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A new look at historic Flor de Santiago

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The new Flor de Santiago, on Calle 70, Centro. Photo: Facebook
The new Flor de Santiago, on Calle 70, Centro. Photo: Facebook

Mérida, Yucatán — It looks the same, yet different. Its putty-colored walls now painted white. The bakery is gone, but there is beer. There are scribbles on the walls and posts. The walls are still covered with art, but ironic art has replaced iconic images.

La Flor de Santiago is open again, but its ambiance no longer authentic 1920s Havana, complains one recent visitor who recounted his visit in an article headlined “They destroyed La Flor de Santiago.”

Flor de Santiago in 2013. Photo: Imagine Mérida
Flor de Santiago in 2013. Photo: Imagine Mérida

The story, despite the damning headline, is shared on the café’s own page.

Author José Repetto wrote that although he expected the new operators would make changes, “…  it never crossed my mind that a place with so much history could be taken completely of its charm.”

On Facebook, the café replied, “We regret that we can no longer enjoy the concept of bakery-café, even as we continue to retain some traditional things, our concept has changed.”

Beautiful as it is, Flor has struggled to find its place in the 21st century. Indeed, the guide books seemed to know more about Flor de Santiago than the general public. Frommers listed the café as Mérida’s oldest, built in the 1920s in a grand mansion off Parque Santiago, and after so many decades retaining its original flavor. But sleepy Flor de Santiago didn’t attract nowhere near the crowd of new coffee bars such as Punta del Cielo, Italian Coffee Co. or Starbucks.

The new Flor de Santiago has a modern twist. Photo: Facebook
The new Flor de Santiago has a modern twist. Photo: Facebook

The new Flor on Thursday featured a floor show, two musicians who “were playing live Cuban music blaring. It was literally impossible to communicate without shouting,” says Repetto.

“One of my companions asked the waiter if it was possible to lower the volume a bit and this simply and categorically refused. It should also be emphasized, although ours was the only table occupied,” the writer continues. “We had no choice but to withdraw.”

Flor de Santiago has struggled for years. Lonely Planet reports “Chiapas coffee is served in incongruous chipped willow-ware cups in this cafeteria-style eatery.” As far back as 2011, a blogger and faithful customer noted that powdered milk had replaced real leche. That’s the year they announced they were closing, although they limped along until closing temporarily this year.

Around the same time, An Alaskan in Yucatán tried to explain his loyalty to a place that admittedly was not exactly serving the best coffee around.

“I’ve tried — and abandoned —several of the newer (coffee houses) where the staff is young, poorly-trained and managed, the music is loud and apparently played for the pleasure of the staff and not the guests, and any ambience or personality that exists seems to be more superficial marketing strategy than anything else,” he wrote in 2011. “La Flor is a real, traditional cafe. Very few exist these days.”

The historic café’s future is still in question. The building is still listed for sale, $90,000 less than when it was offered in 2013.

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