Commercial Drive’s sprawling, iconic 21-year-old Havana has been sold to the group that owns Postmark Brewing, Belgard Kitchen, and Vancouver Urban Winery (all located in Railtown’s old Settlement Building). They took over operations before Christmas and expect to give the restaurant a major overhaul, with construction starting mid- to late-February.
I met with chef Reuben Major and Steve Thorp at the restaurant during a characteristically busy lunch rush late last week. They unrolled their design plans at the table and pointed out what was going to be changing and what was going to stay the same.
The main dining area is shrinking a little to accommodate a slightly larger kitchen with a bunch of new equipment and an expansion of the bar area. The dividing wall/window between the existing bar and dining room is being torn down, and the two booths backed by the kitchen are disappearing. If you know the place well, a quick scan of these plans will reveal the big changes…
I suspect the bar is going to be Havana’s core centre of gravity moving forward. The plans above really show it dominating the space. Right now it’s a tight little cloister that gets sat last, but it will soon expand up from 4 seats to 10, with the connected, under-utilized back space (gallery) seeing a major refit that include a huge, u-shaped banquette split into three (communal/group) tables of 10.
The bar itself is getting totally rebuilt (expect gorgeous Cuban tiles) and will feature 24 taps, some of which will pour wine. The number of seats overall isn’t changing; it’s still 73 in and 34 out.
It all sounds rather drastic, especially for a 4,000 +/- sqft space that has so much existing character. I asked about the old plastered walls that are covered with graffiti in the dining room. Are they going? No. Thorp assured me they were staying. And so is the theatre, which is one of East Van’s best kept secrets even though they did over 500 productions in it last year.
Some of the furnishings and artwork will be replaced in the renovation, but I don’t think the main space will be unrecognizable to regular customers when they finish the job. There will be new signage, lots of plants and greenery, and the concrete floors will probably see a polish. I’m unsure of the fate of the tea-stained ceilings and not 100% sure about how the patio will be affected, if at all. The staff, some of whom have been there for many years, are naturally staying on.
Personally (selfishly), I’m most excited about the quality of the food going forward. Major is doing a complete overhaul of the menu — a course-correction away from the Pan-Latin direction it has long been on and toward more authentic Cuban fare. He and Thorp recently returned fro research trips to Miami and Cuba, and are aiming to draw inspiration from those travels. The island country has a rich culinary tradition, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it might be translated here. And for those keeping score at home, that’s two Cuban-inspired establishments in the works. See also: Tocador, currently under construction on Main Street.