2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

Bunny Rabbits and Havana Rum

Bunny Rabbits and Havana Rum

The afternoon dripped thick with stale exhaust and sub-tropic humidity, Havana’s Vedado neighborhood poured into the streets, kids turning cracked pavement into ball fields as abuelas gossiped from crumbling concrete stoops. Late afternoon is primetime for habaneros—a break between daily responsibilities and nightly obligations, and for the men of Cuba, an excuse to partake in the nation’s second favorite pastime: rum.

Days like this ended at Bar Silvia. Standing at the crux of a five-way intersection, the triangular watering hole sat deep in Vedado, beyond the reach of Cuba’s dual currency tourist peso and pleasantly devoid of sunburnt Europeans.

I happened upon the establishment during an afternoon walk with a pocketful of local coin, gravitating toward Silvia’s single, crackling T.V., with hopes of escaping the oppressive afternoon heat. Six pairs of elbows rested on the bar’s polished surface, eyes pressed onto the grainy outlines of a baseball game. Havana’s home team, Industriales, was in the playoffs, and, according to the furrowed brows around me, things weren’t going well.

Sensing tension, I decided to make a friend. Not a friend in the let’s-exchange-names-and-hang-later sense of the word, but more an I’ll-buy-you-a-drink-and-you-vouch-for-my-presence kind of way. I spotted my man, an orange polo a few stools down, and offered a peace shot of gritty, 15-cent rum, promptly following it with a second.

It was enough to secure a shaky pact, and soon we’re talking U.S. baseball while the home team’s woes unfold in the crackling background. With interest waning by the inning, a man at the opposite end of the bar ordered another drink and tossed a large rabbit onto the bar. Thrown by this strange act of casual defiance, I decide to push my luck with a little joke: “Me gusta tu conejo, amigo. El parece delicioso,” I yell. I like your rabbit, he looks delicious.

Before dragging out my last syllable, the man was at my side, his fluffy white pet sniffing where my drink should have been.

“Asi que tu quieres comprarlo?”

Ah, so you want to buy him?

My lame joke had forced open a door to commerce, and like any persistent businessman, he was not going to let it close without a fight. I had made the critical error of attempting business in a country where everything, even cute bunnies, have price tags, and was now unwillingly a part of the pet black market.

“10 pesos! 10 pesos!” he insisted, adamant that he was entitled to some sort of transaction.

I’ll pay 10 pesos for you to leave me alone, I thought to myself, conceding 10 pesos of moneda nacional. He laughed and handed it back to me. He wasn’t after local currency. He had seen deep tourist pockets and wanted to turn them inside out. I was trapped between a rabbit and a bar tab.

It was then that my drink investment paid off, as the orange polo-ed one woozily stepped in long enough to distract the rabbit pimp. I ducked into the brilliant sunlight, the man recovering enough to yell after me. As adrenaline wore off, I couldn’t shake my guilty conscience. Should I have bought the bar rabbit?

Three days later, I spotted the man again. We locked eyes as he waited at a corner bus stop, and I searched for his fluffy companion. Instead, a different rabbit, this one brown, rested in his right palm. He nodded, held up his new friend, and smiled. Deal or not, rabbit business, it seemed, was going just fine.

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