By now we are all familiar with the story of murderous Cuban mafioso Tony Montana who descends on Miami in search of the “American Dream” after departing Cuba in the Mariel boatlift of 1980 in the epic 1983 Al Pacino flick Scarface. Tony and his crew take over the city from Little Havana to South Beach leaving a trail of blood, drugs and money eventually rising to the top of the Miami’s cocaine underworld run by the Colombian cocaine cowboys. Thirty-four years to the day in which Scarface was released, the Magic City is light years away from the fictional drug-ridden drama in the movie. What’s Tony’s Miami like now? Let’s take a look.
Then: In the film, Tony takes a job at the Cuban sandwich shop El Paraiso. A deprived, struggling area, Little Havana wasn’t really on the map until los marielitos—like Montana-arrived. The neighborhood became the heart of the Cuban exile community escaping from Castro’s regime. In East Little Havana especially, crime went up. Thousands even camped out under I-95’s overpass. This is the first district in the movie, too, that Montana’s crooked crew takes over after killing the Diaz brothers assuming power and overrunning the area with his Pedro’s Pawn Shop, Oakley Drive-In Theater, Cabana Cigar, Diaz Motors and drug-ridden Storehouse.
Now: A far cry from the vapid wasteland it once was, Little Havana is still the place to go for authentic Cuban food like medianoches and café Cubano, hand-rolled cigars, and domino playing (you can catch a game any time day or night at Domino Park). A cultural melting pots, there’s a greater mix of Cubans and Central Americans, too. But now, it’s also an up-coming, trendy area with more upscale business, restaurants and galleries. And on the last Friday of every month, the famed Calle Ocho turns into a happening block party, Viernes Culturales, where you can experience the best of the barrio’s food, music and cultura.
Eat/See/Do: Versailles Restaurant; Domino Park and Tower Theatre; Viernes Culturales