So you can find Cuban bars and restaurants in Scotland’s cities, but what could be better than the real thing? The List headed to the land of mojitos and cigars, to find out what all the fuss is about. Words: Moira Jeffrey
Havana by night. It sounds like a particularly cheesy tune from the 50s. and in many ways an evening out in the Cuban capital can be quite like that: glamorous in a faded. ersatz kind of way. dated and a little fake. That famous Havana nightlife. you see. is based on a number of things that really aren‘t that cool anymore.
You‘ll have heard about the crumbling glamour of the sea-front hotels and casinos. but less about the fact that they were run by the Mafia till Castro‘s revolution booted gangster number one. Meyer Lansky. out of the country. You‘ll know that Ernest Hemingway loved Cuba for the rum and the fishing. but not perhaps about the notorious prostitution.
You‘ll have heard about the beautiful old American cars. but less about the economic limitations that mean only taxi drivers and the dollar-rich middle classes can afford fuel. In Cuba the different worlds of the tourist dollar and the Cuban peso run side by side. both by day and by night.
In other words. a night out in Havana is a complicated thing. By all means try the high life: it‘s ridiculoust glamorous and kitsch good fun. But remember it‘s beyond the reach of most ordinary Cubans. So. if you can. sample street life too. The best thing about this city is its people and you‘re more likely to meet them drinking rum on the street than sipping cocktails in a hotel.
But posh stuff first. Your evening should start sipping a mojito in the garden of the Moorish-style Hotel Nacional. This delicious white rum and fresh mint cocktail is the refreshing fuel of the well-heeled. The entertainment here is mainly watching the residents. but although you‘ll be frequently reminded that Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell are regulars
114 THE lIST )1 Sea ‘5 0(t 2000
Find a local bar for a Crystal beer, and sit back; before you know it you'll have a whole host of Cuban friends
AVA I“ A B V N IG H T
you‘re unlikely to bump into them at the bar.
As it grows dark. get a taxi into old Havana. the beautiful colonial port. This is Hemingway heaven. Have a drink in the tiled splendour of the beautiful art deco Hotel Sevilla. Or take the ancient elevator to the rooftop garden in the Ambos Mundos. For an expensive daquiri or to dine. there‘s El Floridita. the epitome of 50s glitz. For elegant slumming. go to the Bar Dos Hermanos opposite the Sierra Maestra railway station. which is a perfect mix of sleaze and literary credibility: the poet Lorca drank here.
The biggest advantage of Havana at night is its relative safety. ()ne of the few advantages of a heavily policed state is the lack of street crime. It‘s not a licence to be foolish. but it does mean that if you keep your wits about you there‘s a freedom to roam you won‘t find in other Caribbean cities.
For your more modest Havana evening you might want to start with one of the riotous games of street volleyball you‘ll find in residential neighbourhoods. Dinner should be the national dish of fried pork. fried sweet potato and yet more fried stuff in a local paladar. a one-room restaurant. Eat early or you might miss out. but leave a little room for pudding. You can then participate in the local pastime of queuing. The best queue to join on a summer‘s evening is for Coppelia. the space age ice cream bar in the Vedado district built to prove that revolution can be fun t()().
Find a local bar for at Crystal beer. and sit back: before you know it you‘ll have a whole host of Cuban friends. For dancing try La Pampa by the Parque Maceo in central Havana. a dingy no-frills venue where you‘ll hear hip hop. but as the evening wears on everyone gravitates to the best night- club in the whole city. the Malecon. The city‘s lengthy sea-front is where many Cubans promenade and party till dawn. Buy a bottle of Havana Club rum. and some cola. you‘ll be given the plastic cups.
If you‘re after gay street life head up towards Central Havana where on the sea-front opposite the Fiat garage hundreds of young men congregate while slick transvestites rule the roost. You‘ll find a talkative crowd. but remember that gay society is by no means encouraged in Cuba and as tourist. local police might not be so keen on your presence.
But rich or poor. gay or straight any night out in this city is accompanied by music. You‘ll meet solo street musicians. hear son and salsa in bars and if you check the listing guide you‘ll find local gigs. ()n the Malecon you might be lucky enough to stumble upon a local sound system. with the decks blasting soul and R&B from the facade of a rttined building. You‘ll find a young. Afro-Cuban crowd. hanging out to hear illicit US sounds. With rum in your hand and the stars overhead. you‘ll forget fancy venues and discover that. in Havana. all you need is music.
Flights to Cuba include: STA, £487 (under 26 and students only); Journey Latin America with Air France, £414; British Airways direct from Glasgow, £529.