I have had Havana on my mind lately. Riding around in those amazing vintage American cars, often with Russian engines. Hanging out with the artists at El Ojo del Ciclón. Just walking the streets listening to music or having a drink in one of the legendary bars the city offers. Lots of great memories there, I guess that’s why it has been on my mind so much lately. I’ve also been craving a daiquiri and this seems like a great opportunity to kill a couple of birds with one stone, or at least scare them anyway. So, in the spirit of indulging small desires, won’t you join me now as we stand and make the Hotel Nacional Special.
Havana is a paradise for the rum loving intentional drinker. Obviously, Havana Club Rum is as plentiful as it is wonderful and it is used to great effect. Some of the finest rum drinks in the world originated right here. Whether you choose to have a Mojito at Bodeguita del Medio or to walk a little further for a classic El Floridita Daiquiri, you really can’t go wrong. Most folks would be content with stopping their tour with those two world famous classics, but don’t miss out on the third less obvious choice in Havana’s triple crown of classic drinking spots, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. This Moorish Art Deco beauty sits atop the Hill of Taganana overlooking the water on the former site of the Santa Clara Battery which defended the city since 1797. A couple of the coast guns still remain pointing in the general direction of Key West roughly 100 miles and a whole other world to the north. The grounds are beautiful and there is a lot to be said for sitting out under the trees watching the waters of the gulf while sipping on one of the classic prohibition drinks that originated here like the Mary Pickford, the Cuba Libré or this inspired riff on the classic daiquiri that bears the hotel’s name.
Grab your tins and pop in 1 1/2 ounces of Dark Rum , I went with Havana Club 7 Year; 1/4 ounce of Luxardo apricot liqueur, 1 ounce of pineapple juice, 1/2 an ounce of fresh squeezed lime juice, 1/2 an ounce of simple syrup and 2-3 drops of 18-21 Havana & Hide Bitters. Add 5 or 6 artisanal ice cubes and give it a good shake to Jon Secada’s 90’s classic, “Just Another Day”, but go with the Spanish version, so “Otro Dia Mas”. When your tins are well chilled and forming a little frost on the outside, double strain into a coupe and garnish with a slice of lime.
That’s just wonderful. You knew it would be. It’s a classic daq, with apricot and pineapple. Reminiscent of the Corsair Daquiri, but with a really lovely, lightly fruity undertone from the apricot. There is a lot of sweet going into this drink, but served ice cold, it is just the thing for a hot afternoon. If only I could look out across the gulf while I enjoyed this one in my linen suit, now that would be loverly.
At least sitting quietly on the porch drinking this, my mind lost in memory, I don’t have to worry about any albino peacocks begging for handouts. That’s the biggest issue I found with drinking at the Hotel Nacional, all the damned birds. Well, that is the biggest issue if you can overlook the abject poverty of the land you travel through in order to arrive at this monument to the former opulence of the city. It’s hard to not be aware of the privilege of our lives. I mean, if you bother to look around yourself at all. We are blessed with good fortune and there are few places I have traveled where the differences are more stark between the haves and the have nots than in old Havana. It is impossible to forget these essential truths while sitting on a chaise lounge enjoying your drink. I am hopeful that as we advance, things will begin to get better. Not just for those of us who were born lucky, but for all, because it is not really a better world, unless it is better for everyone. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.