Nostalgia is a powerful force in Cuba, and not just as an abstract idea. Alongside the many vintage cars and antiquated structures in the city, there still exist a number of establishments from the era when Havana was a playground for the world. Here, five of the best.
Known as the birthplace of the daiquiri, Floridita has been in operation since 1817. In the 1930s, it was a haunt for a glamorous crowd of expats and intellectuals, including Ezra Pound and, famously, Ernest Hemingway, who continues to occupy a corner of the bar as a rather startling lifelike bronze. It maintains that period feel, with checkboard floors and formally attired staff. Try a daquiri, of course, but the Cuban Manhattan is not to be sniffed at.
The raucous Key West joint is named after the Havana original, a more genteel and spacious spot which became a beacon for cocktail-craving Americans during Prohibition. Hemingway was a tippler here, along with Hollywood royalty like John Wayne and Clark Gable. After the Revolution, the bar closed — and remained so for almost 50 years — but its interior remained intact. A sensitive restoration led to a reopening in 2013.
Opened in 1939, the open-air Tropicana is renowned for its fruity, feathery, heavily-sequined cabaret shows—think Vegas set to a Caribbean rhythm and doused with Cuban rum. Be sure to have a bottle of Champagne brought to your table, then sit back and enjoy one of the best cabaret nights anywhere.
Hotel Nacional de Cuba
This Jazz Age hotel overlooking the Malecón esplanade is an architectural mélange — Spanish, Moorish, Art Deco. Its guest list over the years has included everyone from Gary Cooper to Rita Hayworth to Walt Disney. Today, the property is showing its age in places, but the garden terrace, kidney-shaped pool and old-school charm continue to attract notable guests (Russian President Vladimir Putin, for one).
La Bodeguita del Medio
Another institution with ties to Hemingway, this intimate Old Town restaurant and bar has been a gathering place for artists, writers and musicians since 1942. Guests come to lap up the signature mojito (a drink supposedly invented here) and devour Cuban staples like black beans, rice and pork shank. Cluttered with knick-knacks and locals in equal measure, it’s a good place to go if you want to experience the real Havana.