Little Havana’s got a big bar scene. From the renascent Ball & Chain to a slew of small, under the radar lounges, this isn’t your abuela’s Calle Ocho. Sure, you can sip old-timey cocktails that your granny may have had in some sizzling Cuban hot spot back in the day, but beyond the retro, it’s all nuevo on SW 8th Street. The following is a top-shelf selection of some of the steamy spots on or near Calle Ocho.
Ball & Chain
A saloon that’s been through more incarnations than there are vodka flavors these days, Ball & Chain has seen highs and lows as a bootleggy, mob-tied gambling den, restaurant, and speakeasy. It’s also hosted headliners like Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and Chet Baker. Today, it’s a huge, indoor/outdoor hipster haven—the chairs are said to have been graced by Cuban tobacco farm workers—with live music and sophisticated sippings, including magnificently muddled mojitos and old-school bananita daiquiris strong enough to resurrect Lola and Rico from “Copacabana.” But fear not, there’s no Manilow here. The music ranges from modern-day salsa and Latin funk to old-school jazz and blues. A tasty tapas menu of chicharrones, congri fritters, roasted corn, and fish tacos is available—if you ever get off the dancefloor.
LeKoke Wines & Bites
More reminiscent of old-school Spain than Cuba, the Little Havana gem known as LeKoke Wines & Bites evokes an atmospheric, antiquey era, serving a stellar selection of wines and delicious tapas. Amidst the racks of bottles and retro movie cameras and projectors are tables full of locals and visitors reveling in conversation, meats, cheeses, olives, bruschetta, and sips of hard-to-find albariño, among other varietals. The soundtrack here is more Sinatra than salsa, transporting you from a seedy stretch of SW 8th Street to a more elegant, swellegant time.
Cubaocho Art Center
Forgive the pun, but rum, don’t walk to this Prohibition-era Cuban speakeasy, in which an unabridged collection of rums—billed as the world’s largest, but it’s at least the most impressive in Little Havana—is available in all cocktail incarnations retro, modern, and retro-modern. Savor your drink, and admire the exceptional collection of Cuban art adorning the place. Then smoke a cigar on the patio before the live music—maybe a tango—begins. You can show off your moves, or just kick back on the mismatched couches and take in the scene, which is seemingly different on any given night. That’s just half the charm. The other half is in your glass. Salud, indeed.