The smell of fine, hand-rolled cigars, mingled with the sound of ice clinking in glasses filled with rum and the unmistakable rhythms of Cuban drums in the background. These heady scents, sights and sounds revealed the theme of the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands’ 2016 gala fundraiser, held at the Harquail Theatre on Nov. 25. The night was pure Club Havana.
Although previous such events have been held in the grounds of the National Gallery, including the Surrealist Ball and the Night Circus, the organizing committee decided to surprise patrons with a change of venue. The result was quite extraordinary, thanks to the hard work of volunteers and the vision of Meegan Ebanks, manager of events.
As cars pulled up to the front of the theatre, alighting guests were given the red carpet treatment, complete with professional photographer David Wolfe sporting a fedora; capturing couples as they made their way to the steps.
Lush green plants were placed strategically along the entranceway and ladies in authentic 1930s Cuban costumes with baskets of flowers over arms, welcomed people as they entered the transformed space.
A full rum bar inside the foyer stretched almost the width of the theatre, bookended by the staircases to the upper balconies. The menu boasted a variety of classic rum cocktails, including the mojito – a heady mix of white rum, mint leaves, lime juice, sugar and soda.
Food stations were positioned against the side walls, serving up Cuban fare, with a cigar rolling table in one corner featuring a master roller performing his art.
It was the interior of the familiar theatre, however, that really grabbed the attention of all who attended that night. Many who had seen productions at the Harquail over the years could scarcely believe that they were standing in the same building.
Two-thirds of the row seating on the ground floor had been removed and replaced with a variety of tables and gold Chiavari chairs; from two-top and four-top sets to large circular dining tables that could accommodate 8-10 people. The balconies overlooking the “orchestra” area now had two-top sets running the length of them, with one side converted to a long lounge.
The stage was officially “Club Havana,” confirmed by the glittering sign of the same name that hovered over it. There were also additional chairs and tables on the stage that were quickly filled by guests who now had a bird’s-eye view of the entertainment.
Through the night there were salsa dancers, musicians, an aerialist and fire performers that kept the crowd enthralled, with a break only for the live auction.
Auction items that included a private box at the London Royal Opera House, a fully catered trip to Cuba with concierge and tour guide, dinner at The Brasserie for six people and a Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa staycation were met with much enthusiasm. Unique experiences such as these were definitely popular choices.
Each year the National Gallery excites, entertains and enchants its guests with its creative annual galas. It will be interesting to see if they can top Club Havana in 2017.