Was he in a jalopy convertible or riding in a float? I don't remember. All I recall clearly was the crowd around me saying, "Bigote Gato!" I had the notion then that he was a famous bodeguero, maybe because most were Spaniards and I associated his beret with a Spaniard character, the gallego, from our music hall tradition that had filtered down popular culture to a point where a child like me could recognize it.
But it wasn't exactly a bodega he ran; instead, a bar/restaurant where the menu offered outrageous aphrodisiac cocktails impossible to make and a monthly, also aphrodisiac, 3 a.m. dinner, this one actually prepared, of braised tongue, peppery oxtail and sweetened papaya with cheese, courses with names that were double entendres. Lovers and locos were his people, including Havana's most famous crazy, El Caballero de Paris. Poets too. Federico García Lorca visited his establishment.
I wasn't too far off thinking he was a gallego, for he was, in fact, an asturiano, hailing from the same land as my mother's family, next door to Galicia. His red beret, unusual compared to the traditional black, was also from Asturias.
The moniker Bigote Gato came from his big handlebar moustache, a bigote de gato, literally moustache of cat. The d in de is swallowed in Cuban Spanish and the remaining e runs into the last vowel of bigote. So Bigote Gato it was. He did ride his jalopy convertible in Havana's Mardi Gras parade, surrounded by mulatas, mixed race lovelies for which he was known to have, as Spanish men do to this day, a predilection. Still, what I recall from that carnaval was a float.
His hi-jinks spilled into television when that medium hit Havana. And the great Puerto Rican sonero Daniel Santos immortalized him in his interpretation of the song "Bigote Gato." He was a public figure. A self-made celebrity. One cool cat.