Havana National Hotel's Pub
The Hotel Nacional de Cuba is an historic luxury hotel located on the Malecón in the middle of Vedado, Havana, Cuba. It stands on Taganana hill a few meters from the sea, and offers a view of Havana Harbor, the seawall and the city.
The New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White designed the hotel, which features a mix of styles. It opened in 1930, when Cuba was a prime travel destination for Americans, long before the United States embargo against Cuba. In its 80+ years of existence, the hotel has had many important guests.
The hotel was built on the site of the Santa Clara Battery, which dates back to 1797. Part of the battery has been preserved in the hotel's gardens, including two large coastal guns dating from the late 19th Century. There is also a small museum there featuring the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. During the crisis, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara set up their headquarters there to prepare the defense of Havana from aerial attack.
The Hotel Nacional de Cuba is a World Heritage Site and a National Monument, and it was inscribed in the World Memory Register.
Among its first illustrious guests were artists, actors, athletes and writers such as Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Keaton, Jorge Negrete, Agustín Lara,Rocky Marciano, Tyrone Power, Rómulo Gallegos, Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando and Ernest Hemingway. The hotel's reputation is backed by patrons such as Winston Churchill, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, scientist Alexander Flemming, and innumerable Ibero-American Heads of State and European monarchs. Minnesota (United States) Governor Jesse Ventura stayed at the hotel while visiting Cuba on a trade mission in 2002.
In 1933, after Fulgencio Batista's 4 September 1933 coup against the transitional government, it was the residence of Sumner Welles, a special envoy sent by U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to mediate the crisis, and was the site of a bloody siege that pitted the officers of the Cuban army, who had been instrumental in the overthrow of Gerardo Machado (August 12. 1933), against the non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the Cuban army, who supported Batista.
In December 1946 it hosted an infamous mob summit run by Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky and attended by Santo Trafficante, Jr., Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese and many others. Francis Ford Coppola memorably dramatised the conference in his film The Godfather Part II.
By 1955, Lansky had managed to persuade Batista to give him a piece of the Nacional. That same year Pan Am's Intercontinental Hotels Corporation took over management of the hotel. Lansky planned to take a wing of the 10-storey hotel and create luxury suites for high stakes players. Batista endorsed Lansky's idea even though there were objections from American expatriates such as Ernest Hemingway. Under Lansky's impetus, a wing of the grand entrance hall was refurbished to include a bar, a restaurant, a showroom and a luxurious casino. It was operated by Lansky and his brother Jake, with Wilbur Clark as the front man.
In 1956, singer Nat King Cole was contracted to perform in Cuba and wanted to stay at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Havana, but was not allowed to because he was black. Cole honored his contract, and the concert at the Tropicana was a huge success. The following year, he returned to Cuba for another concert, singing many songs in Spanish. There is now a tribute to him in the form of a bust and a jukebox in the Hotel Nacional.
The new wing of the elegant hotel, consisting of Clark's famous Casino Internacional, the adjoining Starlight Terrace Bar, and the Casino Parisién night club (home of the Famous Dancing Waters), opened for business in January 1956 with a show byEartha Kitt. The casino and clubs were an immediate success. According to an unpublished article sent to Cuban Information Archives around 1956-57, "The bar was tended by local bartenders, and the casino managed by gentlemen from Las Vegas." By the spring of 1957 the casino, sublet by the hotel for a substantial rent to Lansky, was bringing in as much cash as the biggest casinos in Las Vegas.
Fidel Castro closed the casino in October 1960, almost two years after his overthrow of Batista. After years of neglect due to the disappearance of tourism following the revolution, the hotel was mainly used to accommodate visiting diplomats and foreign government officials. The collapse of the USSR forced the Cuban communist party, anxious for foreign exchange reserves, to reopen Cuba to tourists. Despite its restoration during the 1990s, the hotel no longer carries the status and impact it once did, but its remaining splendor and history serves as tangible link to Cuba's past.
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Overview and History
Come and see five decades of decay and neglect fueled by men in green preaching for la Revolucion. Havana is a breathing contradiction, poor by European standards but rich in resources; happy and cheerful folks making the best of the crumbling infrastructure and basic shortages. Once opulent, now a shadow that doesn't have much longer to go before it all falls apart. These images were taken a few months after the twentieth century's longest-ruling dictator, Fidel Castro, stepped down. Here is a place where there are still no mobile phones, and where about half of the cars date from before 1960. Strangely beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time, Havana is something that everyone should see.
Facts: Havana is the capital of Cuba, the heartbeat of its fourteen provinces, and the largest city in the Caribbean. With 2.1 million people, the pace of life is a lot faster here than in the rest of Cuba, so get ready to stay up late and drink some rum.
Panfilo de Narvaez gets the credit for founding the first settlement here in 1514, although Sebastian de Ocampo first charted the island in 1509. Anyway, colonists were hard on their heels. (Or keels as the case may be.)
Spanish navigators fell in love with Cuba because it was so close to the Gulf Stream, an ocean current that could zip them back across the Atlantic to Europe at the drop of a conquistador's helmet.
King Philip II of Spain gave Havana the title of City in 1592 whereupon it could officially become the gateway to the new world and its abundant streams of wealth. The original Havana was located on the southern coast of Cuba, but it moved several times (for reasons of mosquito infestations, the story goes) and ended up in a neat bay on the northern coast, with the Almendares river running through it.
The Spanish built forts and battlements to protect against devilish French, Dutch and English navies which were attacking the city in their own hunt for the fountain of youth, or at least untold riches. French pirates burned Havana to the ground in 1539 and the English stopped in for a raid in the 1620's, easily laughing off the Castillo del Morro's defenses. Huge fortresses at the entrance to the bay loom as testament to the ferocity of sea battles circa 17th century.
As everyone knows, if you want to have a country, first you need a perimeter that you can defend. Ask Alexander Hamilton, the architect of the United States, who cut his chops as a shipping clerk in the West Indies... the coast guard was no joke back in the colonial times.
The Spanish response to these black market marauders most foul was to decree that all merchant ships must travel together in a flotilla, which could more easily be protected by the Spanish Armada, and thus avoid a treacherous end in the watery deeps.
Because of this decree, ships accumulated in the port of Havana waiting for fair weather and a large enough group to travel. For months they would wait in harbor while the supplies of gold, silver, alpaca wool, mahogany, leather and cocoa piled up. Tobacco and cane sugar made their debut in Europe as hitch hikers on the load. Imagine the debauchery Havana must have experienced in those decadent dangerous days! Literally thousands of ships would be assembled in the harbor by the end of summer, waiting to take off across the high seas of the Atlantic.
In any case, Havana soon became the main Spanish port in the Caribbean so let's keep going, as did Hernan Cortes when he used Cuba as a stepping stone for his conquest of Mexico. Legends of El Dorado and the seven cities of gold attracted more conquistadores, but since Cuba itself had none of these mineral deposits, it remained largely undeveloped until later.
For a brief stint Havana was occupied by British forces which were busily battling the Spanish, during the Seven Years' War declared in 1762. However, in a crafty maneuver the Spanish traded Cuba for Florida, showing impressive intuitive savvy considering the budding American Revolution.
Besides a minor epidemic or two in the seventeenth century, Havana expanded rapidly from then on. Her population hit 80,000, third only to Lima and Mexico City, as of the 1750's. Known as the most heavily fortified city in the Americas, it continued building everything a nation needs, from warships to cathedrals.
The wealth streaming through Havana brought cultural influences right alongside. Havana was referred to as the Paris of the Antilles in the nineteenth century, proudly displaying theaters and museums, and as of 1837 it became only the fifth country in the world to have a railroad.
Spanish colonial control pretty much ended with the Spanish-American war when the United States invaded Cuba after the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine.
Cuba became a gambling vacation paradise for swanky gangsters and movie stars alike in the 20th century, exceeding even Las Vegas in revenues. Unfortunately for American high rollers, a revolution came along in 1959 and Fidel Castro declared Cuba to be a communist state.
Next up, missile crisis! Cold War tensions, Russian nuclear-armed missiles ninety miles off the coast of Florida, and Kennedy on the phone with Kruschev talking about whether or not to destroy life on earth as we know it.
Fidel Castro has only just stepped down as the country's leader, and the United States continues its embargo on Cuba today, astonished that the little country has survived the collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent loss of subsidies. Cuba has made up the difference in their budget by promoting tourism to the world, and if these panoramas don't explain why, you've got your eyes closed.
Cuba's main airport is Jose Marti International (HAV). It's about fifteen km from Havana, an easy drive or bus ride.
Transportation to and from the airport is by taxi or minibus. Bus service from the airport to your hotel can cost anywhere between $8 and $25.
Cuba has great taxi service, as well as the option to rent a van, car or motorcycle. What you need to do here is hop into one of the Coco taxis, they're the bright yellow three wheelers that rip around the city like crazed bears on honey day.
Also keep an eye out for the amazing old Chevies and Cadillacs still on the road. Rolling or functioning they may not be, but on the road they are.
Do you like bargaining? You can always grab an illegal car service driver to get around. These are dudes with their own car who pick people up and take them around, for no set price. Take your chances on getting ripped off or finding an amazing local guide.
People and Culture
Cuba is cool. People are friendly and the ones who might rip you off are pretty obvious about it. Don't be flashy with your cashy, as usual, or wander around the restaurant drunk with your wallet on the table, you know what I mean?
It's Latino culture, where men rule and Patron is in charge. The man, not the tequila. Don't be surprised if you go for lunch and there are no prices on the menu. The women serve, the men handle the cash and the receipt is oral.
Cuba is kind of busted out. Lots of run down cars, buildings and graffiti. It's absolutely fascinating and you should visit before they rebuild everything newly whitewashed, pinkwashed, pastel washed, etc..
For example of the setting:
Things to do & Recommendations
Go to the Hangout Crossroads smack dab in the center of the action.
Have you heard of a cuban sandwich? Cubano? They're everywhere, it will be easy. You take roast pork and also ham, grill it on a submarine roll of some sort with pickles, cheese and garlic.
They are so delicious and greasy AND cheap, I don't know what to do. I get dizzy just thinking about it. If you haven't had one yet, you'd better get one before The End. Try to imagine the perfection of bacon, plus a choir of angels, floating on an ocean of melted god. In your stomach.
Text by Steve Smith.