Go into the foyer of the impressive Bacardi building (it is now used as offices) in Old Havana and ask for the bar. The lift operator will take you up in his ancient contraption to a perfectly preserved art deco masterpiece.
Old wood and the bat symbol is everywhere. The only drink available was a perfect mojito ($2) when I was there (1999), but who cares? Not one single other tourist, just some staff from the building who had finished for the day.
I was stuck for two hours during an horrendous thunderstorm, it was great. Beats a week slobbing in Varadero any day.
Bacardi building, old Havana
In the country that invented three classic rum-based cocktails (the mojito, daiquiri and cuba libre) it’s no surprise that you can get one in every bar in town. The bars of the city’s many historic grand old hotels are the best places for a pre-dinner sundowner (but eat in a paladar rather than the hotels — the food is rank).
Some of the best are the elegant garden at the Nacional and the rooftop bars of the Moorish-style Sevilla (the setting for Our Man in Havana) and Ambos Mundos (where Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls). The two more famous Hemingway haunts (Floridita and La Bodeguita) are just tourist traps these days.
This is the sea wall around Havana, and a fantastic place to cool off after a hot day. You can sit in the night's cool air, feel the sea breeze and enjoy the local rum.
It's also a great place to meet and talk with the locals.
Forget the Tropicana - if you want the most authentic Cuban music experience in Havana go to the Casa de la Musica. This is where the Cubans come to go out. Arrive early, get a table, get a bottle of rum and then watch the place erupt as the tables are thrown aside and the salsa begins.
Casa de la Música “Miramar”.
Avenida 35 esq. a 20, Miramar
In the dodgy back street bars of Centro Havana, you can get two types of bottled beers. Unless, that is, they have the dispensada machine in for the night (basically a machine which serves draught beer in glasses). Not only is it way cheaper than the bottles, it's much nicer and you always get all the locals in for the night, until the machine runs out of beer. Next night, it will be in another bar - just ask where it is for the evening and you'll get pointed in the right direction. You'll probably see the same bunch of locals as the night before - good for striking up a few local friendships...
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