Robaina's plantation

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Hotel Nacional de Cuba (Havana)

                  Ask any cigar smoker who travels frequently to Havana what his favourite Patio in that city is and he (or she) is most likely to mention the one at the Hotel Nacional. Any trip to Havana with this bunch of people will almost always include at least one visit to the Hotel Nacional (or more) to basically just hang out and have a smoke or two, at any time of 24 hours. I've even had my breakfast there early one morning, cafe con leche and a croissant mind you but that was my breakfast. We ate at the ranchon to the side of the patio before the Cabaret Parisien show and don't remember finding it any good. I have yet to eat in the main dining room but have had their breakfast buffet at "La Veranda" on the lower floor and found it to be pretty good. The Cabaret Parisien (restored in 2000) is a smaller version of the Tropicana show for a fraction of the price...and it's in the city close to everything. I remember being able to smoke my cigar while watching the show, I wonder if that's still allowed, you can't smoke at the Tropicana. I visited the pool on several occasions when I rented nearby. I loved it, no riff raff, mostly guests or mature people. There's a charge to use the pool if you're not a guest but most of that money can go towards buying food or drink poolside. They offer some great sandwiches and beer as well as a full bar with all the typical cocktails. For a few extra dollars I use the Gym that's right next to the pool in an air-conditioned room, it has the basic stuff for a decent work out. The so-called 'Buena Vista Social Club' play here in the Salon every Tuesday and Saturaday nights but they aren't the guys we remember from the movie. Most of those people are dead and the band was never really a band except while touring for the movie. The random original member will turn up on occasion...the bass or trombone player, most of the main guys have passed away. One place that took me a long time to discover is what some people call the museum. It's a bar really, they call it the 'hall of fame'. An antique jukebox adorns the room as do many photos of celebrities that have visited the hotel. Of course there's a well stocked bar in the room, excellent space for those evenings when the breeze coming off the ocean is a little too happens. One thing we can't forget is the cigar shop below the gift shop. The lovely and talented Milagro is the roller there. There's always a doorman waiting to open the entrance door for you and taxis are always sitting just outside to your left when exiting....if not, walk just outside the property.
                   As far as the hotel goes....although it's been showered with accolades through the years, I've heard from different people that have stayed there that except for the history and of course the patio, it's not one of the greatest hotels in the city, especially for what you're paying. For sure it's not the 5 stars it claims to be. The rooms are very outdated, some of them smelling of mold and because of the old plumbing sometimes there are issues in that department. The services is always talked about in a positive light and the issues (if any) are attended to. If a possible little Inconvenience doesn't bother you, this is a wonderful hotel set in and excellent location with great restaurants and nightclubs within walking distance. You can't beat that patio, an excellent spot to end your evenings, you never know who will show up.
                   Have you ever wondered why those cannons are on the back patio?? Centuries ago Havana was constantly attacked by pirates and after the English captured the city in 1762 (being returned to Spain a year later) they decided to do something about it by building numerous fortifications including this one (now occupied by the hotel gardens) called the Santa Clara battery which dates back to 1797. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. The two cannons, the Krupp and the Ordóñez (the world's largest at the time) are what's left of the defence system that was installed here.
                   Guided tours of the hotel with an outline of it's history are offered Monday to Friday at 10.00am and 4.00pm as well as Saturday at 10:00am. The hotel with it's 457 rooms is 20km from the airport and 20km from playa Santa Maria (the beach). As well as the pool and gym that I mentioned earlier it also has tennis courts, sauna, and massage and medical services. Old Havana is a short taxi ride away but you don't need to go far for some great eateries and terrific nightlife.
                   After having mentioned the good and the bad you might ask, What am I saying? Should I book here or not? I have to say that for historical value no other hotel tops this one but are the sentimental attributes worth more to you than modernity and convenience, that's a decision that only you can make and therefore to judge that you have to spend a holiday here to find out. If you're at all questioning it I recommend you book it and partake in all of the hotels many Splendours when you do. I myself have never stayed in any of the rooms.
                   Here is a bit of history of the hotel.....the Hotel Nacional de Cuba opened it's doors on the night of December 30 1930 after 14 months of construction. The who's who of guests that visited during this decade and the next are too many to mention: Johnny Weismuller (Tarzan) used to jump from a second story balcony into the pool, underworld figures Santos Traficante (father), Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky who later would own the casino here, actor César Romero who was the grandchild of Jose Marti as well as fellow actors George Raft, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Marlon Brando, John Wayne, Tyrone Power, Rita Hayworth, Buster Keaton, Fred Astaire and Gary Cooper, just to name a few and countless luminaries from the entertainment world and royalty. Sir Winston Churchill was a guest here in 1946. There was a scene in the Godfather II where a meeting with all the capos takes place in a hotel in Havana. Although it didn't happen in the timeline shown in the movie, if Fidel Castro is entering the city victorious it meant it was 1959, it did actually take place in December 1946. The hotel closed it's doors to the public while catering to the likes of: Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Santo Trafficante Jr., Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia and Vito Genovese as well as many others. By 1955 Lansky had a piece of the hotel and in 1957 the casino was making as much as any in Vegas. Although Nat King Cole at first was not allowed to stay in the hotel on racist grounds, it would be allowed after the memorable concerts he put on in the hotel. Eartha Kitt inaugurated the Cabaret Parisien in 1956.
                  On the triumph of the Revolution on 1 January 1959, the representatives of the American company that operated the hotel left and the hotel staff took over the management. Between 1960 and 1961, Cuba's revolutionary government reorganized the hotel's administration. The casino was closed on October 1960. Since there were no tourists during this time the hotel was used to accommodate visiting diplomats and foreign government officials. With the collapse of the USSR Cuba was forced to open it's borders to tourism once again in the 1990s and after some restoration the hotel opened it's doors to the world once again, it was reopened in 1992. In 1998, the hotel was declared a national monument by the National Monuments Commission.

Hotel Nacional de Cuba
Calle 21 y O, Vedado, Havana, Cuba
Switchboard (53-7) 836 3564 & 67
Reservations Tel: (53-7) 838 0294  / 836 3564 ext. 598            


Main Dining Room

Cabaret Parisien


Cigar Shop

Museum Bar

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