Cocktail & Cigar Central
It's true. We tend to focus on rum, and nothing but rum, when we are in Havana. The lineup of great Cuban rums has expanded in the last 10 years, and it's easy to work your way through a Havana Club Selección de Maestros to a Santiago 11-year-old (two of our favorites), and that doesn't even touch on the great new Havana Club Unión, released in late February.
But I'm here to tell you that if you just drink rum in Cuba, you're missing out on one of the great secrets in the world.
Bartenders in Havana, to be certified, have to go through an extensive training program, and need to be able to mix 100 cocktails from memory. Try it next time. Just ask for your favorite cocktail, and get ready to be surprised.
More importantly, the bar scene is expanding in Havana, creating some great new spaces while keeping some older ones. Some of the lesser-known bars are at the forefront of what's fun to do. Because dinners in this city end around 11 p.m., and most clubs don't get going until 12 or 1, there's time to stop at a bar, order a cocktail and light up your favorite smoke. Nearly every one of these bars has a cigar-friendly terrace or a patio—or just doesn't care if you light up inside.
Here's a list of our favorites. Be advised. This is a category that is growing fast. Ask around to see what's new.
Calle 10, No. 513, entre 5 y 7 Avenidas, Miramar, Tel: (537) 202-2921
From the outside, it may look like another lovely old home in Miramar. The garden out back is an ideal place to have a drink and smoke a cigar. Quiet and private.
Calle L, No. 502, entre 27 y Avenida Universidad Vedado, Tel: (537) 406-1925
This old house overlooks a fairly busy street in Vedado, but the terrace is expansive with a wonderful colonial feel to it. Great place for tapas and a Bloody Mary.
Plaza Vieja (above Café Escorial), Habana Vieja, Tel: (537) 293-1494
What a contrast! This sleek, modern white-walled bar with bright blue accents looks out over the Plaza Vieja, the almost totally restored colonial plaza in Old Havana. There's usually some techno-pop playing, and the waiters are South Beach cool. Sit on the second-floor balcony, smoke a cigar and watch life go by.
Rooftop at El Cocinero
Calle 26, esquina 11 y 13, Vedado, Tel: (537) 832-2355
This is one of our favorite restaurants, but the rooftop bar deserves a separate mention. In the evening, the towering chimney is stunningly lit from below. A great place for your end-of-the-day (or night) cigar.
Calzada 101, entre L y M, Ciudad de la Habana, Tel: (537) 832-3195
A rooftop aerie across from the U.S. Interests Section (soon to be an embassy) building, with a view across the sea of flagpoles the Cubans placed in front of it, Magic Flute offers views up and down the Malecón. It has soft blue lights and a fine terrace. From Thursday night through the weekend, it's packed, and there is live music.
La Bodeguita del Medio
Empredrado 207, Habana Vieja, Tel: (537) 867-1374
Cognoscenti complain it's too touristy. But you know what? Sometimes touristy places are touristy for a reason. They are jam-packed with history and ambience. This is one of those places. Even if you end up out on the street with your mojito and cigar, the small acoustic bands play almost all day long. A don't miss place.
Obispo 557, esquina Monserrate, Habana Vieja, Tel: (537) 867-1300
Another touristy place that you can't miss. How could you? Legend says that Hemingway praised it for its Daiquiris. Go have one. Smoke a cigar at the classic, long wooden bar. Have two Daiquiris.
Terrace at Hotel Nacional
Calle 21 y O, Vedado, Plaza, Ciudad de la Habana, Tel: (537) 836-3564
There may not be a better place to have a cocktail (in my case, rum on the rocks) and a cigar. The chairs are comfortable, the portico is more than 20 feet high and there is almost always music being played. Don't be deterred by the crowd. It may be hard to get a seat. Keep trying. As for a Plan B, head down through the garden to the promontory looking out over the Malecón and snag a chair there.
Calle 46, esquina Avenida 3, Miramar, Tel: (537) 202-8337
We left this place off the restaurant list: too many other good choices, although a lot of folks still rave about the food. But it has a redesigned bar off the front of the restaurant. The vibe is good, and it draws a superb crowd. A place to end the night, or greet the dawn. It's open all night.