Nowhere on earth pulls off a night scene quite like Cuba’s capital. So hotfoot it to our pick of Havana’s haunts…
Did you know Thomson Cruises are the only cruise line to spend the night in Havana? Well, you do now. Thomson Dream’s Cuban Fusion itinerary docks in the candy-coloured city for 24 hours – more than enough time to get acquainted with its legendary nightlife. From cabaret shows to Creole cuisine, dance troupes to daiquiris, here are the Cuban hang-outs we suggest you hit after dark…
The first troupe of scantily-clad showgirls came shimmying down palm trees at Tropicana on New Year’s Eve 1939. The cabaret show has been a national institution ever since. It survived Castro’s clampdowns, so there’s a touch of nostalgia about the place. The setting will be the first thing to wow you – the 2-hour spectacle unfolds on an open-air stage wrapped in tropical blooms. Then there are the performers. A 32-piece orchestra and a cast of over 200 dancers, musicians and acrobats combine hot Cuban rhythms with glitzy costumes. Mind-blowing stuff.
This place was also born in the Thirties and does a mean line in cabaret. The hotel’s Cabaret Parisien has a grace note of Vegas, mixed with a touch of old-world glamour. In its early days you’d have seen Frank Sinatra flirting with Ava Gardner in the lobby, Churchill unwrapping a Monte Cristo in the cigar lounge, and a brooding Brando sipping hushed mojitos in the bar. The top-floor cocktail lounge is a must-do. From these giddy heights you get an eyeful of Old Havana served with your drink. Beats a bowl of peanuts any day.
From the outside, this is just another cubby-hole Cuban hangout. But step inside and you’ll start to get the measure of the place. This restaurant-come-bar churns out Creole cuisine and cocktails in a space no bigger than your average living room, which is all part of the charm. The decor is also something to write home about – every square inch is plastered in photos, graffiti and autographs from past visitors, like Errol Flynn and Nat King Cole. Order your own minty rum blast, pull out a marker pen, and leave your autograph for future generations to admire.
In the early 1930s, a bartender called Constantino allegedly perfected the daiquiri at this very haunt. This new fruity cocktail enticed the likes of Ernest Hemingway to regularly swing by – in fact, his stool has been preserved as a shrine, roped off to stop anyone unwanted bottoms perching on it. What’s more, a 1953 edition of Esquire declared it one of the world’s 7 best bars – up there with the Ritz in London and Raffles in Singapore. Today, it maintains a rather regal air – red-jacketed staff fetch your drink from the dark mahogany bar while you take your pick of plush velour sofas.
In the heart of Havana beats this place, arguably the best Cuban jazz temple in the city. A Superman-style red phone box provides the entrance, and once inside you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into the Forties. It’s dark, smoky and atmospheric – in short, it’s everything a decent jazz haunt should be. It’s not unusual for Cuba’s top musicians to drop in for a jam so it’s the first place to check if you’re hoping to catch any A-list performers while you’re in the city. Our advice is to get there early. There’s only room for 120 and it fills up faster than a phonebox – perhaps that’s what inspired the entrance.
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Author: El Berwick
Published: August 20, 2014
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