MIAMI — Street artist José Parlá, known for his energetic paintings of figures, animals, and abstractions that explode into swirls of twisting ribbon, has turned into a restaurateur. At The Standard spa and hotel in Miami Beach, he has helped transform a leftover hotel room into a fully-functioning, 24-hour-a-day replica of a Cuban coffee shop transplanted into a corner of Little Havana.
The “Cafecito” is a collaboration between Parlá and the proprietors of the local restaurant chain David’s Cafe, known for its Cuban food. The shop, which serves a potent Cuban coffee alongside a slew of fried snacks and fresh-pressed sugar cane juice, was inspired by a trip to Cuba, where Parlá’s parents lived before they fled to the United States. After extensive research (which must have included a lot of caffeine), Parlá brought back artifacts and family photos to decorate the pop-up, which opens up onto the hotel’s outdoor patio.
A neon “Cafecito Neptuno” sign adorns a shabby-chic pocket-size space that features a collection of textual murals from Parlá — the hot food case is labeled with a red and yellow “Caliente.” The walls and floor of the shop are adorned with what looks like colorful, patterned ceramic tile but turns out to be a photo mural, based on Parlá’s Cuba snapshots. Photographs of family are sprinkled throughout the space and even the styrofoam cups are hand-labeled with the cafecito’s name.
The project is a kind of gesamtkunstwerk that forms an experience of a culture that’s still officially blocked from the United States, though its presence is unavoidably felt in and around Miami and elsewhere. The renovation of the hotel room into a coffee shop took just two weeks, but thankfully, the cafe is likely to stay a permanent feature of the hotel rather than an ephemeral pop-up. It seems only proper. Plus, they serve a really great espresso, and that sugar cane juice, our barista informed us, is great for hangovers.
José Parlá’s Cafecito Neptuno is located at The Standard (40 Island Avenue, Miami Beach).
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