Secrets to Drinking Like You're in Havana
I'm not saying I went to Cuba. But if I had gone, I probably would have spent most of the time eating lots of grilled lobster (the stripey Caribbean kind, not the red Maine kind) in paladares (restaurants run out of magnificent family homes) and over-consuming exceptional rum-based cocktails. As the birthplace of the mojito and the spot where Ernest Hemingway popularized the Papa Doble (a double frozen daiquiri), Havana would inspire any non-heretics to drink copious amounts of each. Again, I'm not saying that I went there, but if I had, these would probably have been my most memorable brushes with alcohol.
Mojito at the Hotel Nacional
Guests following in Frank Sinatra and Lucky Luciano’s footsteps stay at the Hotel Nacional. On a hill at the edge of the Vedado neighborhood, the old-school hotel has multiple great bars. The movie-set-ready patio bar is filled with customers lounging on wicker couches smoking cigars and drinking Cuba's signature: the mojito. Here, it's made with a heaping tablespoon of sugar, lightly muddled mint (the leaves are still recognizable, not pulverized like they are at some bars), white Havana Club rum, fresh lime juice and just a spritz of soda water. The most important part of a Cuban mojito is the straw. The hotel uses granulated sugar instead of simple syrup, leaving it up to the drinker to stir the sweetener into the cocktail as they sip.
Frozen Mojito at Doña Eutimia
At the end of a small, dead-end alley off of the Plaza de la Cathedral is this little bustling paladar serving homey, Cuban dishes like garlicky octopus and soupy black beans. Also on the menu: vibrantly green frozen mojitos. Made with fresh mint and lots of lime juice, the curvy goblets of spiked slush are mindbendingly perfect for a sticky summer night. If I had gone there and tasted one, I would currently be in the market for a blender just to make them at home.
Coconut with Rum on the Beach
The white sand beaches just 40 minutes east of Havana are idyllic. Lined with pine trees, they feature amazingly clear, green-blue water that is the perfect temperature—refreshing but not cold. After a long float, the best way to keep up the mellow feeling is a fresh coconut that is cracked open, topped off with white rum and served with a straw: warm, sweet, very boozy and the perfect beach drink.
7-Year Rum at the Museum de Ron
Havana's rum museum sells Havana Club's Maximo in a hand-blown, made-to-order bottle for $1,700. Mortal tourists can try Havana Club's 7-year rum, which better recalls really good cognac than a classic, molassesy Caribbean rum.
Frozen Daiquiri at Madrigal
Any visit to Havana must include a stop at La Floridita—the legendary bar where Ernest Hemingway is said to have sucked down 16 double frozen daiquiris in one sitting. There's a bronze statue of the smiling, bearded writer there, where daiquiris are well made if over-priced. But it's not the best frozen daiquiri in Havana. The best is found at Madrigal, a bar in filmmaker Rafael Rosales’s house. Unfortunately, the picturesque balcony there fills up quickly, but even served at a small table near the door, underneath a slowly rotating ceiling fan, it's softly-textured, like a citrusy pile of rum-spiked snow.
Hypothetically, if one wants to take a break from sugary rum drinks, the go-to is a can or bottle of Cristal, one of the two most popular brands of local beers (the other being Bucanero). Cristal is the lighter option. It's ultra-crisp with little to no hoppiness. Essentially, it's the anti-craft beer and on a sweltering Havana day, it would be the best respite.