Havana can also be (and needs to be) understood through its music: through the sounds emanating from its balconies, windows and streets, sounds, rhythms and beats which are somehow engraved in our DNA for countless generations. That's why I feel the urge to shout about the best places in the city to go for a drink, probably have something to nibble on as well, and listen to some really good music. I must stress the music bit because this is every bar on this list's main asset.
For tuning into this topic properly, I propose a musical background that will appropriately set the mood to your reading of this article. Find the song Sabanas Blancas by Gerardo Alfonso in Youtube and listen to it while you go through the next paragraphs.
I'll be recommending a handful of places in Havana that I love to go to for the great music they play and which create the perfect ambience for an enjoyable evening. All of my favourite night venues in Havana also happen to be very easy on the pocket –a real bargain for a tourist seeking authenticity without a huge price tag. Their prices reflect the fact that none of these places are touristy hotspots, so you will meet many Cuban professionals, just like you, enjoying the nightlife of their city to the full.
Although these places are all different from each other, they are all managed by Artex, a state-owned company dedicated to promoting and merchandising Cuban cultural products and services. Before the recent boom of new night clubs and evening hangouts, those run by Artex guaranteed a couple of fun nights out every weekend for me and my friends.
A trova, pop and salsa night out in El Sauce (The Willow Tree)
Of all the places I'll be mentioning here this is without a doubt my top favourite. El Sauce is a cultural centre that promotes good music no matter the kind of music it is. I love the variety of music and the adaptability of its spaces, either for a composer-cum-singer and his/her guitar or for a large band.
The food at El Sauce is mostly braised, the pork or chicken brochettes are simply divine and the perfect accompaniment to a beer. You can also choose from a variety of tasty pizzas on the menu.
To drink here I strongly recommend the beer, as this is by far, the only place of its kind in the city where you can have one for $1.00 CUC and they always serve it cold. You can also enjoy a Mojito, Cuba Libre, Cubanito or any other delicious Cuban cocktail.
El Sauce's regular line-up includes the best of Cuban trove (or trova as it's locally called) and popular music to dance to. Right now you should be jotting down the names of the performers you shouldn't miss in this place: Frank Delgado, Descemer Bueno, Kelvis Ochoa, Raul Paz or Buena Fe.
There, I have enjoyed the best music concerts by popular Cuban singers and music bands. In fact, it was there that I got to see the last two live performances of the now deceased Juan Formell with the group he founded, the legendary Van Van, a luxury I will always treasure in heart. At El Sauce I have also enjoyed the performance of Isaac Delgado, a fine Cuban composer and singer. This open-air stage (with an indoor restaurant area as well) with its welcoming outdoor layout ideal for dancing under the starts also offers one of the best opportunities for dancing in Havana.
If you happen to be in the capital on a Sunday, don't miss "La maquina de la melancolia" (nostalgia machine) matinee, running from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Every Sunday afternoon (lasting all the way until late at night) hosts Frank Delgado and Cuban actor Luis Alberto Garcia sometimes act as DJs and heat up the place.
El Sauce is a bit removed from the centre of the city, about 20 or 25 minutes by car from downtown, but it more than makes up for its distance with its sheer enjoyment factor.
Jazzing it up at Cafe Miramar
Cafe Miramar is a jazz club with a difference. It is well known amongst Cuban jazz lovers as the best jazz musicians play there: Robertico Carcasses, Aldo Lopez Gavilan, the whole Lopez-Nussa music family (Hernan, Rui, Harold, Adrian...), Yissy and her Band, Roberto Fonseca, Rolando Luna, and many more outstanding jazzists.
Cocktails are well made here. I like to sip on a Dry Martini or a Daiquiri, which perfectly blend in with the melodic jazz notes. There is also plenty to munch on: olives, cheese dices or canapes and a great variety of sandwiches.
I love the design of Cafe Miramar. It is a very wide room with a large mirror on one of its walls and a bar in front of it. There are also several tables with chairs and couches to get comfy on and get lost in the soothing atmosphere.
It's the ideal place to head to if you are staying in the Vedado or Miramar municipalities. Although it‘s not in downtown, you can still get there in 15-20 minutes if going via Malecon or 5th Avenue.
Submarino Amarillo: Rock n' Roll with an added touch of nostalgia
El Submarino Amarillo (yellow submarine) is a rock'n'roll club in a basement of the Vedado municipality.
Its name and atmosphere is inpired in the worldwide famous British band The Beatles and it's not so common to find a place so exquisitely designed in Havana, with so much care and taste in details.
The unpretentious cocktails perfectly match the colourful, lively atmosphere and you can select from any of the usual Cuban and international drinks. They also offer several nibbles to snack on.
It's open every night and presents many rock bands and Cuban singers who try to revive the rock'n'roll and pop rock from the 60's, 70's and 80's. It is a place to remember the music and underground way of life of Havana in those days.
Most bands play covers of famous songs, mostly of The Beatles, mixed with some of their own repertoire. Many rock bands of those times were not broadcasted on radio and some were even forbidden, so El Submarino Amarillo has become, for many people, the place of encounter with their long lost youth days. Yet it is not an exclusive place for those who are going grey, and that's something I'm thankful for.
I fondly and very clearly remember when I went there with some friends to try the club out for the first time and we ended up loving it. I remember I laughed heartily and sensed the magic of the place instantly. That day we enjoyed a performance from The Kents, a legendary Cuban rock band that stages a regular show here. Some other regular bands are Los Tackson and Miel con Limon.
Musical nights in Havana
|El Sauce address:||12015, 9th Ave. btween 120 St. and 130 St., Playa. / Phone: 7-204-7114|
|Jazz Cafe Miramar address:||5th Ave. and 94 St., Miramar / Phone: 7-203-7676|
|El Submarino Amarillo address:||17th St. btween 4th St. and 6th St., Vedado / Phone: 7-830-6808|
Havana is an endless place. All rhythms converge here with the sounds of drums, guitars and maracas, and the distant voices of people chattering away, singing on the street, or talking in a loud voice. If you happen to be in Havana and you're serious about music, you should head to one of these evening venues to fully immerse in the atmosphere of the places the locals go to and get in touch with Cuba's musical soul. I'm quite sure you‘ll enjoy an unforgettable night.