Monday, January 22, 2007

Havana Central Re-opens - Havana Central Re-opens

Columbia Spectator
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Havana Central Re-opens
Book Project by Owner of New Cuban Restaurant Will Record Memories of West End

By Kate Ruskin
Issue date: 1/22/07 Section: News

Media Credit: Francis Bartus

Havana Central at the West End marked its grand re-opening Friday night with a party celebrating both the debut of a new book project and a new kitchen.

Havana Central at the West End's owner Jeremy Merrin, Business '00, is launching the project to both record former patrons' favorite memories and celebrate the history of the restaurant, which will eventually become a book.

Although the final format of the book has not yet been decided, it will likely feature a narrative history of the West End to accompany the collection of favorite stories and may include recipes. Merrin will periodically host several similar interview nights, which he has been advertising through alumni associations and print and radio advertisements, over the next few months.

This project is one of Merrin's many plans to regain the West End's connection to its past despite its considerable face-lift. The grand reopening also featured a dedication of a booth to Sid Roberts, whose family owned the bar from the thirties to the seventies.

Accompanied by family members, Roberts, who continues to live in the area and whose father Saul gave the West End its name, was introduced by Merrin as a man who "basically lived and breathed this place for most of his life."

Roberts, who has seen the place through Beat poets and riots, said he likes its newest incarnation. "I think it's very nice for one reason-because the new owners are imbued with the spirit of the West End," he said. "It's gone into very strong hands."

Merrin said he has been working to draw in the Columbia community by hosting parties for groups such as Columbia departments and graduate schools, but for undergraduates, he aims to garner their business with the menu as opposed to the bar.

"It's a little more expensive than it used to be, but I think the prices are comparable to the other restaurants in the area," said Allie Arias BC, '09 and an employee of Havana Central since October 2006.

Ben May, SEAS, '00, who now works for Business School admissions, said he is conflicted about whether he wants the new West End to return entirely to its old persona. "On the one hand, my father went here and graduated in 1967 so it's sort of been a rite of passage for us, but I definitely don't want them to get busted or shut down for underage drinking," May said.

Many of the old interior features such as the original tile floor, booths, and bar were retained through the renovations and the rest of the space was cleaned up and remodeled extensively, which most patrons considered a vast improvement.

"The bathrooms are great," May said. "Undergrads can safely sleep in them now."

Roberts too expressed satisfaction with the renovations, most notably Merrin's fulfillment of his promise to retain the historic feeling of the bar with photographs and memorabilia in the front room to commemorate its connection to Columbia.

Sitting in the booth adorned with a plaque honoring him as a "lifelong regular," Roberts said with a smile, "This is my home."

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