There’s a sign towering over Calle Ocho boasting “the world’s most famous Cuban restaurant.” That sign is probably right.
By now, it’s tradition for politicians to have a cafecito in 90-degree weather while vying for the Cuban American vote. You’ve seen it as the backdrop of protests of Cuban relations policy, the parties after Miami Heat championships and the celebration of the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
In Miami, Versailles is more than a place to talk politics over a plate of rice and beans. It has been the place for people to gather during important moments in local history since it opened in 1971.
As the 2020 campaign season kicks off, Democratic presidential candidates in town for the first round of debates have been flocking to the Homestead migrant child facility. Meanwhile, Republicans made their presence known with RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel talking to reporters and customers about socialism at Versailles’ ventanita — where she ordered a lemonade.
Here are five times Miami mobilized to Calle Ocho’s restaurant turned hotspot.
Castro dies. Little Havana celebrates. Nov. 26, 2016
Original story by David Ovalle, Joey Flechas, Vera Bergengruen, Carlos Frías and Patricia Mazzei
Fidel Castro died, and Cuban Miami did what it does in times of community celebration: It spilled onto the streets of Little Havana — and Hialeah, and Kendall — to honk horns, bang pans, and set off more than a few fireworks, saved for exactly the sort of unexpected occasion worthy of their detonation.
The scene across Miami-Dade County, the cradle of the Cuban exile community, was one of pure, raw emotion. This time, after decades of false alarms, Castro’s death was real.
“I wish my dad was here to see this,” 27-year-old Abraham Quintero cried just before 2 a.m. Saturday.
Wearing an “I love Hialeah” T-shirt, he stood on West 49th Street and Ludlam Road, where police quickly set up watch posts to make sure impromptu revelers stayed safe.
“Beautiful madness,” 29-year-old Christopher Sweeney said, describing the scene.
John McCain discusses Elián Gonzalez’s status Dec. 11, 1999
Original story by Jeannette Rivera-Lyles, El Nuevo Herald
A long list of political leaders and presidential candidates joined their voices to tell the Cuban American community on Friday that Elián González, a 6-year-old boy found in the ocean on Thanksgiving, should not be sent to Cuba.
One of the first was the Republican candidate and senator John McCain, who was visiting Miami, where he shared a Cuban coffee with several exile leaders in the traditional Versailles restaurant.
“I believe that we must ensure that this young boy lives in freedom, not in slavery,” said McCain. “If not, the sacrifice his mother made has been in vain.” Elián’s mother, Elizabet González, died in the Florida Strait, in her failed attempt to escape the Castro regime. Her body was never found.
Miami Heat wins NBA championship two years in a row. Fans bang pots and pans on Calle Ocho. June 20, 2013
Original story by Joseph Goodman
That’s three titles for a town and two crowns for its king.
With a season, a playoffs, an NBA Finals and a Game 7 that will echo for years to come, the Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 on Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena to win its second NBA championship in a row and cap the most exciting two weeks in South Florida sports history.
LeBron James played stunning, brilliant basketball to earn the NBA Finals MVP for the second straight year and Dwyane Wade, who played throughout the playoffs despite knee problems, saved his best for the final game of a grueling postseason. James finished with 37 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, going 12 of 23 from the field, 5 of 10 from three-point range and 8 of 8 from the free-throw line. Wade had 23 points, 10 rebounds and an assist and made 11 of his 21 attempts.
Original story by Patricia Mazzei and Christina Veiga
The hard line dividing Miami and Havana, drawn more than half a century ago by Cuban exiles who shunned the dictatorship they left behind, suddenly softened Wednesday, leaving two stunned generations of Cuban Americans to grapple with what the future may hold.
President Barack Obama announced he would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba after the communist regime led by Raúl Castro freed American political prisoner Alan Gross and other dissidents. That was welcome news to exiles but the president also agreed to a spy swap, the kind of deal stalwart Castro critics have long opposed.
Shock reverberated through Miami, the heart of the exile community, where detractors lambasted the policy shift — and the Democratic president — for what they called a betrayal. A frenzy of reporters and politicians descended on Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana, a mecca of traditional anti-Castro sentiment.
Celia Cruz launches photo book “Cubantime” Nov. 9, 2001
Original story by Andres Reynaldo, El Nuevo Herald
The book Cubantime, with writing by Giselle Balido and photography by Carlos M. Guerrero, was presented Thursday night at Café Nostalgia, in Miami Beach, with the presence of singer Celia Cruz, the author of the prologue.
“This is a labor of love to pay tribute to the anonymous heroes of Cuban exiles,” said Balido.
The piece gathered hundreds of photographs of Cuban Miami. Three generations of exiles are represented in scenes of daily life through the lens of Guerrero, an el Nuevo Herald photographer.
“I wanted to capture those magical moments of the people from town: bakers, people who sell vegetables in the street, housewives,” said Guerrero. “I wanted to leave a legacy for present and future generations.”
In the prologue, Celia noted that the book, which was published by Silver Lining Books in New York, is a tribute to all Cubans who have managed to keep their traditions alive while fighting to build a thriving community.
“They have taught their children and grandchildren to love our land,” said the artist.
Hours earlier, the Cubantime authors and editors , together with Celia, held a press conference at the restaurant Versailles, on Calle Ocho, which was attended by a large audience.
Honorable mentions: Politicians and tiny cups of coffee
Enjoy the caffeinated trip down memory lane.