Cigar Aficionado

The Tropicana Still Rules, But Sizzling Entertainment Can Be Found Almost Any Where in Havana

It's a sultry Cuban night. Wearing little more than towering sequin headdresses, dozens of women swagger and spin to ear-deafening salsa music. Multicolored lights emphasize the features of the smiling, gyrating women as their costumes flicker. Watching Havana's Tropicana club cabaret is like looking at a Salvador Dalí painting come to life. It's a surreal spectacle. * The Tropicana has been a Havana staple for almost 60 years. No sooner did it open in 1939, then Cubans and foreign visitors packed in to see what was considered the best live show in the city. Most would first visit the roulette tables near the club's entrance and then venture outdoors to view the cabaret show, while indulging in excellent food and fine wines. While the gambling and first-class food and drink are gone and you will be hard-pressed to see many Cubans in the club, the cabaret continues to be one of Havana's most popular draws. The attraction may be nostalgia for the lost magic of 1950s Cuba, but even by today's exacting standards, it's still one spectacular show. * Havana has plenty to offer anyone looking for a fun-filled night out, from enticing cabarets to sizzling live music to rocking discos.

Most live music shows and discos charge between $5 and $20 a person, while cabarets can cost up to $50. The best way to enjoy any of these diversions is to go with a group of friends and to make sure you get a table. It's best to have your hotel reserve one in advance, but if you can't do that, a $10 tip to the club's maître d' can help. Bottles of Havana Club rum, cans of Coke, an ice bucket and glasses usually arrive a short time after you sit down.

Most live music, whether a salsa band or a floor show, is primarily for tourists. The cost of admission is simply too high for the average Cuban. Even bars in the city with small bands, such as El Floridita and Bar Montserrate, are off-limits to most locals. However, a growing number of small nightclubs and hangouts offer Habaneros a place to drink and listen to music--the problem is finding these places since they frequently change addresses. It's best to get information from your hotel or call around to some of the more popular nightspots to find out what's on during your stay in Havana.

At the moment, among the hottest nightspots where visitors meet locals are Habana Café at the Hotel Meliá Cohiba, Discoteca Havana Club at the Hotel Comodoro and Los Caneyes del Papa's. The Habana Café features live music just about every night, from traditional son style to vibrating salsa. There's a massive bar area and plenty of room for dancing. The city's two most popular discos--Los Caneyes del Papa's and Discoteca Havana Club--presently feature cabarets. Visitors can still gyrate to pulsating dance music, but only between live floor shows.

A word of caution. Discos are pickup joints for jineteras--the Cuban euphemism for prostitutes--and just about anyone else hustling tourists for dollars. Men interested in erotic pursuits will often be disappointed because most major hotels do not let prostitutes enter their premises. And recently, the government has begun cracking down on such activity, not only arresting the women but also foreign men in their company.

Wherever you head after dark, the sounds and sights of Havana's bustling nightlife will keep you energized far into the wee morning hours.

Here is a listing of popular night spots in and around Havana. Outside Cuba, telephone numbers require the 53-7 prefix.

Calle 72 entre 43 y 45
Phone: 27 91 47
Casa de la Cultura de Plaza
Calzada No. 909 esquina 8

Plaza de la Revolucion
Phone: not available

Habana Café
Hotel Meliá Cohiba
Paseo y 1era
Plaza de la Revolucion
Phone: 33 36 36

La Cecilia
5ta Ave. between 110 and 112
Phone: 24 15 62

Salon Rojo
Hotel Capri
Calle 21 esquina N.
Phone: 33 35 71, 33 35 72

Le Select Club
Calle 28 entre 5ta Ave. y 7ma Ave.
Phone: 24 74 10, 24 74 11

Los Caneyes del Papa's
Marina Hemingway
5ta Avenida y 248
Phone: 24 11 50, 24 11 56

Discoteca Havana Club
Hotel Comodoro
Calle 1era y 86

Phone: 24 29 02

Café Cantante Mi Haban
Teatro Nacional
Paseo y 39
Phone: 33 57 13

Café Concert Gato Tuerto
Calle O entre 17 y 19
Phone: 55 26 96, 66 22 44

Casa de la Musica EGREM
(Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales)
Calle 20 esquina 35
Phone: 330447

Delirio Habanero
Teatro Nacional 4th floor
Paseo y 39
Phone: 33 57 13

Dos Gardenias
Rincón del Bolero
7ma y 26
Phone: 24 23 53, 24 96 62

El Cortijo
Hotel Horizontes Vedado
Calle O No. 244
entre 25 y Humboldt
Plaza de la Revolucion
Phone: 33 40 72, 33 40 73

Palacio de la Salsa
Hotel Riviera
Paseo y Malecon
Phone: 33 40 51

Parisien Cabaret
Hotel Nacional
Calle 21 y O
Phone: 33 35 64, 78 20 65

Plaza de la Revolucion
Paseo entre Ave. Rancho Boyeros
y Ave. Carlos Manuel de Cespedes
Phone: 84 05 51

Salon Rosado "Benny More"
Salon Rosado de la Tropical
Avenida 41 y 42
Playa (next to the Pedro Marrero football stadium)
Phone: 29 09 85

La Zorra y el Cuervo Club de Jazz
Calle 23 entre N y O
Phone: 66 24 02