An Ode to Havana's Daiquiris

The daiquiri and Havana are a drink and city pairing more perfect than any other that collective human intelligence has yet brought together.
El Floridita's iconic Daiquiri.
El Floridita's iconic Daiquiri.

Certain drinks are intrinsically and unapologetically matched to their homes of origin, ideal libations which bring together a time and a place, a city and a mood. Close your eyes and conjure up a robust glass of Chianti sipped on while soaking up views of Tuscan hillsides dotted with Mediterranean cypresses. Close your eyes and picture the daiquiri, and Havana, a drink and city pairing more perfect than any other that collective human intelligence has yet brought together. I've had sazeracs in New Orleans and martinis in London, highballs in Tokyo and rickeys in D.C., assorted rum punches in assorted Caribbean islands, endless spritzes across Italy, manhattans in ... Manhattan ... and, well, suffice it to say a large and ever-growing assortment of iconic destination-drink duos. None compare.

A proper frozen daiquiri is a godsend. Bliss in a glass. “Bliss on tap,” as Al Pacino in "The Devil's Advocate" might say. All the more so in Havana, where sticky summer perpetually reigns, and a humid heatwave raises the discomfort dial to full max.

The solution you need, the only solution there is, is the daiquiri. Built from a precise combination to combat the city's sweltering heat and to soothe the souls of its sweat-soaked denizens. Frozen, sure, but quickly and precisely blender whirrrrrrred into its ideal icy texture. A couple of seconds, that's it. Don't kill it. Retain a bit of that chewy-iciness. The bite of the lime's acidity balances the cold and the sweet, all backed by long pours of Cuban rum which fortify your will to press on despite whatever personal journey you're on or struggle you're facing.

The daiquiris at O'Reilly 304 are served in massive goblets. The daiquiris at O'Reilly 304 are served in massive goblets.

The daiquiri transcends yet higher as it manages to seamlessly tie into the sensibilities and rhythms of Afro-Cuban rumba, the ubiquitous soundtrack of the island. Sit down at an open air bar, live music bum-bum-buh-bumming from the corner, your shirt stuck to your body in the heat, black and white photos on the walls, an ironically all-American classic car from the '50s on the street out front – not a pretty one you're paying to ride around in, but a busted up one with an irreparably corroded paint job, a blue door with a red hood, and three wheels forever-parked in front of a bright green doorway left ajar – and a daiquiri is in front of you. You're in Cuba. This all makes sense.

Where to Drink Daiquiris in Havana

There's a short answer to this question, actually there's two of them. The first is: El Floridita – you must at least pay homage to the iconic watering hole once, just as you must visit La Bodeguita for a mojito. The second short answer is: everywhere else. You'll be hardpressed to not find a decent daiquiri in Havana.

More specifically though, you should mix in visits to the iconic institutions while seeking out the newer bars which have only taken shape in the past few years. One to look for is O'Reilly 304 in Old Havana. Daiquiris are elevated to art form here, served in massive goblets that would make gin tonic joints in Barcelona envious. Curls of lime peels streaming down its sides, double straws to give you the siphoning suction power you need, daiquris here offer a pleasant change of pace, both aesthetically and experientially.

Other paladars offer their own riffs. At Doña Eutimia, you can order a frozen mojito that's essentially a frozen daiquiri with mint, and at San Cristobal, you can enjoy a classic rendition with your meal, and if you play your cards right, a complimentary shot of rum and cigar on your way out the door. I'm not sure if the Obamas were given such courtesies on their visit to this paladar, but I'm not aware of their tipping practices, either.

Behind the bar at Old Havana's Dos Hermanos. Behind the bar at Old Havana's Dos Hermanos.

When you head to the swirling sensory-overload that is Fábrica de Arte Cubano, or the rooftop bar at La Guarida, you'll find daiquiris aplenty at both, alongside the type of modern craft cocktails you're more familiar with from home. Dabble in these “fancier” drinks as you please – but never forget that the daiquiri in Havana is a match you're not going to outdo. It will not get old.

Head down to the docks, and you'll fid another of Old Havana's icons, Dos Hermanos. Lesser known than the two big institutions mentioned above, Dos Hermanos therefore offers a dose of history in a more unvarnished setting. Multiple flavors and variations of the daiquiri are available here; think pink and get a frozen Hemingway daiquiri, or stay traditional and sip on the classic as it was intended, while watching guided groups of cruise ship tourists amble by and look in, wondering if they too should be in here, daiquiri in hand, instead of out there, with their flagpole-carrying leader taking them to the next scheduled stop.

Multiple flavors and variations of the daiquiri are available at Dos Hermanos. Multiple flavors and variations of the daiquiri are available at Dos Hermanos.

That's the beauty of the daiquiri. There's not necessarily a secret to be found. You don't need a guide to show you, or a book to tell you. It's perfect as is, and it's right there waiting for you. And sure, mojitos and beers and Cuba Libres and all the rest are just fine, too. There's nothing wrong with any of them. But the daiquiri in Havana? That's the winning ticket right there.

Jake Emen is a spirits, travel, and food writer who's been published in USA Today, GQ, Vice Munchies, Roads & Kingdoms, and elsewhere. Follow him on the socials at @ManTalkFood.

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