Cuba's Tropicana nightclub marks 70th anniversary

Tue Dec 29, 2009 1:20pm EST
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By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - Havana's famed Tropicana nightclub turns 70 this week, its glamour days as an international celebrity haunt well behind it, but its future assured as a money-making hotspot for the cash-strapped Cuban government.

Scantily clad female dancers, their costumes mostly feathers and sequined thongs, writhed across its outdoor stage as they have for decades in a show that began on Monday night and ended Tuesday morning, marking the club's opening on December 30, 1939.

The show included an homage to stars like Carmen Miranda and Nat King Cole who performed amid Tropicana's lush gardens and towering trees.

Photos of Cole flashed on screens behind the stage as two dancers swayed romantically to his song "Tenderly."

Tropicana began as a casino and nightclub that, especially in the decade before Cuba's 1959 revolution, attracted a steady stream of celebrities ranging from Marlon Brando to Maurice Chevalier. Some performed there and others simply mingled with the elegantly dressed clientele.

Their presence and the accompanying publicity made Tropicana one of the world's best known nightspots.

At the time, Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida, was a popular tourist destination for Americans, who have generally been banned from traveling there under a U.S. trade embargo in place since 1962.

Cuban gambler Martin Fox owned the club from 1950 on, but its casino, like many others in Havana at the time, was run by an associate of Santo Trafficante, a Florida mobster who had extensive holdings in Cuba.   Continued...

<p>Dancers of the Cuban cabaret Tropicana perform during a gala for the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Tropicana cabaret in Havana December 28, 2009. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa</p>