This is the last part of my top five "do not miss" hidden gems of Havana for when you are ready to experience the magic of my city. Boris Masip - My Amigo in Cuba
If Old Havana is the soul of the city, then it is widely believed that Vedado is the heart of Havana. Now housing some of the most of-the-moment paladares in La Habana, Vedado (which means “forbidden” or “private” in Spanish) not only has an illustrious history – but, like the country itself, is experiencing a true renaissance.
Historically speaking, Vedado was a densely wooded military area that was developed as a defensive zone for any attacks on the much-beloved, Habana Vieja. In the 1850’s, civilians began to populate and in turn, created a neighborhood with spacious parks and Parisian-style double-width boulevards. In pre-revolutionary times, Vedado was home to swanky sugar barons and their majestic mansions. For years mobsters combed Vedado. The infamous Meyer Lansky, who arguably built Las Vegas, was a fixture. As was Santo Traficante and his prized Hotel Capri (the first hotel to have a rooftop swimming pool in Havana). Casinos and nightclubs were mainstays – as well as Havana’s famously decadent entertainment areas at the base of La Rampa (Calle 23). One of the city’s most famous hotels, Hotel Habana Libre (formerly the Havana Hilton), is also woven in to the DNA of Vedado and Cuba’s history. In January 1959, Fidel Castro and his army of rebels occupied the 24th floor of the newly constructed hotel. There they established the first headquarters for the government of the then new Revolution.
Today, Vedado is more known for restaurants than rebels. In the past few years, Havana has seen nightlife and culinary creations that rival any major city in the world – and a lot of them are here in Vedado. Fabrica de Arte is truly a unique experience and you would be hard pressed to find an equivalent anywhere. Art gallery-cum-restaurant-cum-nightclub-cum-cinema, FAC (as known to the locals, if you want to be in-the-know) is a must-stop and one-stop. You can truly spend the night here and feel like you barely made a dent.
Some of the other treasures in Vedado: La Chansonnier is one the most chic restaurants on the planet. This palatial paladare has stunning décor, great local art – and damn good food. Café Laurent must have the most charming views of the city. A culinary delight, make certain you hold out for the terrace. Pasillo and King Bar are some of Havana’s favorite watering holes where locals and visitors mingle and mix alike.
In a city that was once gastro-challenged, Havana is now leading the charge, and change. And a lot of these experiences are here in the newly transformed Vedado. We haven’t even begun to talk about the other notable paladares or the important art galleries that have cropped up as of late or the nightclubs where you will want to salsa and rhumba and cha cha cha the night away. We will have to save all of those gems for another time. In the meanwhile, Vedado is waiting and beckoning. As we like to say at My Amigo in Cuba – “Experience it now, so you are the one telling the story.”