The Cuban Hat

The “Cuban Hat” and its neighbour “The Nest” were two very popular drive in locales situated on the then Lower Marine Parade in Durban. They were especially popular in the late 50s / early 60s when own car transport became an essential must have amongst young adults. These were the days when young adult life changed considerably when freedom of movement, the changed music and habits of the time and there was a general improvement in living standards. Initially any form of car was better than none because as the saying was, it enabled you to get to “where the action was”. Action being where parties, socials, “sessions” and get togethers. The fact that you could pick up your mates or girl friends and go together as a group made life good. Parents of the time had to adjust to the times because they were brought up when stricter parental control was generally enforced. The days of dates being, sitting in the lounge with the parents were no longer and life was now centred on getting out and about and mixing with your own age group.

This accounted for the popularity of the three such Beach front locales that existed in Durban. The two most popular the Cuban Hat and The Nest and the other some distance away the XL Tea Room at Addington became very popular haunts. They were free, the refreshments were affordable and invariably your friends would happen to be there as well. Combined they were not overly large and Friday and Saturday nights they were fully parked in and business was excellent. The two sites also became the meeting place for motor bike groups which in those days were to a large extent a “separate breed”.

Thanks to Michelle Jacobs, she posted two pages of the original Cuban Hat building and surprisingly the Cuban Hat dates back to 1953. These are classic pictures in my opinion and prompted me to add them to the site. Click on pictures to enlarge.

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7 Responses

  1. Rodney Coyne
    | Reply

    I seem to remember having posted to have posted this before : There was a third , smaller drive-in called, I think, Uptons next to the Nest. Does anyone remember it?

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Rodney
      Uptons rang a bell but to make sure I checked the 1965 Directory and it is listed as : A W Upton Tobacconist and Confectioner Beach Promenade. I do not think it was a “drive in” cafe and my memory is that it was near the mini golf course that was also on the Lower Marine Parade. It does not appear in the 1968 Directory though. Remember in those days diagonal parking facing the sea was allowed along the entire length of the Lower Marine Parade.

  2. ivan
    | Reply

    i can remember going to the cuban hat and the one next door after the drive in cinema. it was affectionately known as the puking cat, the waiters were indian and very polite and sociable. we would always give a good tip and they would remember you and look after you when you came back. i don’t know how they remembered when they had so many people visiting but they certainly did. surprisingly the food and drink offered was actually of fairly good quality.

  3. Robert Timmerman
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    The Nest and Cuban Hat were both great and the choice between them – unless one had a def favourite – was determined by the availability of a parking spot. We loved the trays that hung on your 1/4 opened car door window with the support underneath that the waiters flicked into place. We went there often – first as youngsters swimming and body-surfing at North Beach where R2 kept you going for a day – a burger and chips was something like 75c and a coke – in glass – was 15 cents. Later and a bit older in a motor car with 5-up in the car after a late movie at Durban Drive-in each person may have changed his mind once or twice about his order but the waiters NEVER made a mistake in what was finally brought and clipped into the car – one each side so we could all reach the tray! Toasted sarmies were great – chick-mayo the best. By 2am the spot was usually deserted and food easier to get – am unaware if they ever closed. Later myself and my buddies used to go to the Tropicana in Albert Park that served the best double-thick choc milkshakes and kebabs. That was the great part of Durbs in the 1970’s.

  4. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Yes those were great days but they extend back to the 60s and earlier which was more my era. Back then when it was “a must to own a cab”, any car which could take you and your mates around. The Cuban Hat and the Nest became the place to show your car off. The early sixties had great rivalry amongst the car owners. The Ford Cortina had come out, the Mini, the Renault Dauphin and the perennial VWs all had their own aficionados. I still recall the wheel spin exits from the Cuban Hat in front of all the parked cars watching. Miss a gear change on exiting and you would get a derisory hoot from the audience. As you said both venues were jam packed especially after Saturday night movies. Dating in those days was quite different what with no cell phones, no social media, no TV , the knowledge that you could go about without fear and not have your car stolen if you left it parked, made for very happy times. You will never relive those times.

  5. erotik
    | Reply

    There is certainly a great deal to find out about this topic. I really like all of the points you made. Etty Sloan Akerley

  6. Renee Alcock
    | Reply

    I believe Arthur Alcock was the architect responsible of the design of the Cuban Hat

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