As Habana Cafe nears opening, owner hopes to carry on Artful Dodger’s legacy

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The Habana Cafe, though still a work in progress on April 29, will open in place of the Artful Dodger, which closed at the end of 2018.

By Molly Long, contributor

The Habana Cafe — the newest addition to Harrisonburg’s nightlife scene, and one with a distinct Latin flair — could open as early as Saturday in the place of one of the city’s longtime institutions, the Artful Dodger.

Alex Rivera, the Habana Cafe’s owner, said the last bit of construction is being finished, so he hopes to open just in time for an influx of people in town for the area universities’ graduations with JMU on Saturday and EMU on Sunday.

Rivera said he doesn’t want people to forget about the Artful Dodger. In fact, the restaurant’s interior will look structurally the same as the Artful Dodger, which first opened in 1992 and unexpectedly closed in November. The bar reopened briefly in December but was cited for serving alcohol without a license and officially announced it’s closing via Facebook a month later.

“We don’t want to replace the Artful Dodger, we’re bringing in here something a little different, where it could be your next favorite place,” he said.

Rivera plans to host karaoke on Tuesdays, college nights on Thursdays, salsa nights on Friday, open DJ on Saturdays and oldies nights on Sundays.

“We like art and music, and our Latin and Hispanic culture is really a lot about the music, so we’re going to focus on that,” he said.

This isn’t Rivera’s first restaurant in Harrisonburg. He also owns Latin’s Flavor on Mason Street. He says the key to running a successful restaurant is passion.

“Do it with passion and love what you do,” he said. “I work seven days a week, and I don’t feel like I’m working just because I enjoy what I do. So if you ask me ‘how many days a week do you work,’ I would say none because I enjoy what I do.”

Just like Latin’s Flavor, Habana Cafe will offer vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. Rivera said listening to the customers’ wants and catering the menu toward them is essential.

“It’s like Latin’s Flavor, there are some things that are not on the menu and people come in and ask can you do something, and we kinda create what the people want,” he said. “So I think that’s part of the success from the business too, because we work with our clients, we treat everybody as a family.”

Many in the JMU community, including students, revered The Artful Dodger and looking forward to seeing something new blossom in its place.

Sydney Jaxtheimer, a JMU senior in the School of Media Arts and Design, said she went to The Artful Dodger almost every Tuesday until it closed.

“Dodger was special because it (had) such great deals,” she said. “It was also the only fun place to go on a Tuesday, which made it a go-to place for me and my friends. I miss having somewhere to go during the week that doesn’t close at 12 but is open later.”

Liam Brennan, a JMU senior computer science major, lives downtown and thinks Habana Cafe can offer something different to the downtown scene.

“Habana Café seems really unique and in my opinion would definitely be a great addition to the already great atmosphere in downtown Harrisonburg,” he said.


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