Every tourist in town wants to sip a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio (Empredado #207, e/ Cuba y Tacón, tel. 07/862-6121, daily noon–midnight), as Ernest Hemingway did almost daily. However, the mojitos are weak and far too small for the CUC4 tab. Go for the ambience, aided by troubadours.
Another Hemingway favorite offering far better and cheaper (CUC3) mojitos is the Dos Hermanos (Av. San Pedro #304, esq. Sol, tel. 07/861-3514, 24 hours), a down-to-earth wharf-front saloon where Hemingway bent elbows with sailors and prostitutes at the long wooden bar. There’s often live music.
Hemingway enjoyed his daily daiquiri at El Floridita (Obispo, esq. Monserrate, tel. 07/867-9299, bar open daily 11:30 a.m.–1 a.m.). It may not quite live up to its 1950s aura, when Esquire magazine named it one of the great bars of the world, but to visit Havana without sipping a (weak) daiquiri here would be like visiting France without tasting the wine.
The wood-paneled Bar Monserrate (Monserrate, esq. Obrapía, tel. 07/860-9751, daily noon–midnight), just south of El Floridita, is popular with Cubans and is noted for its Coctel Monserrate: one teaspoon of sugar, two ounces of grapefruit juice, five drops of grenadine, two ounces of white rum, ice, and a sprig of mint (CUC2.50). It’s a good spot to while away the afternoon listening to live music. It draws jineteros and jineteras. Count your change!
I love the Café Barrita (Monserrate #261, esq. San Juan de Dios, tel. 07/862-9310, ext. 131, daily 9 a.m.–6 p.m.), in Edificio Bacardí. Formerly the private bar of the Bacardí family, it casts you back to the 1930s. It’s popular with a cigar-smoking foreign crowd, and the mojitos are strong.
Lluvia de Oro (Obispo #316, esq. Habana, tel. 07/862-9870, daily 9 a.m.–midnight) is a lively, down-to-earth bar popular with foreigners come to sample the live music and meet wayward cubanas and cubanos. It serves cheap but strong mojitos (CUC2.50) and features live son music.
Nearby, the similar, once-rocking Café París (San Ignacio #202, esq. Obispo, tel. 07/862-0466, daily 9 a.m.–midnight) has yet to reignite its former spark.
Hotel bars receive few clients (except a sprinkling of tourists) and are often boring. The lobby piano-bar in the Hotel Ambos Mundos (Obispo, esq. Mercaderes, tel. 07/860-9530, 24 hours) is a delightful place to tipple, as is the Bar La Marina (Av. San Pedro, esq. Luz, tel. 07/862-8000) in the Hotel Armadores de Santander. The latter has an upscale mood and nautical motif (including staff in mariners’ uniforms).
The chicest bars are the one in the Hotel Saratoga (Paseo de Martí #603, esq. Dragones, tel. 07/868-1000, noon–midnight) and the art deco Bar Lejaim (San Ignacio, esq. Amargura, tel. 07/860-8280) in the Hotel Raquel, which has an open bar each Wednesday evening. Lejaim has Cuban cocktails and bocas (snacks).
Beer lovers should head to Plaza Vieja, where the Taberna de la Muralla (San Ignacio #364, tel. 07/866-4453, daily 11 a.m.–1 a.m.), a Viennese-style brewpub, produces delicious Pilsen (light) and Munich (dark) beer. You can order half-liters (CUC2), liters, or a whopping three-liter dispenser, called a dispensa. This tall glass cylinder is fitted with a tap and filled with beer kept chilled by a thin center tube filled with ice.
Vedado and Plaza de la Revolución
The Hotel Nacional’s Bar Vista del Golfo (Calle O, esq. 21, tel. 07/874-3564) has a jukebox and walls festooned with photos of famous visitors such as Errol Flynn and assorted mobsters. It rarely has patrons, however; they prefer the hotel’s airy Bar La Terraza, where one can sit in a sofa chair with a cigar and cocktail while musicians entertain with live music.
The small El Relicario Bar (Paseo, e/ 1ra y 3ra, tel. 07/204-3636, 1 p.m.–1 a.m.), in the mezzanine of the Hotel Meliá Cohiba, is popular with a monied, cigar-loving crowd and offers an elegant Edwardian ambience and relative serenity. It also has a pool table.
I like the small lobby bar in the Hotel Habana Riviera (Malecón y Paseo, tel. 07/836-4051) and the sedate lobby bar of the Hotel Habana Libre Tryp (Calle L, e/ 23 y 25, tel. 07/834-6100, daily 7 a.m.–11 p.m.).
For superb views of the city, try the Salón Turquino (25th floor inside Habana Libre Tryp, Calle L, e/ 23 y 25, tel. 07/834-6100) or La Torre (Calle 17 #55, e/ M y N, tel. 07/832-2451), atop the Focsa building.
Penny-pinchers wanting to sup with Cubans should head to Gran Café (Calle 23, esq. Av. de los Presidentes, tel. 07/830-9375, daily 10 a.m.–2 a.m.), serving CUC1 mojitos and CUC0.50 rum shots. The surroundings are simple.
Also popular with Cubans is Mesón de la Chorrera (Malecón y Calle 20, tel. 07/838-3896, daily noon–midnight), upstairs in the old fortress at the mouth of the Río Almendares; this atmospheric place even has cannons pointing through the windows.
Playa (Miramar and Beyond)
This district has very few bars. The classy Paleta Bar (tel. 07/204-7311, daily 11:30 a.m.–midnight), in the Miramar Trade Center, draws expats-in-the-know. The hip, minimalist place occasionally has live music.
The class act in town on Saturday night is the bar at the Occidental Miramar (5ta Av., e/ 72 y 76, tel. 07/204-3584), with live music and a trend-setting young crowd.
Two piano bars to consider are Dos Gardenias (7ma Av. y 26, tel. 07/204-2353, daily noon–midnight) and Piano Bar Piel Canela (Calle 16 #701, esq. 7ma, tel. 07/204-1543, daily 3–8 p.m. and 10 p.m.–3 a.m., entrance CUC1), at La Maison.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition