed a little work.''
      >
      >Although the Hotel Raquel keeps meat and dairy dishes
      >separate and serves no pork products whatsoever, it's not
      >100 percent kosher. That would mean importing already
      >certified food items -- a very expensive proposition -- and
      >complying with a series of complex rules for meal
      >preparation and food storage.
      >
      >''Under present conditions, we can't meet those
      >requirements,'' said hotel spokeswoman Karen Morales, ``but
      >we hope to eventually create the mechanisms necessary to
      >have a fully kosher menu.''
      >
      >The 25-room hotel was originally built as a bank in 1908,
      >at a time when impoverished Jews from Eastern Europe,
      >Turkey and Syria were immigrating to Cuba by the thousands.
      >But after the 1959 revolution, nearly all of them fled to
      >the United States and elsewhere; today no more than 1,300
      >Jews live in Cuba, most of them in Havana.
      >
      >For many years, the structure housing the Raquel had been
      >used as a warehouse and fabric depot.
      >
      >Now, its eclectic architecture and romantic Art Nouveau
      >interiors -- all refurbished -- have made the Raquel a
      >jewel in the crown of Habaguanex S.A., the state entity
      >charged with fixing up Old Havana's hotels and restaurants.
      >
      >CLOSE TO SYNAGOGUE
      >
      >The property is located six blocks from Congregación Adat
      >Israel, Cuba's oldest synagogue, and boasts the largest
      >stained-glass window on the island.
      >
      >General Manager Jose Manuel Quesada said that in the six
      >months since the Raquel's inauguration in June, the hotel
      >has become popular with Spanish tourists as well as
      >Americans circumventing the U.S. travel ban to Cuba. He
      >expects the occupancy rate to reach 80-85 percent during
      >the 2003-04 season, thanks to an influx of visitors from
      >the United States, France, Germany and Great Britain.
      >
      >Besides American Jews like Saul and Cohen, the Raquel
      >clearly hopes to attract tourists from Israel.
      >
      >Although Fidel Castro broke off relations with the Jewish
      >state in 1973, tour operators in Tel Aviv estimate that at
      >least 10,000 Israelis have visited Cuba. Most of them tend
      >to stay in deluxe hotels and hire private cars with their
      >own guides.
      >
      >Quesada declined to say how much Habaguanex invested to
      >renovate the property, or what the hotel's annual sales are
      >expected to be. During the first eight months of 2003,
      >total Habaguanex revenues came to around $50 million -- a
      >10 percent jump from the similar period last year -- and
      >occupancy at the state entity's Old Havana luxury
      >properties averaged 79.3 percent, up 5.5 percent from the
      >year-ago period.
      >
      >''We have built a place of harmony in a Havana neighborhood
      >that respects the best traditions of the Jewish people,
      >members of a community that live in Cuba together with
      >citizens of other beliefs,'' he said in a prepared
      >statement.
      >
      >Details: In the winter season, rooms at the Raquel start at
      >$140 for a double, going up to $240 a night for one of the
      >hotel's two junior suites. Prices include a welcome
      >cocktail, breakfast, access to a safe, free entrance to all
      >museums, and 10 percent off at all Habaguanex-managed
      >restaurants. Information: www.cubasun.net/raquelhtml.
      >
      >© 2004 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All
      >Rights Reserved. http://www.miami.com
      >
      >WEB PAGE WITH DETAILS FROM THE HOTEL
      >http://www.cuba.to/hoteles/descripcion.asp?
      >id_hotel=134&id_provincia=2
      >
      >PHOTO OF HOTEL RAQUEL BY LARRY LUXNER:
      >http://makeashorterlink.com/?U39453D27
      >
      >With rooms named from Bible,
      >historic Cuban hotel caters to Jews
      >By Larry Luxner
      >
      >HAVANA, Oct. 30 (JTA)  Care for an authentic Cuban mojito
      >at the L'chaim bar? How about Israeli salad, matzah-ball
      >soup and cheese blintzes?
      >
      >They're all now on the menu at the Hotel Raquel, Cuba's
      >first boutique hotel catering specifically to adventurous
      >Jewish tourists.
      >
      >Richly illustrated passages from the Old Testament cover
      >the walls of the small but elegant property, located in
      >what was once a thriving Jewish neighborhood of Old Havana.
      >
      >The 25-room hotel originally was built as a bank in 1908, a
      >time when thousands of impoverished Jews from Eastern
      >Europe, Turkey and Syria were immigrating to Cuba.
      >
      >After the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to
      >power, nearly all of the Jews fled to the United States and
      >elsewhere. Today, no more than 1,300 Jews live in Cuba,
      >most in Havana.
      >
      >For many years, the structure housing the Raquel was used
      >as a warehouse and fabric depot. Now, its eclectic
      >architecture and romantic Art Nouveau interiors  all
      >refurbished  have made the Raquel a jewel in the crown of
      >Habaguanex S.A., the state entity charged with fixing up
      >Old Havana's hotels and restaurants.
      >
      >The property is located six blocks from Congregacion Adat
      >Israel, Cuba's oldest synagogue, and boasts the largest
      >stained-glass window on the island.
      >
      >General Manager Jose Manuel Quesada said that since the
      >Raquel's inauguration in June, it has become popular with
      >Spanish tourists as well as Americans circumventing the
      >U.S. ban on travel to Cuba.
      >
      >He expects the occupancy rate to reach 80 to 85 percent
      >this winter, thanks to an influx of visitors from France,
      >Germany and Great Britain.
      >
      >In addition to American Jews, the Raquel clearly hopes to
      >attract tourists from Israel. Though Castro broke off
      >relations with the Jewish state in 1973, tour operators in
      >Tel Aviv estimate that at least 10,000 Israelis have
      >visited Cuba.
      >
      >Near the Raquel is a kosher butcher shop and a bakery. Some
      >Jewish families still live in the vicinity, and according
      >to Leal, at least seven hotel employees are Jewish.
      >
      >Eusebio Leal Spengler, director of Habaguanex and Havana's
      >official historian, said the revival of Jewish culture at
      >the Hotel Raquel is a long and involved process.
      >
      >"We have built a place of harmony in a Havana neighborhood
      >that respects the best traditions of the Jewish people,
      >members of a community that live in Cuba together with
      >citizens of other beliefs," he said.
      >
      >In high season, rooms at the Raquel start at $180 for a
      >double, going up to $282 a night for one of the hotel's two
      >junior suites. These prices include a welcome cocktail,
      >breakfast, access to a safe, free entrance to all museums,
      >and 10 percent off at all Habaguanex-managed restaurants.
      >
      >The Jewish touch seems to be everywhere in the building,
      >with rooms on the second floor named after biblical
      >matriarchs like Sarah, Hannah, Leah, Ruth and Sephora.
      >First-floor rooms have names like David and Solomon.
      >
      >It's the only hotel in Cuba whose phone system plays the
      >theme song from "Schindler's List" when callers must be
      >placed on hold.
      >
      >Four ornate chandeliers patterned after Stars of David hang
      >in the lobby, while contemporary paintings by Cuban Jewish
      >artist Jose Farinis hang on the hotel's walls.
      >
      >The lobby bar, meanwhile, is named L'chaim. It's right next
      >to the Bezalel boutique and gift shop, which sells Judaica,
      >and the Garden of Eden restaurant, where guests can choose
      >a variety of kosher-style items ranging from potato latkes
      >to red beet borscht and vegetable knishes.
      >
      >For really hungry tourists, the Garden of Eden offers lamb
      >shishlik, sweet-and-sour beef tongue, Hungarian goulash and
      >gefilte fish.
      >
      >Quesada says the hotel never cooks vegetables together with
      >meat, but Pavel Tenenbaum, a Cuban Jew who used to work at
      >the hotel, says the Raquel does not follow the rules of
      >kashrut.
      >
      >
      >
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