havana before castro

We’ve known Pete Moruzzi for many years now, but we’re beginning to wonder … did we ever really know him?

For instance, we didn’t know that he’d been secretly amassing one of the biggest collections in the U.S. of vintage Cuban nightclub ads, bar coasters, hotel brochures, casino flyers, and other paper ephemera. And little did we know that he was a tenacious researcher, doggedly pursuing any lead that would bring him closer to revealing the salacious secrets of Havana’s mid-century tourist trade.

Yes, we had an inkling that his interests tilted in that direction, since some time ago he asked us to write a few words on Cuban cocktails for a book about Havana that he was contemplating … but we had no idea that the end result would be so espectacular.

We know now, because we’ve just read Pete’s Havana Before Castro: When Cuba Was A Tropical Playground.

Both Don The Beachcomber and Trader Vic traveled to Havana to learn how to make tropical drinks (Vic even opened a restaurant there in 1958, just in time for Castro to nationalize it). This book brings the city they knew to life. It’s a coffee table book with enough imagery for several coffee tables; many of the best images are photos shot by Sven Kirsten (author and photographer of Tiki Modern), who accompanied Pete on a rum-fueled Havana expedition last year. Pete’s text puts all the eye-candy into perspective, as does the artful interweaving of words and pictures by designer Kurt Wahlner.

If you live in the Los Angeles area, Pete will be signing books there on September 20 and October 12. Details below:


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