Opened in May 2013, the hot staff, comfortable setting, and welcoming vibe at this, Havana’s first full-time, openly-gay bar, make for a fun night out, regardless of orientation. There’s plenty of seating, big screen TVs showing music videos (Cuban artists are well-represented), and don’t be surprised if you find the decent-sized dance floor swirling with men dancing some serious salsa. Of course, like most gay bars globally, there’s also a disco ball and ‘back room’—though this one is for smoking, not other, more libidinous, activities. A talented opera duo perform Wednesdays; other days you’ll find karaoke and drag performances.
Humboldt #52, e/ Infanta y Hospital, Centro Habana. Tel: (+53) 5-330-2989; open daily 8pm-4am.
Cabaret Las Vegas
This state-run joint is a bit scrappy, but has long been a gay hangout and the stomping grounds of Divino, one of Cuba’s most accomplished drag acts. In the great tradition of queer dives everywhere, this place is dark and smoky, which keeps many people away. However, the show (11pm) is worth catching and it’s just a hop, skip from Humboldt 52, so you can shuttle between the two easily.
Infanta #104, e/ 25 y 27, Vedado. Tel: (+53) 7-870-7939; open daily 10pm-4am.
Cine Club Diferente
A monthly happening at Cine 23 y 12, this is one of the biggest regular gatherings of LGBTI Cubans and friends. Hosted by noted film critic Frank Padrón, the cinema packs in folks eager to see movies tackling themes of sexual diversity—some quite polemic. Past screenings have included Outrage, Harvey Milk, and Verde Verde, the 2011 Cuban film which shows how far things have come since Fresa y Chocolate (and how far we still have to go). Stick around for the lively audience debate following.
Calle 23 e/ 10 y 12, Vedado; 2nd Tuesday of the month at 8pm.
Fashion Bar Havana
Cuba’s first (and only, to my knowledge) drag supper club/bar, the setting here is a superb example of queer class meets camp, accompanied by a fantastic floor show. The owner, known as Luisito, spent many years in Holland before returning to the island and knows how to show clients a frolicking good time. The staff are nothing short of gorgeous, especially when performing scantily clad, which happens after the 11pm drag show in a rare homoerotic dance spectacle.
Reservations recommended. San Juan de Dios, esq. a Aguacate, Habana Vieja; Tel: (+53) 7-867-1676; open Saturdays (hours to be extended soon) 9pm-4am.
Escaleras al Cielo
This disco is transformed into a hopping hot spot every Friday night when LGBTI Cuban youth and friends hit the big dance floor to get their groove on to a live DJ. There’s a disco ball, naturally, and a surprisingly sophisticated (for Cuba) laser light system. This is one of the few places I know of with pole dancing, replete with provocatively dressed performers—both men and women. Stairway to Heaven indeed.
Zulueta #660 e/ Apodaca y Gloria, Habana Vieja; Tel: (+53) 7-861-9198; open Fridays 10pm-3am.
Café Bar Madrigal
Feeling more like San Francisco than Havana thanks to its pop décor, fancy cocktails, and the staff’s (occasional) supercilious attitude, this second-floor hangout is a gathering spot for all types of folks, including gay men and women in the 25-45 range. What this place has going for it are the comfortable seating areas—I’m especially partial to the terrace balcony and the living room in the back—cool music, arty atmosphere, and yummy desserts. On the downside, the entire interior is brick so can be deafening when there’s a crowd.
Calle 17 #809, e/ 2 y 4, Vedado; Tel: (+53) 7-831-2433; open Tues-Sun 6pm-2am.
This wonderful, off-the-beaten path find is as cozy as a West Village flat, with the interior décor to match. There are ancient typewriters, radios, and other curios hanging from the walls, a bathtub for two (they lay a board across it for easy access to your cocktails), and an old American car for kicking back with a cappuccino. The seamless combination of comfortable and funky works well here, where you’ll find a very mixed, welcoming crowd. This is one of the few places in Havana where you can still smoke; there’s a full bar in addition to a wide variety of coffee specials well-made.
Avenida 3ra, esq. a 28, Miramar; open daily 8am-10pm.
If there’s a more laidback, chill and tropical chic atmosphere in Havana, I’ve yet to find it. Owned by a pair of retired Danza Contemporánea de Cuba dancers, this bar/restaurant housed in a Vedado mansion epitomizes sophisticated casual, with its plant-filled wraparound terrace, warm lighting, and individual couches and seating areas. It is as comfortable for a first date as a regular tryst meet-up, testifying to its welcoming, inclusive feel.
Calle 21 #1065, e/ 12 y 14, Vedado; Tel: (+53) 7-833-6918; closed Mondays.