Cuba travel should be on everyone’s bucket list – and soon – but what to do in Havana when you get there? Why not follow the carefully-researched Wandering Kiwi Havana bar crawl guide and discover which bar in Havana serves the best mojitos…
There are a couple of difficulties that arise when trying to establish which are the best bars in Havana or where to drink the best mojito in Havana.
Firstly, some of the leading lights of the western literary canon have written about drinking cocktails in this city. Secondly, the nature of a bar crawl is a barrier to the proper assessment of alcoholic drinks.
Which is why researching the Havana bar crawl was one of the first things we did after booking flights to Cuba.
My drinking partner (Mr Wandering Kiwi) and I established criteria with which to attempt this Havana nightlight challenge. A good cocktail must not taste of alcohol.
We would consider the quality of the crushed ice and the freshness of the mint. And we would rate the presentation of Cuban drinks, the service, the general ambience of the bar and the Cuban music.
The beginning of our quest was not entirely successful. Taberna Muralta, on Plaza Vieja, had run out of some vital cocktail-making ingredient. We couldn’t quite establish what it was with our limited Spanish.
Fortunately, they have great beer. There is a microbrewery right inside the taberna, which is all shiny copper vats and tubes. The band here is talented and plays the infectious and unique Cuban music.
But enough distractions, we wanted mojitos. Right across the square, the cheeky grin of the shortest double-bass player in the world drew us in to El St Angel. The violin/bass/accordion/guitar combo was playing show tunes from 50 years ago on a colonnaded terrace decorated with potted palms and flowers.
The mojito was cloudy with bruised mint and just the slightest bit sour. However, I thought it could have been better combined. Not quite all the ice had been crushed and there was a big cube floating in the middle.
The Hotel Ambos Mundos is probably now most famous for a former resident, Ernest Hemingway. This isn’t the only ‘Hemingway bar Havana’ but the view from the rooftop bar of this elegant Havana hotel is special: this beautiful city looks at once more glamorous and more neglected.
Blue plumbago and bougainvillea curl around the pillars on the Ambos Mundos roof terrace and wave in the warm breeze as the sun sets. The mojitos here are top class, with only the barest taste of rum. The musicians were on a break, sitting at the bar in their white flat caps.
Now leave the more glamorous parts of Havana behind and plunge into the back streets where the real Habaneros live and socialise. O’Reilly’s bar on O’Reilly is a great people watching spot so make sure you go up the iron spiral staircase to the upstairs bar. We leaned over the railings of the narrow balcony and watched the Habaneros cruising the street below. The cocktails were quite strong and the mint was all over the place.
Bar Bilbao gets five stars for Havana nightlife atmosphere. Inexplicably festooned with Bilbao football club paraphernalia, the drinks were good and we shared some cigars with an old-timer who was better at talking than singing.
Cafe Paris is on bustling Obispo and Ernesto the barman does a good line in mixing rum and sugar. The pizzas are also excellent.
A drink in Hemingway’s beloved Floridita bar is a must for any visitor to Havana Cuba, even though it has become a tourist trap. In any case, by this stage of the evening we were becoming less analytical of our drinks.
To finish up the evening with some old style Havana glamour, you cannot beat the bar at the Inglaterra hotel. This grand old lady has been entertaining tourists and mixing drinks in Cuba since 1875 and the Belle Epoque architecture is a spectacular combination of stained-glass, colourful mosaics and intricately moulded plasterwork. Sit back and listen to the violinist crooning the story of Havana nightlife.
There’s never been an easier time to travel to Cuba so what are you waiting for? Follow our Havana bar crawl guide and you’re guaranteed a good time. Maybe, unlike us, you’ll actually establish which bar serves the best mojito in Havana…
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you had a mojito in Cuba? What would you add to my bar crawl guide to Havana? If you like this post why not pin it for future reference?