Bar Cafe Madrigal was one of the first bars to open in Havana when the government once again gave the greenlight to people setting up their own private bars and restaurants during the 90’s. It’s housed in a beautiful residence on 17th Street, right at the heart of the Vedado neighbourhood, and it’s one place where I have spent many a pleasant evening over the last three years.
I heard about this place a few days after it opened. The owner and manager, Rafael Rosales, works in the film-making industry like me. Shortly after its inauguration some friends and acquaintances started going on about this place, instigating me to go and check it out myself: Have you been to Rafael’s bar? Have you seen how good Madrigal is? Yesterday, we went to Madrigal to celebrate the end of the shooting of my last film, but you were not there. How come? Suddenly, it became the place to be, just because.
I went there for the first time after work, in the company of a friend. I love to make a stop on the way home, and Madrigal seemed the perfect place that day, and still does. It makes no difference if you choose the breezy terrace or one of the air-conditioned rooms inside, you can always enjoy some privacy at a time when it’s still not crowded – roughly between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Upon entering, I immediately realised why it had become the city’s most trending bar over the last few weeks: both the menu and atmosphere were engaging.
I was surprised by the unusual (by that I mean: not easily found in Cuba) bites to snack on: falafel, breaded chicken sticks and the house pie; my absolute favourite, expertly prepared with a choice of filling: veggies or ham, both perfectly arranged in excellent combination with the dough.
In regard to the decoration, I am sure that Madrigal set the standards for the bars and restaurants to come in Havana. The wall bricks exposed, furniture and crockery from the 50’s, vintage decoration, painting originals from contemporary artists… all the unique touches and special details you can nowadays find in other similar places around Havana started there. Everyone else has in some way or another copied Madrigal, it set the trend, it started it.
The atmosphere of the place does not only feed into the decoration. It goes beyond that, a sort of grace or magic that does not necessarily depend on the arrangement of carefully placed elements and furniture, or the service. It has the enchantment and vibe of a place made for nothing but sheer enjoyment and pleasure!
A short but well-assorted menu
Everything served here comes in bite-sized portions and the tapas-style menu features authentic Cuban fare like the deliciously stuffed tostones (fried plantain chunks) and the malanga fritters, as well as a variety of omelettes and sandwiches, both of which come in an unexpected variety of vegetarian options. I’ve just found I new passion for malanga fritters with honey, an addiction I can’t quite explain. I think the best way for you to understand is to come here and try them yourself. In fact, I promise to write a post dedicated to the best places in Havana to sample the tastiest malanga fritters.
The cocktail menu is equally short and sweet, with simple but popular mixes like Daiquirí, Cuba Libre, Piña Colada and other tropical favourites, and they are all prepared to the highest standards, like the exquisite Appletini. Beers are always cold (believe it or not, there are not many places in Havana where you can always find a really cold beer), and bottled, just the way I like it. To start with, I recommend a Mojito made with 3-year-old rum.
A vintage atmosphere in four different rooms
The atmosphere of Madrigal is similar to that of the Spanish bars in Madrid or Bilbao that I’ve visited, in the way they revive old styles with contemporary designs and concepts. It certainly stands out of the ordinary for its incredibly wide and spacious rooms and its very high ceilings, nearly sky-scratching .
The music is another success. It is always excellent and of good taste. Most times it is recorded and plays in the background like soundtrack of the movie of our visit. On other occasions, there is a trio of young musicians usually playing jazz. These jam sessions are not very frequent, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to catch one.
There are four different rooms, each differently arranged. The main room has a huge round table for long friendly debates and jokes; when we go in a group, we always try to snatch this one. At the back of the house/bar there is another room with sofas. This space is more intimate, offering more privacy, and my favourite when I come with a smaller group of friends to talk about the human, the divine and the supernatural in private.
In addition, there are several two-seat tables neatly arranged along the house’s main hall, creating an intimate atmosphere. The fourth room is a nice terrace for summer days, and where smoking is allowed; an excellent place to marry an Habano with an exquisite Cuban rum. My recommendation would be to enjoy a Romeo y Julieta cigar while sipping an 11-year-old Santiago rum, or pair a Cohiba Siglo III with a 7-year-old Havana Club rum.
A little background story
Rafael Rosales, just like many other Cuban entrepreneurs, decided to open the bar in his own house; the only part he didn’t use for it were the bedrooms. In this way, he gave up his intimacy, or more exactly, he shared it. He is a Cuban film-maker who has worked as assistant director in famous films like the Oscar-nominated Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate), the only Cuban film up for an Academy Award; and La Vida Es Silbar (Life Is To Whistle), among others.
The bar is named after the film Madrigal, by Fernando Perez, in which he also worked. I do not have the slightest idea why he chose this name, and I will ask him the next time we meet.
After all, this is a movie bar, concocted and envisioned by a filmmaker, and this probably best defines and explains its bohemian style. On each table you’ll find people carelessly chatting away and/or heatedly debating, and you can accidentally hear about the latest avant-garde audio-visual recommendations. Every December, during the Latin-American Film Festival of Havana, many people in the film-making industry -Cubans, Latin-Americans and international celebrities alike - drop in, and us, the regular clients, can then enjoy some memorable encounters.
Many other places I like have been opened during the last couple of years, but I always return to Madrigal, attracted by its unique charm.
Just one last question: will you?
Address: 809 17th Street between 2nd and 4th St., top floor, Vedado, La Habana / Phone: +53 7 8312433
You'll also find an Art exhibition with sale of paintings by Javier Guerra
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, from 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Type of food: Snacks and Tapas
Average price per person: Around $7.00 CUC
Dress code: Casual and Smart Casual
Reservations: You can book a table in advance, but it’s not necessary
Phone Number: +53 7 8312433