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Viernes Culturales: As Close to Cuba as You Can Legally Get

On the last Friday of every month, my little corner of Miami hosts what is called “Viernes Culturales.” Or “Cultural Fridays” for those of you who don’t speak Miami. And all jokes about Miami being a foreign country aside, it really is the closest feel one can get for spending an evening in a Latin American country without leaving the United States. Except it smells a little better.

Viernes Culturales is a sort of street celebration of Cuban culture that stretches from about SW 16th Ave to SW 12th Ave on Calle Ocho (Sw 8th St., again, if you don’t speak Miami). On these Fridays, the sidewalks of Little Havana are as packed as the ones in South Beach, with locals strolling the streets sipping mojitos and watching the various street performers. Live bands play all over the sidewalks too, not only in front of streetside cafes like El Pub, but even in front of the Domino’s Pizza on 16th Ave. And people dance in front of them, right out in the street. Traffic slows to a crawl, but nobody really seems to mind.



Noted Miami historian Dr. Paul George often begins Viernes Cultruales with walking tours of Little Havana. The tours vary in their route, but most begin on SW 15th Ave. just east of the historic Tower Theater. This is the perfect way to begin your Cultural Friday, by learning the history of the area on foot. By the time the tour is over, the sun has set, and the street party has begun.

After walking for nearly an hour through the neighborhood, chances are you have gotten a little bit hungry. And Little Havana has no shortage of restaurants that provide you a front row seat to the music and dancing that are Viernes Culturales. 



Con Tutto Pizza a la Pala & Grill at 1380 SW 8th St. is probably your best option. This little sidewalk restaurant has the feel of sitting streetside somewhere in South America. You can watch you meat being grilled as you sit outside, alongside the indoor part of the kitchen. The Mixed Grill will give you the best sampling of their grilled options, as they even give you a little grill at your table to keep it warm. The Brick Oven pizza is also surprisingly good, if meat is not your thing. And you can take your time eating, drink some wine, and watch the party unfold on the street in front of you.



After dinner, you can head a little west to Padilla Cigars on SW 15th Ave. and Calle Ocho. Inside fells like you’ve stepped into 1950s Havana, with walls of cigar boxes, plush leather couches, and plumes of rich cigar smoke everywhere. The back room features a few rows of rolling tables, and there’s even a flat screen TV if you want to bring in some scotch and watch some sports while you smoke. But on Viernes Culturales, best to take your cigars to go and walk the streets.


Across 15th Ave. from Padilla Cigars is Cuba Ocho Art and Research Center. If Havana had an upper class, this bar and club would be its hangout. The walls are all covered in a variety of Cuban, South American and European art, and when empty it has the feel of an intellectual’s study. Book cases line the far wall, and serve as a backdrop for the live salsa bands that play on Friday. The opulent bar has an extensive collection of many fine liquors, and the mojitos are the best you’ll find on Calle Ocho.


You can opt to either sit inside and listen to the live band, or bring your drink outside to the courtyard. If you’ve ever been to Havana, the courtyard at Cuba Ocho is the closest you’ll get to reliving that experience. The fountain in the middle is surrounded by groups of heavily-padded wicker chairs and even a few domino tables. This is the perfect place to relax, smoke your cigar, and enjoy the humid evening air.


The party starts to wind down around 11:30, but that’s no reason for you to go home. If you opted not to eat dinner, or just have late-night munchies,  El Buen Sabor at 1610 SW 8th Street not only serves late, but has late-night karaoke. It consists mostly of four Mexican guys sitting at the small bar singing along to Spanish songs as the lyrics flash across the TV. But the tacos are the best Mexican Street Tacos I’ve had east of Arizona, and the food manages to be authentic without being overly greasy. Almost unheard of with Mexican food.


You can stroll out whenever you like, and walk back down Calle Ocho as the party comes to an end. By the time your evening is finished, you’ll feel like you spent the night in another country without ever having to leave South Florida. And while I am one to often bemoan the pervasiveness of Latin culture in this city, on Viernes Culturales you can’t help but love it. Great food, great cigars and a great party make for one of the most unique Miami experiences one can have. And you don’t even have to deal with tourists.

Related Categories: Miami: Things to Do,

About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer

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