This is one of the places that I love in New York because of its Latin feel and strong character. It reminds me of Mexico – the food, the music, the Latin staff; coming here means remembering home for me – a place a warmer feel than the rest of New York, which sometimes can be cold and lonely.
Cafe Habana is a Latin diner in Nolita, serving mostly Mexican and Cuban food; it is popular for its Mexican-style corn, amazing margaritas, huevos rancheros and the like, and it’s always packed at brunch hours. With a deep love for Mexican and Cuban culture – which revolves around community, friends, family and strong social ties – Sean Meenan opened Cafe Habana in the late 90′s with the intention of making it a neighborhood joint.
Sean’s inspiration comes from Cafe la Habana, an iconic coffee shop in downtown Mexico City. Popular amongst writers, journalists and politicians, it is said that el Che and Fidel Castro plotted the Cuban Revolution at this popular joint. It’s a place where most people who went there in the mid-1900′s knew who everybody else there was. So, Cafe Habana opened in NY as a spot where neighbors could come and enjoy a cheap meal. A hangout for old and young with a strong community feel – a place where everybody would know your name.
Leslie Meenan, Sean’s sister and now a partner in the business, says it was once like this - children used to come in after school and sit at the counter and ask for soda, but now things have changed. She and her brother grew up in this neighborhood back when it was considered part of Little Italy, it was relatively dangerous and cab drivers wouldn’t drive through Elizabeth St. Everyone who lived there knew each other – the butcher, the hardware store guy, the residents – and the streets were lined with mom & pop shops.
But today, things are different. Nolita is a hip, trendy area lined with high-end boutiques and shops, and that neighborhood feel is long gone. Rent prices have increased, driving many people and businesses away into more affordable areas of the city, or Brooklyn. Neighbors don’t all know each other anymore. However, Cafe Habana tries to keep its prices low, so they can at least preserve the idea of attracting the rich, the struggling, the tourists, the NY hipsters and the older couples – and in that, I think they have succeeded.
Some store fronts still remain from when Nolita, or at least Elizabeth street, was not as commercial, and was instead lined with independent businesses.