By Lauren García
Lauren grew up in Havana. She is a Cuban Art Historian, one of our clients’ most beloved Havana arts & culture guides, a rock guitarist, huge baking enthusiast and photographer.
Looking for Nightlife in Havana, Cuba
Havana’s nightlife is definitely one of a kind. From live music to jazz clubs, salsa dancing or discos, Havana has it covered for you. People often ask me where we young Cubans go to enjoy our nightlife in La Habana, so I created this Havana nightlife guide. Of course Cosmopolitours clients never have to ask this because we just take you to the right place on the right night. So if you want to go to the best bars and nightclubs in Havana, contact us for a free consultation to discuss planning your personalized trip to Cuba. (You might even end-up talking to me!)
Havana Nightlife, Bars & the Best Clubs in Havana
Many visitors to Cuba expect that we have only an upscale salsa dance culture. While it’s true that Cuban salsa music is the best salsa music there is (though my Cosmopolitours teammates from Colombia think theirs is better, they are just wrong – sorry not sorry) although salsa remains an important part of Cuban culture and society, Cuba’s musical diversity comes from a variety of musical styles unique to our island. Anyone can discover a particular sound they like and maybe fall in love with it depending on your taste. If you are a jazz club lover, live music enthusiast or a salsa dancing machine, you will find a Havana nightclub that will delight you.
As for different nightlife neighborhoods of the city, there are many interesting zones with live music. For tradition and great atmosphere go to Old Havana, using as a reference Cosmopolitours’ nightlife walking tour that I and others on our Havana team create and maintain. Another part of Havana nightlife territory is El Vedado, the neighborhood where you can encounter some of the city’s best nightclubs.
In this story I am going to focus on my favorite live music venues. I’m going to share where I go, when and why.
What is a Famous Club in Havana?
Nowadays the answer to this question will be Fábrica de Arte Cubano or as we sometimes say for short, La FAC. As mentioned in countless international media articles, this former cooking oil factory was transformed into a vibrant center for visual arts and one of Havana’s best live music venues by the famous Cuban musician and artist X Alfonso. La FAC is a very unique night spot because within its compound you can explore a live music space, an art and photography gallery, a theater, a restaurant, and small cocktail bars are all over the place. Two floors have DJs playing records all night (from Thursday to Sunday, from 8pm until 2am). Add to that it is located right next door to El Cocinero, a super nice and popular restaurant where Ana de Armas celebrated her 35th birthday on her last trip to Cuba.
For those who don’t want to feel restricted to just dancing you are welcome to roam other areas, or Naves as they are called, including art and photography galleries, live theater/cinema and fully-stocked bars to guarantee one of the best nightlife experiences in Havana. Also, don’t miss the VIP room, a must for being the meeting point of Havana’s top celebrities and artists, but not only that, it also has THE BEST view for the live concerts. Fun fact? Our clients always have access to it.
It is recommended to arrive early as it is a very popular place for people of all ages. In terms of dress code, the philosophy here is “come as you are”, feel free and have a fun night in one of the most famous Havana nightlife spots.
My favorite night for Fabrica de Arte Cubano is Sundays because there’s always fun to be had there when other places in the city are closed. Of course, I have been many other nights if they have a special art opening or DJ session, so for sure check their Facebook page for events while you are visiting Havana.
Live Cuban Salsa Music Club in Havana
PRO TIP: There are two venues called Casa de la Música in Havana. The one I prefer is Casa de la Música de Miramar. The other Casa de la Música is in Centro Habana on Galiano Street, which is a completely different place that I sometimes don’t like so much.
I like Casa de la Música de Miramar because it is the spot to see Cuba’s leading live salsa bands and Reggaetoneros (If you are not familiar with this term just know Reggaetoneros are as popular in Cuba as hip hop stars in America, they play Reggaeton music, which is catchy, rhythmic and very, very popular all over Cuba).
In Casa de la Musica the bands play on a large concert stage in front of a spacious dance floor that is surrounded by tables and chairs. Like nightclubs anywhere, the way to score a good table is to tip the floor host and order bottle service. Unlike clubs elsewhere in the world, a good tip is $20 bucks, and a bottle of the three years-old Havana Club rum (the best rum for mixed drinks) with ice bucket and cans of cola or lemon-lime mixers is usually $30 dollars. If you are looking to dance salsa music with Cubans (or just observe us dancing), this is one of the best spots you can find.
My favorite night to drop-by here with friends is Monday nights because you can sometimes catch some of the biggest names in Cuban music playing here unannounced as they prepare to tour. Also, Monday night is the dead night in Havana, and Casa de la Música is one of the few places open.
This place is my jam!
El Bertolt, as we call it, is a literally underground nightclub below the Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center which adjoins the famous Reform Jewish Synagogue at the corner of 13th & I Streets in El Vedado. Entry is sometimes only $1 Dollar.
El Bertolt has a lounge area with a vintage 1950’s era jet-age style bar and doors leading into a small theater where up & coming Cuban Contemporary Musical Artists perform top-flight music. Still, it is a place for artistic experimentation and open to new performers. In fact, if you know how to play an instrument chances are you can share the scenario with the band and have a nice and fun music solo.
This is the go-to fave for University of Havana students of all fields of study, so it is a good place where you might strike up an interesting conversation with students looking to practice their English. I once took some clients of ours who are top administrators from NYU to El Bertolt where they spent the night in the lounge area happily drinking beer and chatting with a group of grad students from the University of Havana’s School of Pedagogy.
My favorite night to go to El Bertolt is Friday because it’s when the University students finish their weekly studies and go out to have a good time.
Old Havana Nightlife
OK I can picture you rolling your eyes and telling me, “But Lauren, El Floridita is one of the biggest tourist traps in all of Old Havana! I want to experience the real Havana nightlife.” Please hear me out brothers and sisters, I would never steer you wrong…
It is true that El Floridita in Old Havana is a bar listed in every tourist guidebook of Havana. It was commonly visited by Ernest Hemingway, and it is known for being the birthplace of the Daiquiri cocktail, bla bla bla,,,. Whatever. Look past that – literally.
Push past the crowd of tourists struggling to take their photo with the bust of Hemingway, take a seat at one of the tables along the far wall, and then look around at the perfectly preserved 1940’s era regency style nightclub until you spot the small formal combo of live musicians in the corner. Take a deep relaxing yoga breath. You have been transported back in time.
El Floridita is one of the only places where you can experience the real Havana nightlife… of the 1940’s and 50’s! Order a Daiquiri (I take mine Papa Hemingway style – no added sugar), maybe get some croquetas or other snack, and just take it all in. This is not staged kitsch. Feel the history.
The truth that the tourist books don’t tell you is that back in the day, Hemingway was one of the least famous people to go to La Floridita. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall sat in maybe the same exact spot as you are in, and enjoyed a very similar live combo. Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Kings and Queens, Dictators and Mafiosos, everybody who was somebody loved El Floridita. And now you can too.
My favorite nights to go to El Floridita are Tuesdays and Wednesdays around 6:00 pm – what you might call happy hour time. On those nights it is not so crowded, and at this time many tourists have gone to their hotels after a long day walking the Plazas of La Habana Vieja.
Didn’t I promise I would never steer you wrong? You don’t have to apologize for doubting me, just know that the selfie-seekers nearby the Hemingway statue are missing the real experience.
This place is exceptional. For sure the most talked about rooftop terrace in Havana right now. For being such a recently opened spot its popularity has risen considerably to the point that highly respected and sought after Cuban bands such as the iconic Sintesis (the kings of fusion music in the island) or younger generations’ hot new producers like Pauzas guarantee having a show at this spot on San Isidro street. With an art gallery on the bottom floor and surrounded by graffiti, the allure of this place doesn’t just stop here. San Isidro street holds one of the most legendary stories in Old Havana as it was the main territory and deathbed of mythical pimp Alberto Yarini, a highly significant character in Old Havana’s lore and identity.
Not only you will find good live music here but also great food and a wide variety of beautifully presented cocktails for all tastes, all surrounded by a truly captivating view of Wonder City La Habana. If I were you I wouldn’t miss this place.
Cuban Jazz Clubs in Havana
Cuban jazz is renowned for its excellence. This upscale spot is a must for jazz club lovers who want to enjoy great music with an enviable ocean view. Located on the top floor of Galerias de Paseo mall in Vedado right in front of El Malecón. in the heart of El Vedado. Entry and Jazz Café is comparatively costly by Cuban standards, so for us this place is a special night out.
My favorite night to go to Jazz Café is Saturday night because that’s when they present the best musicians. It ‘s also like a refreshing oasis of calm in contrast to Havana’s Saturday Night Fever.
La Zorra y El Cuervo is a legendary Havana Jazz Club in a private basement lounge with dim lights and low ceilings where visitors can experience live performances of leading Cuban Jazz artists up-close and personal. It can get smoky, it can get hot and sweaty, it can get too crowded, but I once personally have seen the legendary Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdéz perform here to a room of about 40 people.
My favorite night for La Zorra y El Cuervo is Wednesday because that is open-mic night and you never know which living legends may drop-in to play.
Cuban Rock & Roll Live in Havana
Want to hear some Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith á lo Cubano? This is your place. This yellow corner that you will spot from two blocks away when you’re nearby is a little jewel for rock & roll lovers. I grew up listening to rock & roll music. My mom would play it all the time and sometimes she would even sing some AC/DC to me as a lullaby, literally. So you can be sure that my ear is trained when it comes to detecting good rock music, which you will find once you pass the bright yellow doors.
The bands that play the song covers here can be really awesome. You might feel the original Stairway to Heaven is being played right in front of you if you close your eyes and feel the music. And I’m not saying it because my friend is the lead vocalist of one of the best rock & roll groups in Submarino Amarillo and in Havana (they have a matinee every Saturday in the evening, wink). It is also a good place to get to see the local die-hard rock & roll fans sing all the classics at the top of their lungs, which can be a fun and interesting experience as many people won’t expect that Cuba has such an active rock & roll scene and culture.
The drinks are actually cheap, and what the place lacks in square meters, it compensates with good vibes, cool long-haired talented musicians and the opportunity to enjoy a rock concert in the heart of Havana.
Plus Info: If you walk to the park right next to the place you’ll find John Lennon sitting on a bench and you can let him know what it was like to visit the Yellow Submarine.
Bonus Little Jewel
I needed to make a special mention for this place because it combines a few interesting things that got my attention since the first time. To begin with, it is located in a small boutique hotel in Vedado called Claxon. This place is a delight to see: a traditional early 20th Century Havana’s house, beautifully decorated following the theme of Classic Cars. So for the fans of these vintage racing machines this can feel like paradise. Once you get inside, you go up to a rooftop where you find Fangio Havana, known as The place that has it all in the heart of El Vedado. Here you will have a nice restaurant, exclusive mixology and a space for musicians and artists to perform in a private and chic environment. Here, the visitors can enjoy of an attractive array of musical options, from intense jazz sessions with big big names like Ernán López Nussa to fun dancy nights with the charismatic Alain Pérez. So I would definitely try it. I think this place is a guaranteed success!