Cocktail hour in Havana is something of a misnomer since it is always time for a cocktail somewhere, at least once we have got past breakfast time. Nowhere immortalizes this tradition more than El Floridita with its life-size statue of Papa Hemingway sipping his customary daiquiri. Earlier in the day, he would take in a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio. Today both places are packed with camera-touting tourists and, while still fun and full of atmosphere, you will meet few regular ‘normal’ Cubans there. The recently re-opened Sloppy Joe’s has been done fabulously well and is worth stopping by, as is the sublime terrace of the iconic Hotel Nacional. All of these places, however, still hark back to Havana’s past. For a glimpse of the future, we have selected some of the recently opened bars and clubs where you can still get a great cocktail but are more likely to be listening to a jazz-fusion house mix than Buena Vista Social Club.
Calle 21 #1065 e/ 12 y 14, Vedado
Bar Bohemio is more of a Bohemian-style café than bar, owned and managed by ex-ballerinas from the National Ballet Company. This is an extremely comfortable and warm place with great music, which makes it a perfect spot to meet up with friends for (calm) drinks. There is a large patio terrace outside and nice space inside the spacious Vedado mansion.
Lealtad #120 e/ Ánimas y Lagunas, Centro Habana
(+53) 7- 864-1486 www.casamiglis.com
Something of an oasis in Centro Habana, little is given away by the regular entrance, but as soon as you walk into the restaurant you get an idea why this took Mr. Miglis over a year to renovate this building to fit his dream of opening Cuba’s first experiment in Swedish cuisine. The ceilings are high, the decoration minimalist but with that attention to detail of Swedish heritage—the pike fish, the fern, the chairs high up above the bar. The finishing is superb, the lines all so very clean. This has a very small bar, which is a good place just to drop in for a mojito.
Calle 26 e/ 11 y 13, Vedado
El Cocinero opened in February 2013 and has instantly become a smash hit. Located underneath the imposing brick chimney of the same name (which used to be a vegetable oil factory), this bar/restaurant is reached via three flights of circular stairs, which go up vertiginously lighthouse-style. It is worth the effort to reach the sunken roof, which has ample space for drinks and food. This place has a renovated industrial space look, good music, nice décor and has attracted a mixed crowd of affluent young Cubans, expatriates, as well as families for dinner. Try the mango daiquiri in season—superb.
Calle B, e/ Línea y Calzada, Vedado
There is a good vibe here when it fills up later in the evening with an interesting clientele of mostly Cuban twenty-somethings. This is the place they come when they have clocked off their shift at a nearby paladar. The music is good and the décor modern if a little generic if you have ever been in an Irish pub reaching for old-world authenticity—it works ok here since it is one of a kind. Real attention is put into cocktail making here. If you’re brave ask for the Indio Special.
Malecón #161 e/ K y L, Vedado
Entering the spacious and well-decorated restaurant, you quickly understand why it took the owners 18 months to finish the renovations to this beautiful mansion. This was definitely time well spent to make each of the several eating areas and bar a real delight. The ceilings are high but this is a modern finish with tasteful and elegant furniture, lights and tableware, which have been carefully put together. There are a few tables outside where you can watch the world go by on the busy Malecón. This is a place to try something different.
Calle 17 #302 (altos) e/ 2 y 4, Vedado
Café Madrigal is the sort of place that Hemingway would have liked in his Paris phase—intellectual, intense, artistic. A gathering point, a meeting place. After a whole year of repairs and transformations to the original structure (which dates back to 1919), Rafael Rosales opened Café Madrigal. While the bare brick walls reveal the work of masons who materialized the architecture of the emerging El Vedado in the early 20th century, they disclose also the story of Rosales’s life through art and images, pictures and artefacts. Stick to something simple here—a mojito should do the trick.
O’Reilly e/ Habana y Aguiar, Habana Vieja
It is easy to miss O’Reilly 304 since the sign is discrete. Don’t make the mistake of asking someone for directions though since it is located at number 304 on O’Reilly Street. This is one of a new wave of places helping to transform eating and dining in Old Havana. Once inside, you realize how well they have used the space on a split-level restaurant, which prepares an excellent and reasonably limited menu (love the tacos). If you’re not hungry but cocktail hour calls, you should try the excellent gin and tonic here.
15 y H, Vedado
Somavilla is catering to a young and hip crowd. This opened in August 2013 with a bang as the location for the first presentation of American DJ Derek Turcios in Havana. The bar itself is spacious but still intimate, located in a Vedado duplex. It is also non-smoking, which is a real relief. Good service and a place to get well-made and inexpensive cocktails.
Ave. 21 e/ 36 y 42, Miramar
Located in the basement of a Miramar mansion up on 21st Avenue (& 42nd street), don’t be put off by the exterior—this is more akin to a Cuban yuppie bar than a working man’s club. This is the Havana Farándula. Sangri-La is a little more unpredictable than the others and is probably the most interactive with more of an open-plan setup encouraging more mixing.