Havana | The Pub Drive - Cuban cocktails & pubs

About the Pubs

Café Fortuna Joe ... or the best of possible worlds ...

Fortuna Joe, located in the Miramar district, is the first pub we’ll visit. You can sit outside in the garden but certainly take a look inside. The whole space is full of old typewriters, photo cameras, and other bric-à-brac objects, a colorful collection of ornaments. You can drink your Cuba Libre in a sawn-in-half oldtimer, your Mojito in a carriage without a horse, and a Daiquiri in a bathtub without water (the Cubans have never lacked ingenuity).

Fortuna Joe feels like a sort of amusement park. We even had clients who did not want to leave and canceled the other bars.
Try your luck at Fortuna Joe.

For those who want to continue, we head for the Vedado district to La Esencia ...

... It is a relatively small space aimed at a younger audience. The rainbow flag hangs above the counter and La Esencia organizes themed evenings. The music is not quite background music, and it can be a bit busy.
If it is too busy for you, we'll head for Bar Encuentro. A trendy pub with a terrace on the roof. Drink your cocktail with a view over Vedado. Encuentro is also known for their tapas and Hookahs (water pipes).

Our third café Sloppy Joe has a long history.

During the American Prohibition, Sloppy Joe was about the most famous cafe in all of America. Anyone who could afford it and who liked to be seen; senators, gangsters, movie stars, artists, the upper class crowded the robust bar of this beautiful café. Sloppy Joe also played a role as a film location for the shooting of the movie Our Man in Havana.
The Cuban revolution and a fire in the 1960s made a provisional end to Sloppy Joe's rich past. It was not until 2013, 48 years later, that the drinking paradise of former times was reopened to everyone in full glory. Sloppy Joe is run by the state, one of our reasons for introducing you to Sloppy Joe, the other pubs are private initiatives. Look for the differences.

And after Sloppy Joe, we happily will return home.

About Cuban cocktails 

Of course, you can mix cocktails with all kind of spirits or liqueurs. However, since you're in Cuba, it's only logical to have your cocktail mixed with the most Caribbean drink; rum.

It all starts with sugar cane.

The history of rum (ron in Spanish) goes back to the beginning of 1500 when an impure distillation was obtained from sugar cane. Later, with the arrival of the Bacardi family, new techniques were introduced, which quickly led to international success.

To distill rum, a sticky substance - molasses - is obtained from the cane stalks, supplemented with water, fermented with special yeast and stored in wooden barrels. 18 Months later pure alcohol is added. The Silver Dry - a young and clear rum - is ready for consumption.

Besides the Silver Dry (mostly used for cocktails) there are aging processes of 3 years (Carta Blanca), 5 years (Carta Oro), the 7-year-old rum is called Añejo. The ages can climb to about 23 years, categorized as Matusalem, and obviously a waste to use in cocktails, therefore purely drunk, at room temperature.

Despite the fact that older rum goes for higher quality, there are many Cubans who prefer - in terms of taste - the younger Carta Blanca of three years old (whether or not on-the-rocks).

Rum is part of everyday life in Cuba, whether during parties or playing dominoes. Often Cubans throw a few drops from a newly opened bottle on the floor, out of superstition. My mother-in-law used to put a shot glass with rum in the top of the kitchen cupboard for her deceased husband.

Five Cuban classic cocktails are: Mojito, Daiquiri, Cuba Libre, Presidente and Ron Collins.


The Mojito is probably the most famous cocktail, not only in Cuba, it is served worldwide in trendy bars. Ernest Hemingway drank the Mojito in the historic bar La Bodeguita del Medio. The cocktail also looks very attractive and almost healthy with leaves of yerbabuena, an aromatic herb, belonging to the mint family.

Ingredients: White rum (Carta Blanca – 3 years), sparkling water, sugar, lemon juice, sprigs of yerbabuena, ice cubes.


If Hemingway wasn’t drinking his Mojito in La Bodeguita del Medio, he definitely was sipping a Daiquiri in El Floridita (another nice historic bar).

At the beginning of the 20th century, an American mining engineer was short of whiskey and gin, so he mixed drinks for his guests with rum. This happened in the eastern town of Daiquiri. About a decade later the frozen version – with crushed ice - was introduced in El Floridita in Havana, by a Spanish bartender.

Ingredients: White rum (Carta Blanca – 3 years), sugar, lemon juice, five drops of maraschino (a liqueur obtained from Marasca cherries), ice cubes or crushed ice.

Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre (Cuba Free) is a classic cocktail that belongs to the so-called long drinks. It is one of the most popular cocktails in the world.

It became a popular drink when the Spanish domination came to an end and Americans arrived on the island, to settle themselves or for holidays. Cuba was indeed free from the Spanish occupation, although still not free of North American interference. The Cuban revolution in the late 1950s made a resolute end to this. The Americans left the island, the rum was already there for ages and the cocktails remained.
Ironically enough, when Cuba really was free, the Cuba Libre was not allowed to be pronounced as such in various places in the US. There they believe that Cuba is not free at all.

Ingredients: Cola, lime, white rum (Carta Blanca – 3 years), ice cubes.

El Presidente

Named after the former Cuban president Machado (1925 - 1933). The drink became popular in the 1920s, and among many even more popular than Machado himself. It is a mix of rum with vermouth, which can be a problem, because rum is always available in Cuba, and vermouth not.

Ingredients: White rum (Silver Dry), vermouth, Curacao, grenadine, cracked ice.

Ron Collins

This cocktail (or better long drink) has a funny cultural course. A London barkeeper (called Collins) made it for the first time with gin (from the brand Old Tom Gin), giving it the name Tom Collins. In Cuba, the gin was obviously replaced by rum - in Spanish Ron - becoming the Cuban variant; Ron Collins.

Ingredients: White rum (Carta Blanca – 3 years), sparkling water, sugar syrup, lemon juice, ice cubes (sometimes with a cocktail cherry).

If all those cocktails are too sweet for you...

...or in case you're a beer lover, you can choose from imported international brands (e.g. Presidente or Heineken), but Cuban beer is very tasty. Once I spoke a businessman who was investigating the possibilities to export Cuban beer. He explained to me that the conditions of the groundwater in Cuba are perfect and contribute to the taste of the hop plant, hence a superior taste of the beer.

The best-known brands are Bucanero, slightly heavier and a stronger hop flavor. Cristal, however, is the most popular among the Cubans, is blonder thus lighter.

Not a bad idea to order mineral water together with your cocktails during the Pub Drive. Ciego Montero is the national brand of mineral water (whether or not sparkling), and much cheaper than some imported luxury brands of bottled water.

Would you like to return to the Havana Pub Drive page, just click here



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