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Where to Drink in Havana Before It Becomes Margaritaville: Cigars and daiquiris at El Floridita, May 1997

Cigars and daiquiris at El Floridita, May 1997


Where to Drink in Havana Before It Becomes Margaritaville

Charles Joly made a name for himself in the rarefied world of molecular mixology at the Aviary in Chicago and now consults for some of the world’s top bars and spirits companies. But sometimes even the most highly skilled bartenders just want a damned fine daiquiri on a hot day. The well-traveled Joly counts Havana as a necessary pilgrimage for any serious barman. With travel restrictions loosening and development on the rise, it’s only a matter of time before the magic of Cuba’s transitional moment has passed. Here are Joly’s notes on where to drink in Havana right now.

Obispo No. 557 esq. a Monserrate
“Arguably the most famous bar in Cuba, El Floridita was a haunt for celebrities during Prohibition and the place where Hemingway preferred to drink his daiquiris. Today it is home to legendary Cuban bartender Constantino. Tourist buses come and go, so post up at the bar instead of slurping down a daiquiri and moving on. Once the bartenders recognize you’re not just a flashbulb tourist, things warm up. This is the ‘cradle of the daiquiri,’ so let the barkeeps do their thing. The daiquiris are blended, as they have been for years, and go down easy. Order up a mulata (essentially a daiquiri with dark rum and coffee liqueur).”

Calle 21 y O
“The Hotel Nacional drips with history. Don’t expect a slick, modern hotel but rather savor what has been preserved and restored over the past century until the multinationals inevitably start building in town. This location gave birth to several classic drinks: Try the namesake Hotel Nacional (rum, pineapple juice, apricot liqueur and lime juice) or a Mary Pickford (rum, pineapple juice, grenadine and maraschino liqueur). Then head out to the lawn and grab a table next to the 19th century coastal cannons, relics that still stand guard over the bay.”

Avenida del Puerto No. 304
“One of the oldest bars in town, Dos Hermanos was another hot spot during Cuba’s heyday. Wander to the nearby craft market in a port warehouse for Cuban mementos. A light breeze drifts through the open doors. Enjoy the live music and order a good old Cuba libre: simply rum, Coke and lime juice.”

Empedrado No. 207
“Pick up the literary theme again and head to this spot favored by Pablo Neruda and Gabriel García Márquez. This is one place where the bartenders will never complain about the extra work of muddling up a fresh cocktail. It can be tourist heavy at times, so claim a spot, wait for the wave to subside and start working on your next novel.”