At New Times's behest, eight locals this past week took a swig and a sip. To most Havana Cola means, well, Cuba libre. Taste-testers reacted to everything but the beverage. They protested El Comandante's tyranny, lamented the demise of old Cuba, and touted their American patriotism while smoking cigars and shuffling dominoes.
At first those taking the Havana challenge only wet their lips from tiny cups. But as conversations heated up, they seized the full cans.
Raul Costoya, age 75, reluctantly agreed to try some only after a friend's prompting. He liked it so much he began to speak of hot Cuban summers. "My homeland, it weighs on my soul. Unfortunately for us, Castro ruined an entire country," Costoya remarked with anguish. Then he remembered the challenge. "But this is good, it has a good taste." And then a really important question: "Is it cheaper than Coke?"
It's even better than Coke, 65-year-old Frank Estebez comments. Then New Times let him in on the controversy surrounding the drink. Castro's government claimed trademark infringement. "Havana is no one's property," he growled.
Fifty-nine-year-old Roberto Santos was thirstier than his aseres were. After a nip he wished aloud that he'd been born in the United States. Then he cried out, "God bless America." Havana Cola was not better than Coke, not by a long shot, he said.
Not far from the park, at a Little Havana Mobil station, Jose "Pepe" Nicolas hoisted a can aloft and left not a friendly drop. "It's not bad, not bad," he offered.