If a flight to Cuba isn’t in your immediate future, a growing number of bars and restaurants in the U.S. are drawing inspiration from the island, from tropical décor to rum-forward cocktails. For each of the venues below, Cuba provides the starting point. Some focus on Prohibition-era Cuba, while others celebrate Havana’s boxing culture or draw on the legend of Ernest Hemingway, who called the island home for two decades.
Blacktail | New York City
The team behind the celebrated Dead Rabbit in New York City opened this splashy newcomer in August of 2016. Blacktail is named for the black-finned seaplane that once ferried New Yorkers to Cuba during the 1920s. Look for barstools patterned after those at Hemingway’s favorite Havana haunt, El Floridita. The 40-drink cocktail list is presented in a hardbound book, featuring mostly classic drinks re-interpreted, like a rum and cola made with Italian amaro and Champagne.
Colada Shop | Sterling, VA and Washington, DC
This DC area spot is the brainchild of Barmini veteran Juan Coronado and food and beverage consultant Daniella Senior (the Sterling location opened in August 2016; DC is set to open later this month).
Colada refers to a Cuban coffee ritual, Coronado says, where multiple drinkers pour out small doses of strong, sweetened coffee from a large communal container. At Colada Shop, it’s interpreted as espresso topped with whipped sugar. Colorful murals and tile work brighten things up, as does the generous patio space, ideal for sipping coffee or unusual drinks like a peanut-infused Negroni.
El Libre | New Orleans
Though it’s more of a café that serves rum cocktails than a full-on bar, this cozy French Quarter spot, which opened in September 2015, is most reminiscent of modern-day Havana. Hemingway portraits and quotes adorn the walls, including the slender mezzanine upstairs. El Libre is an all-day spot, morphing from Café Cubanos in the morning (double espresso with Demerara sugar) to pressed Cuban sandwiches later and a rum-only classic cocktail lineup at night.
Punch | Miami
Punch is inspired by Cuba’s strong boxing tradition, particularly by the legendary Kid Chocolate (a k a The Cuban Bon Bon), the Havana-born super featherweight boxing champion of the 1930s. The sexy, club-like space includes a bar made out of 5,000 dominos, 25-foot high scaffolding holding bottles and walls lined with punching bags. Drinks include giant punchbowls of mojitos that come in “lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight” strengths.
Sparrow | Chicago
Sparrow, which opened in November 2015, pays homage to Chicago’s historic hotel lobby bars. Housed inside an Art Deco building constructed in 1927, its décor combines a gallery of keys hung on the wall, a speakeasy and tropical touches like potted palms. The rum-focused cocktail list nods heavily to Cuban classics (El Presidente, Hotel Nacional, Floridita daiquiri), plus original concoctions like Death in the Gulfstream, a gin drink that combines two Hemingway references in one glass. Straight-up drinkers can choose from the extensive “Sugar Cane” (rum) list.
Last Updated: May 4, 2023