As cocktails go, the mojito is fairly simple to make. You muddle (mash with a pestle to release the oils and aromas) a few sprigs of fresh mint in a glass, add a tablespoon of cane sugar, tablespoon of lime juice, add a jigger of white rum and top off with sparkling water. Salud!
It’s a refreshing tipple on a hot day, and in La Habana Viejo, or Havana’s Old Town, it’s almost always a hot and humid day. Which is why famous Habaneros like ex-pat Ernest Hemingway loved to pound them down after a long day writing, or fishing, or carousing, or whatever Papa did during the day.
Along with the daiquiri and the Cuba Libre, the mojito has become Cuba’s signature cocktail. Tourists crowd the famous old watering holes at El Floridita and Bodeguita del Medio, where Hem liked to drink, to order up one of the famed trio and soak in the atmosphere. That can be fun, but there are some other bars in Old Town where the clientele is less touristy, the drinks just as good and the music goes on til the wee small hours.
La Bodeguita del Medio
Hemingway supposedly said he went to El Floridita for daiquiris and La Bodeguita for mojitos. The hard-working bartenders at this crowded storefront bar serve between 600 and 800 mojitos a day in assembly line fashion.
Still, there is a sense of history in the place. The walls are covered with scrawled graffiti of all kinds and in all languages. It is rumored that Cuban revolutionaries would leave notes for each other amid the signatures and aphorisms. You can lean up against the old wooden bar or take one of the rickety metal tables and soak in the scene.
Yes, it’s touristy. But it’s also historic.And there is often live music, especially at night.
Address: Empedrado No 207
Paladar La Fontana
Unlike La Bodeguita, this owner-run restaurant and bar is open, spacious, airy and green. It’s located in the upscale Miramar district, where most of the foreign embassies are located, and its clientele is also well-heeled.
But the mojitos served up at the bar are noteworthy. The bartender uses yerba buena instead of mint, which adds a citrus note to the mixture and, when they can get it, a dash of Angostura bitters as well.
Untraditional, yes. But also quite delicious.
Address: Avenue 3A No 305
You have to do some searching for this place, making your way through the massive marbled entrance hall that’s seen better days and up the broad staircase to the top floor apartment which houses one of the oldest private restaurants in the city. The film Strawberry and Chocolate was filmed here in 1993 and the restaurant followed a few years after,
The place looks like a movie set with crystal chandeliers, worn linen tablecloths, mismatched chairs and narrow etched glass windows.
The food here is good, by the way, but the mojitos are magnificent and when paired with a private-label Cuban cigar, you may never want to leave.
Address: 418 Concordia
Just a couple of doors down the street from Hemingway’s favorite daiquiri bar El Floridita (and therefore quite a bit cheaper!), the Monserrate offers high ceilings, dark wood paneling, live music and an excellent bar.
Pictures on the walls pay homage to some of the great Cuban musicians of old, including Benny More, Ignacio Villa, Joseito Fernandez and the group Los Compadres.
Locals like this place as much as the tourists do, so the crowd is always interesting.
Address: Avenue de Belgica No 401
Cafe del Oriente
Located on the Plaza de San Francisco, just off the busy Obispo, this is one of Havana’s most upscale restaurants, with its dark woody interior, linen tablecloths and tuxedoed waiters. Yes, it’s also pricey.
The bar here is marble topped and brass railed, but the service is excellent and the mojitos are wonderful. If you can, take your drinks outside and enjoy the humid warmth. Or stay inside and enjoy the cafe’s pianist, who plays the traditional and elaborate Cuban favorites.
Address: 112 Oficios
Lluvia de Oro
A convenient stop-in on busy Obispo, but the atmosphere is a little bright in this one large room with big windows on one wall.
Still, the drinks are good and the bartenders friendly, which goes a long way.
Address: Obispo 316
The Terrace Bar in this famous hotel on the Parque Central is a great place for people watching. Your mojito will go down smoothly after a long day of sightseeing and shopping, or before heading out for dinner or some clubbing.
One of the oldest hotels in Cuba, this Neoclassical structure was the favorite hotel of Sir Winston Churchill when he came to Cuba in 1895 to observe the Cuban war of independence from Spain in 1895.
The Terrace features comfortable seating in the open air patio, with great views of the busy sidewalks below.
Address: 416 Paseo del Prado Ave. No 416
Small, intimate, just off the main Obispo shopping street, this is a great place to duck in for a quick beer or refreshing mojito in the afternoon. At night, the house band, a tight group, plays until early morning for an appreciative crowd of locals and some tourists.
Nothing fancy here, and certainly nothing French, but it’s a friendly little bar.
Address: Calle San Ignacio 22
Bar Dos Hermanos
This was once a workingman’s bar, located down by the docks. Past patrons, in addition to Hemingway, included the poet Frederico Garcia Lorca, Marlon Brando and Errol Flynn. It’s one of the oldest bars in town, opened in 1894 by two brothers (the dos hermanos) from Leon.
The long narrow bar is evocative of those old times, even if more tourists than sailors are now the clientele. But the drinks are reasonably priced and the bartenders know how to muddle up a mojito to remember.
Address: San Pedro No 304