The Absolute Best Bars in Havana, Cuba
You want to go to Cuba. Our editors have been to Cuba. And they'll tell you everything you need to know, right here in The Havana Club.
In Cuba, you'll be hard-pressed to find a craft cocktail or an extensive beer hall with a ton of taps. For various reasons (like 50 years of austerity, etc., etc.), Cuban drinking culture hasn't evolved much beyond classic mojitos, daiquiris, and Cuba Libres (all made with Havana Club rum, of course), and there are only two types of beer: light Cristal and dark Bucanero. But when you party in Havana, what you're drinking is always secondary to where you're drinking.
Since going out with the express purpose of consuming alcoholic beverages is basically a foreign concept to Cubans, "bars," such as these 11, are either small clubs with live music or tapas bars where you can talk. Either way, when 11:30pm hits, everyone will be dancing.
There's a little more attitude at this chic and contemporary suburban house bar than some of the other, more quirky places on this list, but the gorgeous green-treed backyard makes even an ounce of pretension totally reasonable. Cuban drink staples abound, but you also might be able to find some international imports if you're willing to pay.
Located in a defunct oil factory, FAC is a prime example of the Cuban government's dedication to arts and culture. The multi-floored, government-sponsored space -- which is part art gallery, part DJ dance club, part concert hall, and part film/performance theater -- is giant, with enough outdoor areas and bars to satisfy the hundreds of hipsters who wait in line for an hour to get in every weekend.
The intrigue here is almost 100% the interior decorations. Vintage typewriters, sewing machines, cameras, radios, and even a toilet clutter the space, and tables are made from old cars and other assorted house parts. Imbibing here will make you feel like you're back home, if your home is your hoarder grandmother's basement.
La Habana Vieja
With only four small wood tables and a few barstools, plus El Chanchullero's reputation as the premier hip hole-in-the-wall, don't be surprised if you have to wait a little while before enjoying a first-rate mojito and the shrimp enchiladas. The graffitied interior makes it feel a little divey, but that's exactly what a detour off the threaded tourist path should entail.
The name is one of the best-known for live music, and there are two locales -- one in Miramar and one in Centro (though the former is probably the one you want). All kinds of music is featured here -- from big famous bands to Reggaeton to even occasionally electronica -- but be sure to know who's playing, lest you stumble in on an off night and find the place brimming with old men and sex workers. The party starts around 11pm!
Head up to talk, go down to dance, and anticipate heavy pours and hordes of fancy people.
Young Cubans don't necessarily subscribe to the Buena Vista Social Club vibe of yore, but that doesn't mean they don't like to dance. Find the youths at this subterranean concert bar, listening and dancing to up-and-coming Cuban musicians, and actively embracing contemporary fusion music.
Run by Rafael Rosales -- a celebrated Cuban movie director -- out of an old pink-colored and white-columned Colonial from 1919, this quirky cocktail and tapas spot is equally popular with curious internationals as it is with locals looking to sip a quiet Cuba Libre.
The American trade embargo that happened in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis effectively led to a Cuba-wide Beatles ban for close to two decades. This means that a campy Beatles-themed bar (ironically now owned and operated by the Culture Ministry) to Americans is actually a welcome place to make up lost time for Cubans. Expect cheap cover, rock music, and heavy Beatles nostalgia.
This city has an established and welcoming gay scene, and this isn't more apparent than in Havana's very first openly gay bar. What it lacks in physical space it makes up for in huge personality -- drag shows, karaoke, and elaborate cocktails perfectly complement the colorful and open-minded crowd.
La Habana Vieja
No Havana bar list is complete without the self-proclaimed "cradle of the daiquiri." Hemingway's old haunt is mad touristy, but it truly is a special place worth checking out.
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Carrie Dennis is National Food and Drink Editor for Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @CarrrieDennnis.