Discotheques and Nightclubs
Disco Karaoke, atop the Hotel Plaza (Zulueta #267, esq. Neptuno, tel. 07/860-8583, nightly 11 p.m.–5 a.m., CUC5), packs Cubans in thick as sardines.
Centro Habana and Cerro
One of Havana’s most popular venues is Casa de la Música (Galiano #253, e/ Concordia y Neptuno, tel. 07/862-4165, daily 4–7 p.m. and 10 p.m.–2 a.m., CUC10–20). A modern theater known as “Dos” (for Casa de la Música 2, or dos), it fills with a mostly Cuban crowd for concerts and dancing. The venue is run by Egrem, the state recording company.
A bit more raw and rough around the edges, Cabaret Palermo (San Miguel, esq. Amistad, tel. 07/861-9745, Thurs.–Sun. 10 p.m.–4 a.m., CUC2–5) is one of Havana’s major rap scenes. Shows are sometimes preceded by a cabaret espectáculo.
Vedado and Plaza de la Revolución
Salón Turquino (Calle L, e/ 23 y 25, tel. 07/834-4011, nightly 10:30 p.m.–3 a.m., CUC10 cover), atop the Hotel Habana Libre, offers a medley of entertainment that varies nightly, followed by salsa dancing. Top bands often perform and the place will close for VIP parties. The popular venue draws tourists and Cubans with dollars to spend. No single Cubans are allowed (foreigners are propositioned at the door by women seeking admission). Salsa lessons are offered in the mezzanine bar each Saturday at 4 p.m.
The Salón Rojo (Calle 21, e/ N y O, tel. 07/833-3747 or 832-0511, nightly 10 p.m.–2 a.m., CUC10–25), beside the Hotel Capri, ditched its cabaret in favor of a nightclub venue hosting Havana’s hottest acts, such as Los Van Van and Bandolero. It’s now the hottest spot in town for sexy dancing and searing sounds.
Penny-pinchers might head to the Cabaret Pico Blanco (Calle O #206, e/ 23 y 25, tel. 07/833-3740, nightly 9 p.m.–3 a.m., CUC5–10) in the glass-enclosed top floor of the Hotel St. John. It hosts salsa, boleros, and trova, though the mood runs hot and cold. Occasionally a top name is featured; other times you may have to suffer through karaoke. A disco follows. Around the corner, Calle 23 between Calles O y N has several dingy clubs drawing a young Cuban crowd for merengue and salsa.
Cubans flock to one of Havana’s hottest venues, Café Cantante (Paseo, esq. 39, tel. 07/879-7011, Tues.–Sat. 9 p.m.–5 a.m., CUC3, or CUC10–20 when top groups perform) in the basement of the Teatro Nacional. No hats, T-shirts, or shorts are permitted for men, and no photos are allowed. Friday afternoons have live salsa (4–6 p.m.); only Cubans go and with luck you’ll be charged in pesos.
The plusher Delirio Habanero (tel. 07/873-5713), a lounge on the third floor of the Teatro Nacional (Av. Carlos M. de Céspedes, esq. Paseo), also has afternoon peñas (3–7 p.m.) and live music (Tues.–Sun. 10 a.m.–2 a.m., CUC5–CUC15), when the place can rock everything from boleros to timba. Also in the Teatro Nacional, Mi Habana has music and dance the same hours.
Popular with a gay crowd, Café Fresa y Chocolate (Calle 23 y 12, tel. 07/836-2096, Mon.–Wed. 10 a.m.–10 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. noon.–midnight) has music videos on weekdays, plus comedy and variety shows on weekends.
Playa (Miramar and Beyond)
Run by Egrem, the state recording company, the Casa de la Música (Av. 25, esq. 20, tel. 07/204-0447, Wed.–Sun. 5–9 p.m. and 11 p.m.–3:30 a.m., CUC10–20) sometimes has sizzling-hot afternoon salsa sessions as well as nightly (Tues.–Sun.) performances by such legends as Bamboleo and Chucho Valdés. The place is preferred by Cubans with some money to burn, and the fact that the audience usually includes some of Cuba’s hottest performers says it all. The headliner normally doesn’t come on until 1 a.m. Also here is the Disco Tun Tún (nightly 11 p.m.–6 a.m., CUC10), which keeps in the groove until dawn.
Unfathomably popular at last visit, Don Cangrejo (1ra Av., e/ 16 y 18, tel. 07/204-3837, daily noon–midnight, entrance CUC5) is a most unlikely venue. The restaurant’s open-air oceanfront pool complex hosts live music, attracts a chic in-crowd (mostly well-heeled foreign men, monied white Cubans with high-positioned parents, and beautiful habaneras, many of whom are drawn by the former). There’s no room to dance.
Cubans of lesser means head to Club Río (Calle A #314, e/ 3ra y 5ta, tel. 07/209-3389, Tues.–Sun. 10 p.m.–3 a.m., CUC5), colloquially called Johnny’s. DJs spin up-to-date tunes. It also has a cabaret on the sunken dance floor. Couples only are permitted. It has a reputation for pickpockets, violence, and scams.
Salón Chévere (Club Almendares, Calle 49C y 28A, Rpto. Kohly, tel. 07/204-4990, daily noon–4 a.m.) has live music and dancing alfresco, with the real action beginning after 10 p.m. The CUC15 entrance includes an open bar.
Cubans also find their fun at Teatro Karl Marx (1ra Av., e/ 8 y 10, tel. 07/203-0801, Fri.–Sun. 9 p.m.–2 a.m., CUC10–20). Los Van Van, Isaac Delgado, and other big names play here. The vast theater also plays host to many of the city’s big-ticket events (such as the closing galas of the Latin American Film Festival).
Farther out, Salón Rosado Benny Moré (Av. 41, esq. 48, tel. 07/209-1281, Fri.–Mon. 7 p.m.–2 a.m. for live groups, Tues.–Wed. for cabaret, CUC5–10), an open-air concert arena known as El Tropical, is immensely popular on weekends when top-billed Cuban salsa bands perform. Probably the wildest place in town on a Saturday night, it features kick-ass music and dancing—the dancing is salacious, and rum-induced fights often break out. For better or worse, foreigners are sometimes kept apart from habaneros.
Another popular venue for Cubans is El Sauce (9ta #12015, e/ 120 y 130, tel. 07/204-6248), hosting live bands from rock (such as the Cuban group Dimensión Vertical, Sun. 4 p.m.) to salsa.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition