JUGULAR VEIN/JUG SURAIYA | India Times
The most expensive beer I’ve ever had was in the bar of the Restaurante La Torre in Havana, Cuba. On the top floor of a 36-storey building, the restaurant commanded a spectacular view, said our Lonely Planet guidebook. Bunny and I got to the address and looked for La Torre. No sign of it, or of any restaurant. The building was a long-abandoned derelict. We asked a passer-by for La Torre. Si, si, he said, pointing to the top of the gutted ruin. Yes, it is there, up. Gingerly, we entered the unlit foyer with its dangling wires and cracked walls. Sure enough there was a lift. And a lift attendant.
In a smart waistcoat and a bow tie, no less. He punched the button for the 36th floor. The lift ascended with surprising smoothness up the shaft of the forsaken building. We got to the top floor. There was one other couple in the air-conditioned bar. Behind the counter were three staffers. Huge plate glass windows provided a panoramic vista of Havana. We asked for beer. One person took the order, another fetched the beer from the cooler, a third brought it to our table. We looked at the view, drank our beer, asked for the bill. A fourth person materialised to make out the bill, which the waiter brought to our table. The bill was for 2.50 US dollars, about Rs 112. I realised it was the most expensive beer I’d ever had.
Expensive not for me, the customer, but for the people who provided it, and had to pay for the upkeep of the establishment with its air-conditioning, its voluminous space and its servitors who outnumbered the cash-paying customers by more than two to one. And in Havana, Cuba, the people who provided the beer, and just about anything else you named, meant the communist regime of Fidel Castro, which owns and runs everything in the country. Including the La Torre bar which sat atop a prime piece of real estate which had been allowed to go to rack and ruin. In any other system, economic forces would have long caused La Torre to shut up shop. But not in Fidel’s Cuba, where minor details like costs and return on investment don’t matter a hoot and you can raise a toast to the glories of communism with the most expensive beer in the world.