Alma De Cuba - What Lies Beneath?
Hallowed be Thy cocktail, Alma de Cuba- What Lies Beneath the 18th century church, come bar?
You’ve arrived, you’re at Alma de Cuba in Liverpool. You order one of the yummy cocktails, the Bombay Bad Boy, or the Victoria’s Secret. You take in all the beautiful people, and the music begins pulsing through you. You start to sway, you're uplifted, there’s a frisson, a certain atmosphere; an unexplainable vibe. You try to emulate the moves of the striking Samba girls on stage, they're dressed in glitter, multicoloured plumage and not much else. Now you’re really shaking a tail feather, but wait, is that a marble alter over there? Are petals falling through the air? Are those antique frescoes of the last supper? You note the stone work, and the flicker of candle light framed by stained-glass windows, it dawns on you that the décor in Alma de Cuba quite literally is divine. You order your third Pornstar Martini, you’ve begun to realise those Samba girls have nothing on you, and this is going to be one of those legendary nights, but I wonder; are you aware when at Alma de Cuba the liquor in your cocktail may not be the only spirit getting into you! You see, Alma de Cuba wasn’t always one of the most iconic bars and restaurants in Liverpool, once upon a time it was St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church.
St. Peter's was built in 1788 by Benedictine monk Rev A.B. MacDonald of the Order of St Benedict, and until its closure in 1978, it was the oldest Roman Catholic Church in Liverpool. The thing is, not only did Rev A.B MacDonald build St. Peter’s, when he died he was buried in its crypt, which begs the question; is it the Bombay gin or the holy spirit causing those Samba girls to dance like the devil at Alma de Cuba? Rev A.B Macdonald wasn’t the only monastic body to be buried in the crypt of what is now Alma de Cuba. In total, 22 bodies were buried there, made up of 8 Benedictine monks, and 14 lay people. You’ll be relieved to learn that those bodies are no longer in the crypt, they were found in 2004 when funding for conversion of St. Peter’s was approved and redevelopment began, they were then removed and re-interned. However, some of the locals say there were more than 22 bodies buried at St. Peter’s, which could be a tall tale, or the gospel truth. In 1845, major building work on the church began, and a large extension was added, but mysteriously for such a notable change to the footprint of the church; no clear account of the extension can be found in the parish records. The exact date of the extension is also disputed, so who knows what, or whom was moved and reburied during those building works at St. Peter’s?
St. Peter’s closed its doors for the final time in 1978, as the years passed the building fell into a state of disrepair, and in 1993 the site was deconsecrated. However, in 2003 it was announced that funding had been approved to convert the Grade-II listed building. The restoration was undertaken by Urban Splash, a British company known for regenerating disused and decaying buildings of historical note. In 2005, after years of sympathetic restoration, the Alma de Cuba, flung open its doors. Alma de Cuba fast became a celebrity hangout, and the place to be seen. Renowned for its heady mix of Latin American, Cuban Hispanic cultural fusion, and winning Best Bar, Best Restaurant and the UK's Best Venue in 2008 and 2009. Journalists and food critics raved about the food, décor and entertainment, where else can you go for an award-winning rump roast on a Sunday and be serenaded by a live gospel choir? Fast-forward to 2017, and in a deal worth £3.1 million, Lawrence Kenwright and his multi-million-pound property development company Signature Living, are the proud new owners of the distinct and historical landmark that is Alma de Cuba. Current fans of the venue may be thinking 'if it ain’t Spanish Baroque don’t fix it', and wondering what Signature Living could possibly bring to an already vibrant and vivacious hotspot. As mentioned the building is listed, so not much will change interior wise. However, plans include a new 40-bed hotel within Alma de Cuba’s existing footprint, the adjacent car park will become a 100-suite hotel, and as with all Signature Living hotels; they are sure to be the last word in luxury. Throughout the 18th and 19th century’s, many were wed in what was then St. Peter's Church, and Signature Living have made it so again. Alma de Cuba being steeped in so much history, really is a timeless and picture-perfect spot to say, "I do". Signature Living have revamped the menu, which is now truly authentic Cuban fair. The ‘Hanging Summer Vegetable Kebab’ is a mouth-watering must, and the ‘Dulche De Leche and Colombian Cocoa Tart’ is dangerously moreish. The quaint garden tucked away in the side street has benefited from some tender loving, yet stylish care. There’s now an exotic ‘Samba Afternoon Tea’ and a ‘Rumba Night’, there goes that tail feather again. ‘Voodoo Night’ is a must for those that want to take a walk on the dark side, and a whole new cast of actors and dancers have been drafted in to make the Haiti inspired nights ones you’ll surely remember. In the short time Alma de Cuba has been in Signature Livings’ hands, it has gone from strength to strength, recently winning ‘Best Bar’ at the ‘Liverpool Food and Drink Festival’. Signature Living have lent an air of sophisticated mystique to Alma de Cuba, and we cannot wait to see what carnival inspired devilment they will lavish on us next.
Words by George Carter