What makes a secret bar secret? How does one know the number of secret bars in Havana or which one of them is newest? The answers to these questions are unknowable — the only thing I can say is that about 2 years ago I struck up an acquaintance with the owner-manager of Bar Roma, and when Roma became the trendiest underground bar in the city, suddenly I knew someone at the center of a fringy but very talked about new nightlife scene in Havana.
After Roma imploded spectacularly, I heard that and this bar owner acquaintance had started something new, but I hadn’t seen it or been able to go — I didn’t even have an address, but I knew which area of Old Havana it was in, so I figured on my last visit I would try to check it out. Lucky for me, after lunch on Monserrate at Venami Pastas y Pizzas, I was walking down the sidewalk when this very bar owner acquaintance rolled up to me on a moto to say hello. He gave me the address and told me it didn’t open until 11 — anytime after that he would be there. I scribbled it down the in a notebook and resolved to go the next day.
The next day, I went by in the middle of the day. The address seemed to be a locked door with no signage. A drunk man across the street wanted to talk about how he could help me find the bar, or do anything else, so I took off. The next day, late in the afternoon, I repeated this, and was met with the same drunk man, who’s mood had only soured, who stared at me with contempt as I checked the door again, and again it was locked.
Late that night I returned, a bit skeptical, to realize that when you’re a secret bar, part of the idea is to make it hard to find, not be open very much, and not let anyone in that you don’t want to be there. Luckily I told the doorman that I knew the owner and walked into a uniformly dim room that was essentially just a pair of very clean, relatively empty windowless spaces. As was the case with Roma, the music selection and sound was good, the drinks were good, and crowd was a discrete mix of alternative but put together locals and a smattering of foreigners all wondering what the place is.
The staff included some of the same faces from Roma, who could be described as “young beautiful Cubans not giving a shit.”
What’s nice about the bar is that it provides a place to go other than the seedy clubs of Playa late at night. It’s one of the first places that is open late (3 or 4 am) that doesn’t cater to the weirdness of “first stage” Cuban tourism, (aka sex tourism). It’s similar to Roma, though it doesn’t have the view, but it feels way better than being at a hotel bar, or a ritzy spot in Miramar where old men hang out with women that are too young for them. It’s the start of a new thing, and that’s a good thing.
Address: #209 Aguiar between Empedrado and Tejadillo in Old Havana
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