Hidden Gems of Havana - 4/5 series

This is part four of five in my "do not miss" recommendation series of hidden gems of Havana for when you are ready to experience the magic of my city.    Boris Masip - My Amigo in Cuba

Barrio Cayo Hueso (Key West)

Cayo Hueso is the quintessential Cuban-American neighborhood. It was originally named Arranburu but was renamed by Cuban returnees, from South Florida, as they resettled into the area and shaped it to suit their newly acquired tastes. Starting in 1857, economic crisis and political unrest drove a large number of Cuban workers, cigar factory owners, and other entrepreneurs to migrate to Florida. After the war of 1898, as the economy prospered and the political situation stabilized, the working class returnees migrated to this area. The biggest landmarks in the area are undoubtedly the Maceo Park across from the Malecon Avenue and the Hermanos Amejeiras Hospital (the tallest building in the neighborhood and an important hospital in the country).

Although the architecture of the area is predominantly Neoclassical; walking the area is a dream for architecture buffs who will also delight in the beautiful examples of Art Nouveau, and Art Deco - and all the detailed iron work of the buildings in the area. The barrio was also famous for being a hotbed of leftist political activity. In 1951, it elected Fidel Castro Ruiz as a representative to Congress and was home to some of the people who accompanied him in his failed attempt to overtake the Moncada garrison in Santiago de Cuba in 1953.

Culinary aficionados take note. Cayo Hueso is where you will find La Guarida restaurant, (Concordia #418). This restaurant is emblematic of the paladar movement in Cuba. Maybe because it was the setting of the movie “Strawberry and Chocolate”; maybe because it captures the decaying grandeur of the city as few other places do; but most likely, because the kitchen is making some of the best Cuban food dishes you can have anywhere in the world.  La Guarida is a favorite of tourists and locals. Suffice to say, that you may have seen the images of Madonna dancing on tables in its bar area as she celebrated her 50th birthday. Advanced reservations are a must.

San Cristobal, (San Rafael #469).  There must be something in Cayo Hueso, as the owners of this paladar also found success and fame with this area. Some may surmise that San Cristobal, the patron saint of Havana, has given them their blessing. The food is superb and they have perfected something that in Cuba at times is a challenge – good service. Pay attention to the furniture and you will recognize American furniture from the early part of the 20th century. In Cuba, we called the style Republica. The walls are decked in old black and white personal pics that will make you feel as if you are visiting the house of your old maid aunt who safeguards the collective memories of the family. President Obama eschewed some big official affair and went for dinner there. To everyone’s surprise, his daughter Melia was the family translator that night. Hopefully, the Presidential seal of approval is enough of an endorsement to lure you there. Again, advanced reservations are a must.