Havana can be enjoyed to the tunes of salsa or trova; it can have the flavours of the most traditional local dish or the more familiar taste of international cuisine; it can get you caught up you in the Malecon’s salty breeze or in the swing of a lively music joint. It can, in short, keep you constantly on the move.
Not long ago I met up with two girlfriends and the three of us decided to make the most of the afternoon and see where it would take us. A vintage cafe or a futuristic pub?. In this post I will share our route, which include the three main districts of Havana: Old Havana, Playa and Vedado.
A vintage cafe in Playa
The Cuban capital has plenty of appeal for those who simply seek a quiet place for a friendly chat, ideal for meeting and catching up with friends to relive fun anecdotes, talk about new projects, make business meetings or just have a laugh.
One of us suggested a visit to the Cafe Fortuna Joe in the residential neighbourhood of Miramar, where numerous new bars and cafes have popped up recently, most of these conceived to provide atmospheric chatting and chilling out space. I liked the idea because I had been there before and it worked its charm on me with its vintage style, its peculiar decor with old sewing machines and old cars converted into tables; all encapsulated within walls lined with old typewriters, telephones, cameras and black and white photographs.
“Why don’t we go the Fabrica de Arte Cubano instead?”
My other friend quickly proposed, excited with the idea of enjoying a live trova concert. To further sway us in that direction she threw in the fact that as a bonus they were launching a new photograph exhibition there that looked interesting.
FAC, a shortened version of its long name by which most people call it; has recently become the recurring destinations for those who want to enjoy Cuban contemporary art and music from a fresh perspective. In its different halls (locally called “naves”) this former oil factory exhibits art collections, hosts dancing and music performances as well as fashion shows and theatre plays. But at the end, we decided we wanted something local and fresh to rock Havana.
The Beatles in Vedado!
I, an unconditional fan of English pop-rock especially Beatles’, said:
“What about leaving FAC for later on at night and stopping by El Submarino first?”
Ever since its opening a few years back, El Submarino Amarillo has been the favourite haunt of Cuban Beatlemaniacs, but has also become a hotspot for lovers of old school rock and “vintage” music. This cultural centre at the heart of downtown Havana, in the popular and centric Vedado municipality; combines great (and fairly priced) international and Cuban cocktails with the guitar strumming of “Penny Lane”, the diversity of rhythms in “Sympathy for the Devil” or the catchy chorus in “I was made for loving you”.
El Submarino’s charms seduced me right from the first time I first set foot in this peculiar basement, both for its music (whether live or recorded) but also for its design: lit-up Beatles’ record covers in the bar, colourful walls displaying lyrics fragments from popular Beatles songs, all the way down to the hatches on the walls recreating the British band’s famous hit “Yellow Submarine” which this venue is named after.
To top it all off, just across the street you can sit in a bench right next to John Lennon himself, sculpted in bronze to full-scale real size, and calmly posing for every selfie that comes his way.
Beer, the old-fashioned way in Old Havana
We ended up in Plaza Vieja (Old Square) in the city’s historic centre, knocking down a few beers at La Casa de la Cerveza (The House of Beer). But before we got there, you can climb up to the Dark Chamber (Camara Oscura) in same square, the only one of its kind in the island. From its periscope, which stands nearly 40 metres above ground level, you will have fun spying up on places and people, thanks to the peculiar optical mechanism consisting of strategically placed mirrors, supposedly inspired in one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s great strokes of genius.
On our way out we headed down to the Casa, where you can enjoy freshly brewed beer made in-house. Whether you love your lager or only have it on occasions, here you can choose from pale ales to dark stouts or porters, and pair them with a bite or two. There’s a tasty selection of pizzas and hamburgers to choose from and they always say you should eat when you drink, or else you risk babbling nonsense.
It was getting dark when we left and leisurely started our stroll in the Malecon. At the Amphitheater, in Old Havana, a Cuban version of a Broadway musical was being performed, but we had already talked enough and we really wanted to dance. And there is nothing like a night in Havana to do that.