Casa Belkis is not your regular antique store. In fact, unless you know the address and what this place is about, there’s no way to guess from the outside that this house actually harbors one of the most impressive antique store in the city, and probably even in the whole country.
Located in a quiet residential area of La Havana (in the district of Havana Vedado), this family-run antique business which has been around for more than three generations, is a peculiarity in its own.
First of all, Casa Bekis is rather tricky to find: similarly to many addresses in Cuba, Google Maps locates it rather loosely. And, since the owner of Casa Belkis did not deem necessary to put a sign on the outside to advertise their business, it is near to impossible to end up there by chance. It almost feels like the Belkis family tries to keep this place uncharted.
The other peculiarity of the Casa Belkis is the exhibition space in itself. The house looks more like the private collection of an eccentric collector, than a regular antique store. Tens of thousands of antiques fill every available inches of the 300 square meters exhibition space inside the house, and remind of the cramped, mouldering maze of antiques at Alex Raskin Antiques in Savannah, Georgia. There are even antiques piled up to the roof in the restrooms and in the kitchen! Some rooms and corridors are so narrow and replete with merchandises, that walking around the house requires a mix of dexterity, carefulness and patience. Abstain if you are claustrophobic.
But behind this apparent chaos, there is nonetheless a precise organization. Antiques are cleverly organized on each floor. While the ground floor is dedicated to trinkets, miniatures, glassware, silverware, jewelery, and massive furniture, the second floor showcases finer antiques like paintings, ceramic, porcelain, crockery, bronze sculptures, marble and alabaster busts, crystal, lamps, and mirrors.
Most items don’t have a price tag, but everything is for sale at Casa Belkis. In terms of price, this antique store is rather affordable from a westerner perspective. An old 1930s chair sold for $20, a colonial bench for $150, a glass from Baccarat for $10, and regular glass and antique bottles for $3. Some nice bronze sculptures started at $90, and some paintings sell for $150. Haggling is welcome, and the more you buy, the higher the discount.
Tourists are usually reminded by the owners of Casa Belkis that some antiques can’t be purchased, based on the Cuban export regulations of items older than 50 years. Cuba has strict laws pertaining to the export of antiques and art. In fact the ban on exporting antiques has actually preserved the country’s colonial stock from foreign pilfering with amazing efficiency. For anything of value you must get an export sticker attached to your purchase. Nonetheless, it is possible to get a permit by registering the items with the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana (OHCH) who will approve it or deny it for export.
Casa Belkis is a treasure trove filled with valuable and delightful antiques. And its proximity to the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón, the largest cemetery in the Americas and one of Havana’s landmarks, makes for another good excuse to pay it a visit.