You're in town? Here's where you should drink in Old and Central Havana
Over the last few years, the BarNews team has followed editorial trends and offered its gifts recommendations for the festive season. This year’s different: we thought long and hard and it seems to us there’s only one thing you should really want to treat yourself to… Yes, it’s time to plan that trip to Havana you always talked about! And so for this festive article we update another BarNews tradition: the list of the bars you should really go to when you’re finally in the Pearl of the Caribbean. Word of warning: we only include bars that have recently opened (so no Floridita here). For this first part, we focus on old Havana and Central Havana. When we’re back from our holidays, we’ll take a look at Vedado.
It’s hard to avoid La Guarida, even when writing about the best ‘new’ places. Of course, La Guarida is not new: it opened in 1996 and is one of the oldest « paladares » (private residences allowed to operate as restaurants and bars) in town. Superficially, it was made famous because it’s located in the house where cult movie ‘Fresa y Chocolate’ was filmed, and it has since become a mandatory stop for foreign celebrities. Its fame is deserved, as the food is excellent and the service very friendly. This is all well and good, but why do we include it in our guide of the ‘newest’? Well, because of the rooftop bar. In 2014, the owners decided they wanted to update their cocktail offer and asked Havana Club for help. Grand Prix winner Andy Loudon and Paris’ Dirty Dick owner Scotty Schuder flew in with Havana Club Global Brand Ambassador Meimi Sanchez and worked hand in hand with La Guarida’s team on the new menu. It’s a story we might want to tell you soon, but for now, go and try the drinks.
418, Concordia. +53 78 66 90 47.
Havana’s iconic Capitolio is being refurbished and the extent of the works might lead you not to have a walk around it. You should, if only because, right behind the beautiful marble building, hides one of Central Havana’s gems: Siá Kará. It’s a great, quirky spot, made of elements that shouldn’t really fit together but do: a lounge area that looks like a middle eastern hookah place surrounded by old ties, a vintage piano in a diminutive area where musicians come and play, odds-and-ends from local flea markets (if flea markets were a thing in Cuba) and disparate artworks. The food is straightforward but good and cheap, the bartender is enthusiastic and the crowd (in-the-know tourists and hip locals) makes for a buzzing atmosphere.
Industria, Esq Barcelona. +53 78 67 40 84.
It’s the oldest trick in the book: when you don’t really know what to call your bar, well, just use the street and the number. So you’ll find this great spot on O’Reilly Street, number… yes, 304. This is probably the only thing not original about O’Reilly 304, though. It’s known by local cognoscenti as one of the prime spots for fish, ceviches and Mexican-inspired food in town, but it’s the Spanish influence that caught our attention: it’s the first (and so far only?) gin bar in Cuba. With its very strong Gin & Tonic program, it’s fair to say that the team here can teach a trick or two to many European bars. This being Cuba, the garnishes tend to be on the baroque side. Fear not if you’re strictly a rum person: « el ron de Cuba » is of course used in many cocktails, made with fresh juices and fruits. Thanks to O’Reilly 304, what used to be the banking street of Old Havana is now starting a new phase as a nightlife destination.
304, O’Reilly. +53 52 64 47 25.
El del frente
What do you do when you’ve named your first paladar after the street and number where it’s located and you need to find a name for the one you just opened in front? You don’t call it O’Reilly 303 (although you could), you call it « the one across the street ». Maybe imagination was never the problem and the owner’s just a little bit playful. El del frente basically offers a similar program to its sister bar across the street, with two added values. One, a stunning dining room - probably one of the most pleasant spaces to have a meal in Havana. Two, a rooftop bar. It’s not as spacious as others and its view is not as spectacular as many Havana rooftops, but there lies its charms. On top of a low three-floor building, this is a human size rooftop with a view on the bustling atmosphere of Old Havana. People watching sometimes is more comforting than staring at the Malecón.
303, O’Reilly. + 53 78 63 02 06.
See you in 2017!