the VIPS hotel in Havana
The Havana building that has partially collapsed due to this Friday’s explosion was originally built in 1888 as a tobacco warehouse and home for its owner, the Cantabrian Gregorio Palacios. Its remarkable size allowed its complementary use as an elegant guest house. This business bet of Palacios was successful and in 1911, the facilities were improved to turn it into one of the first hotels in Havana with all the services: the Alcázar.
Two decades later, the benefits of the hotel branch allowed further improvements, and its conversion into one of the best establishments in the capital, with a lively social life not only for its guests but also for locals, with events and live music almost every day at parties called “Los Aires Libres del Saratoga”, the new name of the establishment in the 1930s, already converted into a large social center that had doubled its capacity without losing its original style.
From hotel to homes
The Cuban revolution of 1959 and the collapse of the dictator Fulgencio Batista’s regime completely changed the uses of the Saratoga: the hotel was intervened by the government and ended up being converted into a residential building. The new low-cost apartment layout affected the interior aesthetics. Later, the lack of maintenance, together with the local climate, produced such a notable deterioration that the building ended up being evicted and threatened with ruin.
At the end of the last century, the same government that deactivated the use of the Saratoga as a hotel, reactivated it. The works started slowly and lasted almost five years. Being in a historic area of the city, next to the emblematic national capitol of Cuba, an architectural and political symbol of Havana, the exterior architecture was meticulously cared for with new plants that respected the aesthetics of the existing ones.
The interior degradation of the building did not allow almost any detail of its decoration to be preserved, although the new interior design does not detract from the style of the façade. With a renowned local cuisine restaurant, a rooftop pool and an affluent cocktail bar, the new Saratoga reopened in 2005 as a boutique hotel. Its location, good service, amenities and history have made it a temporary home for some personalities who have visited Havana in recent times.
The Rolling Stones had the Saratoga as their home in Cuba when they held their famous free concert for the citizens of Havana in the spring of 2016. A year later, the King of Morocco closed it exclusively. Mohamed VI had it at his entire disposal for ten days for him, his family and companions in 2017 during a vacation that was not considered a state visit at any time, although it did have a notable noise in the media, since the Cuban government always has been clearly positioned with the Saharawi people. The situation in the desert south of Morocco and north of Mauritania did not at any time affect the royal family, who had at their disposal a fleet of high-end cars owned by the Cuban government, permanently parked in front of the hotel.
The visit of Jagger and his band and that of the Alaouite monarch were the best possible marketing campaigns for the Saratoga, as royalty and rock put the hotel in the target of other celebrities such as Beyoncé, Madonna or Will Smith, who became guests of the best suites of a hotel that today has collapsed.