Adjacent to the restaurant/bar El Cocinero, the other part of the project which transforms the former cooking oil factory in Vedado in Havana is La Fabrica del Arte Cubano, where a wide variety of arts, drinking and eating all combine together into a fantastically vibrant place, open from 8pm to 3am and where, at 11 on a Friday evening, the queue runs down the street and around the corner, given its popularity and space that it fills in modern Havana culture.
The volumes of the old industrial buildings have been simply adapted without frills and complimentary industrial additions have been added at the rear, constructed from shipping containers, reinforcing the industrial chic, enabling the visitor to order a drink from one of the several bars and wander through the art and photography exhibitions and enjoy the performances and discos later in the evening.
The idea may be borrowed from warehouse districts in areas such as Brooklyn, Buffalo, Berlin and Liverpool, but here it is done incredibly well, in part because Cubans are less precious about the disruption that such a popular cultural and music venues might cause to its neighbours, celebrating the life and vitality that results. Cubans love music, dance and fun!
As with the El Cocinero, the Arts Factory is the inspiration of X Alfonso. It treads a careful path in terms of its art and photography exhibitions, showing both Cuban and international artists – currently including Czechoslovakian artists and jewelry design from Austria, while on the architectural front, it is showing the latest housing/living projects from predominantly German architects. The photography exhibitions on the top floor are the best parts, innovative, varied and challenging in ways that could not have been considered a decade ago, for which the partners must be congratulated
Payment is simple. There is a small entry charge for which visitors are given a card onto which to charge drinks and food (maximum 30 CUC’s), saving the bars wasting time with cash and allowing visitors to settle up at the end – all so simple.
Could this happen in London? It seems unlikely at the moment – there is not the same tolerance of noise, traffic and queues of people cheek by jowl with residential areas. Perhaps in other industrial cities such as Liverpool where there are similar industrial warehouse arts venues such as the Cairns Brewery and Blades factory venue, though not of this scale. Perhaps 180 Strand, an 1980’s building owned by Vinyl Factory, may come near in due course – already it runs art exhibitions and events and, apart from the new residential development at 190 Strand, there are few residents nearby to complain. A great plus, perhaps, is that the students at King’s College London and the London School of Economics are adjacent.