Maximo Gomez Park - or Domino Park, as the locals call it - doesn't look like much of a park. There's no grass, it is enclosed in a cage-like fence, and it abuts a McDonald's. Inside are rows of all-weather tables and chairs bolted to the ground. Some of them are marked for chess, but most have built-in trays to hold dominos.
There is a booth with a guard in it near the entrance; it is marked "tourist information," but it is unclear what information he is able to provide. He keeps the sliding glass partition shut, so it's hard to ask him.
Signs are posted everywhere listing prohibitions: no eating, no drinking, no smoking, facilities are for club members only (it doesn't specify what club). Tourists are allowed in.
So, what was once an organic expression of the city's populace has devolved into a gawk-fest. The 30 or so mostly-aged players throw their bones (double-9 sets played with Cuban rules in teams of 2), and a charter bus pulls up to the curb and disgorges another batch of tourists who signed up for some "genuine Little Havana experience." It would be analogous to bringing buses of people to stare at the guys playing chess in New York's Washington Square Park (please don't tell me if they've started doing that since the last time I was there). When there are a handful of outsiders, respectfully observing a local custom, it's fine. When they outnumber the people they have come to see, it is sad.
So, swing by, check it out, but try to be subtle. The spirit of Little Havana is still here, but it is in danger of being drowned in a sea of touristas.
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