Music Venues in Havana

By Chaz Chambers(Musician, Tour Guide Leader, and Director of Havana Music Tours and Musical Getaways)

Rooted deep in history and composed of sounds that seem to move the body and the soul, music in Cuba is larger than life. It is culture, identity, lifestyle, tradition, and a force that moves the whole country in one never-ending concert. And we visitors are always looking to capture the best out of our limited time. So, if you‘re looking to have that iconic music experience in Cuba and have unforgettable fun then make sure not to miss these top five music venues in Havana, the capital of Cuban music!

1. Fabrica de Arte Cubano

Established inside a former cooking oil factory, La Fabrica de Arte Cubano, also known as La FAC, has quickly become one of Havana’s most trendy and popular nightlife hotspots. And it‘s success lies in many distinctive details.

FAC delivers incredible diversity both in amenities and activities. You‘ll find a snack restaurant, nightclub, and bar mixed in with spacious outdoor and indoor spaces within these refurbished historic walls. But that‘s only the tip of an entertainment iceberg that Fabrica de Arte Cubano is.

What truly draws in those crowds are intriguing art exhibitions, funky live music, movies, and creativity that the venue explodes with every week. And there should be no surprise why the main reason for visiting the Vedado neighborhood is usually the vibrant La Fábrica de Arte Cubano.

2. La Zorra y El Cuervo

Next up we have another exciting place where music makes the air vibrate every night – La Zorra y El Cuervo. A New York Manhattan Village-style jazz club and one of the best at it in Havana.

Low ceilings, cramped space, dark and dim basement with a red English telephone box at the entrance. La Zorra y El Cuvero translates for “the Fox & The Crow“ and offers a vintage and soulful jazz club experience.

Leaning towards freestyle Jazz mostly, the club has the brightest performers of the Cuban jazz scene to perform here while also casting a spotlight on young and upcoming artists. Spectacular, special, and memorable performances are a guarantee for any kind of jazz or music fan.

Cuba is breathing jazz, and if you want to experience being top-notch, the La Zorra y El Cuervo is where it is at in Havana!

3. Cafe Teatro Bertolt Brecht

Looking for more of that wild nightlife escape in Havana? Then leave a Cafe Teatro Bertolt Brecht name in your notes and prepare to move those hips!

It is without a doubt one of the coolest nightspots in Havana, Cuba. Live music is played every night here, with Wednesdays leading the way. This is when the iconic Jazz fusion group “Interactivo” headlines the show almost every week.

Cafe Teatro Bertolt Brech is the past, present, and future, and a beautiful mix of artists perform here simply for good vibes.

While you will also find the theatre here as well, the club is known as “No Se Lo Digas a Nadie“ (Don‘t Tell Anyone“ and is the basement of the building. Tables here are few, and ques can belong. It is best to get here early at around 11:00 PM to get a good feel for the place before the crowds surge in.

4. Casa de la Musica Miramar

It seems that music venues in Havana so far have to offer something intriguing and different. And Casa de la Musica Miramar is no exception!

This is a venue known for hosting at least one famous Cuban artist every week. Bands and musicians such as Los Van Van, Alain Perez, Habana D‘Primera, and others don‘t shy away from an opportunity to perform here.

The beautiful and elegant old Havana mansion delivers a sophisticated ambiance. However, it is not the most spacious venue. Therefore be prepared to be crowded, even without large numbers of people coming in. But once you surrender yourself to the rhythms and dance, everything will simply fade away!

5. Habana 309

Formerly known as Kpricho Bar-Restaurant, the new venue has been born just recently under the new name of Habana 309.

A new place is yet to be discovered by many people, but good reviews are already making their way. One thing assured – live music here is stellar and is accompanied by the finest cocktails, good service, and a cozy setting.

It seems that Habana 309 is becoming a hub for new underground music and performing it at this cool new venue is not stopping any time soon!

Havana’s Annual Percussion Festival

ByYami Cabrera (Cuban musicologist and Business Development Director of Havana Music Tours and Musical Getaways)

Fiesta del Tambor is the Havana’s Annual Percussion Festival. This Music Festival finds space in every corner of Havana to begin the “rumba” and celebrate. In addition, it allows the exchange of musical cultures from around the world. The festival that we will be dedicated to is this blogpost.

In the last 18 Edition of the Festival and competition, Fiesta del Tambor “Guillermo Barreto in Memoriam”, a tribute was made to Spain, a country that gave birth to many styles of Cuban music and that still keeps latent such inescapable connection that unites both countries. A week where both cultures came together in rumbas, bulerías, couplets, rhythmic and even Jazz, to be enjoyed by all audiences. The doors were opened for a long-awaited meeting with well-known Spanish artists and groups in Cuba, such as Ketama, Patax, and Falete, and other excellent musicians, such as the pianist Laura de Los Angeles and Israel Suárez “El Piraña”.

Drums, pailas, and congas were a crucial part of these shows. Without exaggeration, the duets were stunning in the drums starring the young pillars of Cuban percussion, such as Rodney Barreto, Oliver Valdés, Ruly Herrera, and Ruy Adrián López Nussa, who were joined by improvisations by Giraldo Piloto and Samuel Formell, with their respective orchestras Klímax and Van Van.

The rumba had a special space, the “Salon de la Rumba” dressed up to receive thousands of followers of the genre inside and outside of Cuba. Stage that warmly welcomed groups, such as Yoruba Andabo, Ronald and Explosión Rumbera, Obbini Batá and the Mutanquitos de Matanzas.

On the other hand, there were a lot of people attending Casa de la Música de Plaza 31 and 2 to learn and apprehend updated ways of interpreting percussion instruments, through the master classes of Cubans Rodney Barreto (drums), Tomás Ramos “el Panga” (congas) and the Spanish drawer Israel Suárez “el Piraña”. A musical space also gives birth to many young Cuban percussionists, who were amongst the participants of the International Percussion Competition.

Undoubtedly, this is a necessary event for the development of Cuban music, inside and outside this island, both for its educational value and its ability to unveil the valuable history of its instruments and roots through the symbolic and leading role in performing the drums. This party has the courage to go beyond the stereotypes that stalk Cuban music, bringing all kinds of audiences closer to the consumption of good live, latent, and unbreakable Cuban music.

Best Cuban Restaurants

By Chaz Chambers(Musician, Tour Guide Leader, and Director of Havana Music Tours and Musical Getaways)

There are many great restaurant options around Havana, Cuba, but these are a few of my favorite. They are all “Paladares,” which means a privately owned restaurant. Cuban food is usually pretty heavy with different meats like pork, beef, and chicken. All the food is typically accompanied with some rice and a savory sauce. Each of the below Cuban restaurants is very diverse, and I think if you try them all, you will get a nice variety of food options during your Cuba trip.

5. El Cocinero

El Cocinero (which means “The Cook” in Spanish) is a lovely and ambient restaurant located near and attached to the famous Fabrica de Arte Cubano. It is in the Vedado neighborhood of La Habana, Cuba. They have two levels of terraces with two different menus. The terrace on the 3rd floor is slightly cheaper while the 2nd floor is a little more expensive. El Cocinero has a nice mix of international cuisine, including different meats such as pork, chicken, seafood, and they also have some vegetarian options. A very cool place to eat and grab some drinks before visiting FAC (Fabrica de Arte Cubano)

Delicious duck at el cocinero in havana cubaPlate with pork loin at el cocinero in Havana, Cubagroup picture eating at el cocinero in havana cuba

4. Plan B

Plan B is a restaurant where most Cubans eat. It is relatively inexpensive at about 3-6 CUC per meal. I love this place because they are usually open 24 hours and they serve traditional Cuban food that is good. If you want to try tamales, Ropa Vieja, Pan Con Lechon, Malanga, Boniato, Pork plates (Masas, Lomo, etc) this is a great place at the right price!

ropa vieja at plan B, a 24 hour restaurant in Havana, Cuba

3. La Guarida

This place was made famous by the movie Fresa y Chocolate. It is located in the same building as where the movie was filmed. It is a beautiful place with a very romantic environment. The food is excellent. They even have one of the top-rated rooftops in Havana. I highly recommend having a cocktail on the rooftop at sunset!

Fresh beef at La Guarida the Paladar in Central Havana, Cuba Upclose picture of food at la guarida in central Havana the stairs going up to la Guarida in central havana, cuba

2. El Del Frente

El Del Frente is located in Old Havana on O’Reilly street. They are one of the most crafty restaurants in Havana. They serve freshly prepared vegetables from a unique, organic farm outside Havana. You won’t find many of these vegetable selections around Cuba. They make a mixture of international cuisine and some attractive Cuban food styles. El Del Frente has some of Havana’s most unique and strongest craft cocktails. Try a mango daiquiri!

close up picture of grilled vegetables at el del frente in old havana, cuba Fresh fish plate at el del frente in old havana cuba craft made cocktails at el del frente in old havana, cuba

1. Atelier

Atelier is the place to go for one of Havana’s best Ropa Vieja plates. In my opinion, of course. I also think they have the best black beans and rice. It is best to order the beans and rice separately and then pour the black beans and their juices over the rice. IT IS AMAZING! Otherwise, most Cuban restaurants serve Morro y Cristianos, black beans, and rice cooked together. I don’t mind this from time to time, but it is drier than the first recommendation. Atelier is also the perfect place if you want to eat some lobster or other great seafood options mixed with other meats, vegetarian, and gluten-free options.

A close up shot of a steak entree at atelier in Vedado, havana, cuba

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The best musicians in the world. The secret of Cuban music

 

By Chaz Chambers(Musician, Tour Guide Leader, and Director of Havana Music Tours and Musical Getaways)

Every time I go to a show in Havana or anywhere in Cuba, I am stunned by the musicianship. The impressive music scene that I always found there makes me love Cuban Music more and more each time.

Havana makes me think of 1950s New York City, not only because of the vintage cars but because of the superior musicianship. It reminds me of the greats like Miles Davis and John Coltrane on the come-up. It’s like traveling into a Time Machine. But with unique modern aspects that make it much better.

What does a music venue look like in Cuba?

The music venues in Cuba sometimes remind me of New York in many ways. Famous Cuban jazz venues like La Zorra y El Cuervo or Jazz Café Havana could make you feel that you are in an underground jazz club in the heart of Greenwich Village. It has the same feel and ambiance; the only difference is the authentic Latin Jazz. If you are a Jazz lover you should join us on Cuban Jazz, Music, and Cultural Tour Featuring Havana Jazz Plaza Festival 2023.

If it is about vintage vibes, in Cuba, especially in Havana, you will be able to find some Cabaret-style venues that take you on an exciting trip to the 50s. Some of them are Tropicana, Habana Café, Parisien, among others.

In Cuba, you can also enjoy concerts in elegant colonial-style theaters such as the Gran Teatro Alicia Alonso (Havana), Teatro Martí (Havana), Teatro Terry (Cienfuegos), Teatro Heredia (Santiago de Cuba). However, there are other more modern and relevant ones, such as Teatro Karl Marx and Teatro Nacional de Cuba, both in Havana.

But, not everything is vintage and nostalgic in the Cuban music scene. You can also find bars and nighttime clubs very similar to the rest of the world. Places where you can find both live and recorded music; are usually full of people dancing and drinking until very late in the night. One of our favorites is the Café Bertolt Brecht, especially if Interactive is playing there.

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How to describe a Cuban musician?

Over the years, I’ve understood why this may be (in my opinion). First of all, there are  FREE music schools in Cuba where children start studying music as young as eight years old. Around half of the day is spent learning music and the other half with traditional academics. They will continue this through “secondary school,” also known as High school in America. By the time these kids get to a music university level, they are already impressive.

I also believe that the sociocultural and love of music inspires the musicians to practice a lot. There isn’t any extra money to be spent on excess things for Cubans most of the time. So maybe they will spend more time at home with their instruments instead of going out to bars, to eat, in movie theaters, etc. I think this all contributes to the practice culture of Cuban musicians.

The other aspect of becoming a musician and maybe why there are so many musicians in Cuba is that it could serve as an opportunity to travel to the world. Most of the great musicians around Cuba will flock to Havana to seek opportunities to play with groups that can gain international attention. Once they can begin touring out of the country, it can provide a much greater lifestyle than the typical Cuban.

I believe that Cuba has the best musicians globally, and all of my experiences traveling tell me the world needs to know this. You can see at least a few world-class performances in only one week, artists like Alain Perez, Alexander Abreu, Interactivo, Isaac Delgado, the modern-day Buena Vista Social Club, Afro Cuban All-Stars, and so many more. I hope that everyone has a chance to travel to Cuba at least once and experience the music of Havana.

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 How to make an authentic Café Cubano (Cuban Coffee). VLOG 

By Chaz Chambers(Musician, Tour Guide Leader, and Director of Havana Music Tours and Musical Getaways)

Café Cubano (Cuban Coffee) is one thing that pops up every time you think about Cuba. It’s inevitable. Every lover of Cuban Culture should know how to prepare it. That’s why in this article, we will share our favorite recipe with you so you can learn. Let’s make some Café Cubano!

What should you know about Café Cubano or Cubano Coffee?

Cuban coffee is a cultural icon for the island filled with a lot of history. Coffee was first introduced to the island throughout the 1700s by early Spanish colonialists and immigrating slaves of French colonies. Cuban’s way of making coffee has evolved into a unique brewing style, mixing sugar by default and enjoying each cup as small espresso coffee. 

The current way to make a coffee by the hands of a Cuban still resembles a sort of European nature. Historically limited in their luxurious purchasing abilities, they have also lacked many of the fantastic coffee machines we have all around the world. But, possibly against their knowledge, this could be a good thing for their final product.

Cubans traditionally use a “cafetera” (coffee machine in Spanish), but otherwise known as a percolator in English. This unique gadget holds water, coffee, and the finished product in one tea kettle-looking device. Very different than an expresso machine.

How to make an authentic Cafe Cubano (Cuban Coffee)

Instructions for making a Cuban coffee with a Cafetera

To prepare a Cuban Cofee you will need:

  1. Cafetera or percolator for making coffee
  2. Water
  3. Cuban or other espresso coffee beans
  4. Sugar, preferably brown sugar and raw organic
  5. Stovetop or hotplate
  6. 15 minutes
  7. A small cafecito cup or more for your friends

Steps to the perfect Cuban Coffee

  1. Make sure the cafetera is clean.
  2. Fill the bottom portion of the cafetera with water.
  3. Fill the middle filter with Cuban or espresso-style coffee beans.
  4. Place cafetera on a hot stove to begin boiling
  5. After you hear the bubbling and boiling sound, remove the cafetera and place it to cool slightly
  6. Important! Immediately stir sugar into the top portion of the cafetera while it is still hot. 
  7. Let cool if you prefer, or begin to pour cafecitos for you and your friends to enjoy in your expresso cup.

Enjoy this video from Havana Music Tours owner Chaz Chambers demonstrating how to make an authentic Café Cubano.

 First Trip to Cuba

You’ve probably heard about the vintage cars and delicious cuisine, but as cool as those things are, my favorite part of my  Cuba Tour was the culture. Don’t get me wrong, eating fresh mango and riding in a car from the 50s is impressive, but there’s something truly unique about their culture.

Cuban Culture

The city squares teemed with life every morning and evening. The people were very kind and incredibly excited to hear I was from the US. I sat with locals and watched a Cuba vs. USA baseball game, and though my Spanish is terrible, we still laughed, cheered, and hazed each other when our teams did well. I’m a nerd, so of course, I hung out and watched the locals play chess in the square. One evening, I even had a local English-speaking professor come up and tell me about the history of their revolution. There’s a sense of community there that I hadn’t experienced back in the states.

I consider myself an astute musician, art appreciator, and lover of random historical knowledge, and this Caribbean island appealed to each of these aspects of my character. From beautiful cathedrals to statues of Don Quixote, from vibrant pastel buildings to streetside musicians improving rumba music, my mind was enamored! I will be taking another trip back to this timeless paradise!

Cuba Tours

If you’ve always wanted to do a Cuba Tour but you’re worried about the travel bans and regulations, some great articles in the blog cover these topics. The new rules were announced 2-3 weeks before I flew down, so I had the same concerns: Can Americans still travel to Cuba? What do I have to do to go to Cuba? Etc. There very well may come a time when we will have limited access to that beautiful country, but that time isn’t now! Enjoy it while you can!

 

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Also, check out our Ultimate Cuba Travel Checklist (Updated January 2022)

Why El Malecón is a special place in Havana, Cuba?

By Chaz Chambers(Musician, Tour Guide Leader, and Director of Havana Music Tours and Musical Getaways)

The famous El Malecón stretches five miles along the coast in Havana, Cuba. It is where the sea meets the city and all the priceless fun occurs with the Cuban people and the distant tourists. There, you can really experience the excitement and free spirit of the Cuban culture. People are walking around playing traditional Cuban music (Afro-Cuban rumba, bolero, guaguancó, and more.) You will find diverse groups of people dancing, singing, drinking some Havana Club, or maybe even enjoying a Bucanero Cerveza (Cuban beer).

Malecón was originally designed as a protection of the city from the water. (Who would have guessed that it would become one of the coolest nighttime hangout spots in the whole city.) Construction of the wall that lines the sea began around 1901 and some parts were even developed up until the early 1920s. The final parts were constructed in the late 1940s and early 50s, before the famous Cuban Revolution.

Your tour leader will make sure that each itinerary has a nighttime visit to El Malecón around sunset. There are a series of small restaurants and bars to grab food and drinks. Sometimes there are even pop up tents selling street food, water, sodas, and beer. You will see plenty of vintage cars driving by as you observe the classic architecture, unlike any other city. It is not only blissful, but it will bring you back to an era that emulates the 1950s. Each area you walk along has something fun and inspiring happening.

Havana Music Tours has a selection of tour dates that are very flexible for anyone’s schedule. We also have some of the most unique itineraries in comparison to any other tour operator. We are simply a music-loving company that has a passion for international travel. The music in Cuba has famously influenced jazz musicians in America, Latin America, and the rest of the world for decades.

Find out why everyone loves Cuba and their culture so much, book your tour now.

Also, check out our Ultimate Cuba Travel Checklist (Updated January 2022)