Club + Bars

After 20 years, Little Havana’s most iconic Cuban music nightclub silently closed

The posters of Albita no longer spice up the place. Aymée Nuviola’s big smile is gone. Malena Burke’s close up with a flower in her hair, about to launch a bolero, vanished. Where there was music and fun, now everything is silence.

Hoy Como Ayer, one of the most iconic clubs on Calle Ocho, closed quietly in June, leaving a void in Miami nightlife and among the places that play Cuban music from the golden age of son, guaracha and filin’ of greats like Benny Moré, Arsenio Rodríguez and Bola de Nieve.

Most of the current luminaries of Cuban music in Miami also made their appearance on the stage of the intimate club.

Amaury Gutiérrez, Malena and Lena Burke, Albita Rodríguez, Willy Chirino, Luis Bofill, Aymée Nuviola, Los 3 de La Habana, Spam Allstars, Leslie Cartaya and Palo! offered shows and concerts throughout two decades of the club’s life. Musicians from several generations, like Michelle Fragoso, Omar Hernández, Bea César and Angel Arce “Pututi” played there.

Jennifer Lopez, Marisa Tomei, Matt Dillon and Cameron Diaz were some of the Hollywood stars who came to dance and even dared to play congas at the club. Latin American artists like Luis Enrique and Spaniards like Falete and Olga Cerpa were regulars.

“I said it was a cultural center with a liquor license and that’s how I saw it and always defended it,” said Fabio Díaz Vilela, who in 1999 bought Café Nostalgia, which was opened a few years before by entrepreneurs Pepe Horta and Bobby Paris. Díaz Vilela transformed it into Hoy Como Ayer, naming it after one of Benny Moré’s most popular boleros.

“I believe it left a deep legacy in the city. People are crying and we have received very nice messages about what the club meant to them,” said Díaz Vilela.

The entrepreneur made the decision to close it when the nightclub was still at the top, both economically and because of the shows he presented, he said.

In June the 20-year lease agreement that he had with the owner of the premises expired and he could not reach a satisfactory arrangement to continue carrying on with the business.

Referring to this difficult decision, Díaz Vilela expressed the same concern of other business owners who have mixed feelings regarding the consequences of the transformation that Little Havana is experiencing.

“We were one of the first to open the doors for the arrival of some of the businesses that exist today,” he recalled, indicating that the seed they sowed turned into a boomerang because “the increase in rental prices goes against many business”.

Regarding some of the comments and reviews on social media and Google about the prices of Hoy Como Ayer, which some considered excessive, he acknowledged that the place “was affordable from the average up.” He explained that he decided to set these prices to maintain the quality of the shows.

“We presented the best performers in town and deserved decent payment,” he said, indicating that, on the other hand, the prices of tapas and drinks were not very different, and sometimes even lower, than those of other similar places.

He also said that the closure of the club was not caused by a change in the tastes of Miamians or by the arrival of a generation of Cubans who are not interested in the rhythms and performers of previous decades.

“As a jewel, Hoy Como Ayer valued and stood up for all that nostalgia and longing, and although time went by and other genres came, it was always going to stay afloat because of the quality of the performers and their concept,” he affirmed.

For the musician and singer Luis Bofill, who witnessed and participated in the two stages of the venue on Eighth Street and 22nd Avenue, first when it was Café Nostalgia and then Hoy Como Ayer, it is very difficult to go by the place without feeling the loss.

“It’s very sad, especially at night, to see it dark and desolate. I am sorry for all us musicians who lost a place,” said Bofill, who performed last Saturday at another Miami club that keeps Cuban music alive, the Neme Gastro Bar.

For Díaz Vilela, who began the dream of Hoy Como Ayer when he was 25 years old with only $20,000, it’s the end of a cycle.

“Life is going to offer new proposals for me and maybe for a new Hoy Como Ayer with another essence and particularity. With the experience I have now and being stronger in every way, I know that something that people value may be coming,” he promised.