Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar Chooses ADJ Fixtures For New Fort Lauderdale Location

The new Cuba Libre restaurant and nightlife venue, which opened in Florida last month, features an extensive ADJ lighting system. This includes IP65-rated fixtures used for architectural lighting on the building’s striking exterior as well a variety of wash and moving head luminaries positioned inside the venue. These not only provide ambient lighting during meal service but can be utilized to slowly transition the venue into a full-on dance club late in the evening.


Established in 2000 by business partners Barry Gutin and Larry Cohen and Chef-Partner Guillermo Pernot, Cuba Libre is dedicated to the exploration of Cuban heritage, art, music, flavors, and traditions. It offers an authentic Cuban dining experience throughout the day and evening, before morphing in the evening into a nightlife venue specializing in Latin music and dancing. The opening of the first location in Philadelphia was followed over the next decade by additional venues in Atlantic City, Orlando and Washington DC. The duo is now continuing the concept's expansion with the opening of a new location in the heart of Fort Lauderdale. Significant planning has gone into the first new Cuba Libre to open in over a decade, with ADJ Lighting being brought to the table early in the process.

“I met Alfred [Gonzales, ADJ USA’s National Sales Manager],” explains Barry, “through the Nightclub and Bar Show in Las Vegas, where we both sat on the Advisory Board. We enjoyed each other’s company for many years but weren’t doing business together. Then, in 2016, when we were ready to upgrade some of the dancefloor lighting at our Atlantic City Cuba Libre restaurant, I decided to try ADJ fixtures for the first time. I’m glad I did, as I was very impressed by their brightness, clarity, functionality and durability. They really blew away the ones that we were replacing, which were from another very well-respected brand. So, when we began to plan this brand new location in Fort Lauderdale, I reached out to Alfred to ask if the ADJ product range was wide enough to meet our architectural requirements as well as our dancefloor needs. Of course, he said it was, and from there the project took shape.”

The company Barry selected to install the lighting and audio equipment at the new venue was Koncept Systems, a turnkey integrator based in Miami. Although it is a relatively new company, founded in 2018, its principal, Ernesto Blanco, has extensive experience of AVL integration in restaurants, bars and nightclubs. He was recommended to Barry by a mutual business associate and proved to be an ideal choice since he not only had extensive past experience of ADJ fixtures but had also worked with both the project’s Architect and General Contractor on previous successful installations.

“Barry didn’t want to reinvent the wheel with this project, the Cuba Libre brand and visual identity of their restaurants was already established,” comments Ernesto. “What he was looking for us to do was improve the lighting, but within the constraints of their existing aesthetic. Alfred and his team had already proposed a package of ADJ lighting, which is essentially what we installed, although we did make a few suggested changes to the fixtures – still keeping it with the ADJ brand – and their placement based on our extensive knowledge of this particular type of venue, where the transition from restaurant into lounge/club is so integral to the business model. Bob [Mentele, ADJ’s Vertical Market Manager], who designed the original lighting plot, had a really good understanding of the space as well as the ADJ range. He was very helpful and also used the same design software [Capture] as we do, so it was easy for him to send over the design files when it was time to pass the baton over to us.’”

With a prime corner location in downtown Fort Lauderdale, illuminating the exterior of the Cuba Libre building was a significant part of the project. A total of 35 of ADJ’s 15 HEX Bar IP linear LED fixtures have been used to wash large white sections of the restaurant’s façade. These are concealed by architrave that runs around the building’s entire frontage at the top of the first story as well as behind planters located higher up on the façade. In addition, a number of Encore Burst RGBW IP COB LED wash fixtures are used to downlight areas of wall on the restaurant’s external patio area.

“You could describe Fort Lauderdale as our first main street location,” states Barry. “That stretch of East Las Olas Boulevard is a tree-lined, low-rise area that is very pedestrian-friendly and filled with retail shops, art galleries and restaurants. So, it draws visitors from across Broward County and beyond, as well as much further through tourism. It is near both the cruise ship terminal and beach, so there is a lot of potential for walk-up trade, which is why it is essential for our building to stand out and accentuate our prominent corner location. A big part of how we have achieved that is through the ADJ lighting. The building literally lights up in the evening, awash with changing colors, and that is very important to our presence on the boulevard.”

This extensive use of LED wash fixtures continues inside the venue. With their wide 80-degree beam angle and powerful 150-Watt COB LED light sources, COB Cannon Wash ST fixtures are used to illuminate large sections of the ornate interior decoration. These base color washes are then overlaid with accent lighting from 32 HEX Panel IP and 5PX HEX fixtures to create a multilayered lighting aesthetic that generates an immersive atmosphere and highlights the myriad of details that have been incorporated into the interior design of the restaurant.

“Cuba Libre is really a theatrical environment,” confirms Barry. “We recreate, with cinematic accuracy, the balconies and courtyards of the Cuba’s Old Havana neighborhood. Lighting is essential to achieving this, and I think we have done our best ever lighting job on this project. We used lighting in multiple layers to create an engaging visual experience. We have front lighting on a balcony, as well as lighting behind the railings and washes on the walls. With different colors, this gives it a great depth, dimension, and richness that we’ve not seen before in any of our other locations. And we have essentially the same thematic environment in those other restaurants, the only difference is the lighting.”

Although the new Fort Lauderdale Cuba Libre is currently only operating as a restaurant and bar with socially distanced table service, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic after hours music and dancing was a big part of the Cuba Libre experience at its other locations. Later in the summer, Barry and his team plan to roll this out at the new location, with performances from professional salsa dancers towards the end of dinner service leading into the removal of tables and open dancing for patrons going on late into the night. Ernesto and his team have installed a lighting system in the restaurant’s main space, above the area that will be used as a dancefloor, that will allow for a gradual transition of the atmosphere from eating to dancing. A fixture specifically selected for this purpose was ADJ’s Jolt 300 multifunction strobe / blinder / wash, with four of the units surrounding the dancefloor area.

“The Jolt 300 is a very versatile fixture. It gives us the ability to wash the dancefloor with colors as well as to use it as a blinder and strobe. It can also be used as an eye candy effect, which makes it ideal for that transition time, when the DJ wants to start building up the atmosphere, but a full-on strobe effect would be too much for the people who are still finishing up with dinner. Another important thing to mention is the size. It is a very small unit, which means that it’s hardly noticeable up in the air during the day, but when it’s turned on it will really make an impact on that dancefloor. It’s very powerful, the price is great, overall, it’s just a very good light.”

The lighting system also features three models from ADJ’s Focus Series of compact and feature-packed LED-powered moving head luminaires. Four Focus Spot 5Z fixtures are installed in the main space and utilized for additional static accent lighting during the day. When it is time for the transition from eating to dancing, they can then be used to introduce slow-moving GOBOs patterns before stepping up to fast movements and color changes when the dancefloor begins to fill. Four of the smaller Focus Spot 2X fixtures are mounted to the lower ceiling at the side of the space to allow the atmosphere from the dancefloor to be extended out to the bar area. Finally, four Focus Beam LED units allow for the creation of piercing aerial effects to complete the transformation from restaurant to dance club.

“We’re excited to be able to introduce the dancefloor lighting later in the summer,” enthuses Barry, “which I already know will be great from our experience of using ADJ lights at our Atlantic City location. However, I’m particularly thrilled with the results of the architectural lighting, both inside the restaurant and out on the street, lighting up the building to draw in passing potential customers. The selection of fixtures that Alfred and the ADJ team recommended, and Ernesto and his team installed, perfectly match our lighting design intent.”

Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar
800 East Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

Koncept Systems

Senior Partner/Project Manager
Ernesto Blanco

Lighting and Audio Designer
Elvin Costas

Carlos Alvarez

Steve Legato

ADJ Gear List
35 x 15 HEX Bar IP
16 x COB Cannon Wash ST
9 x 32 HEX Panel IP
8 x 5PX HEX
6 x Encore Burst RGBW IP
4 x Focus Spot 5Z
4 x Focus Beam LED
4 x Focus Spot 2X
4 x Jolt 300
2 x Fog Fury Jett Pro
1 x Entour Venue