Home to the city’s flashiest neighbourhoods, Miramar and the western suburbs comprise Havana’s alter ego, replete with sleek Miami-style residences, swish new business developments and brash five-star hotels. Among the last sections of the city to be developed before the Revolution, this is where the wealth was then concentrated, and it’s slowly trickling back through a growing clique of international investors and wealthy foreign residents. The area still has its share of broken sewage systems, unlit streets and overcrowded buses, but a gentler pace of life exists throughout the western suburbs, calmed by the broad avenues and abundance of large drooping trees.
Though there is an aquarium, one or two small museums and plenty of wonderful houses and embassies to gawp at, most visitors to this part of the city come here for the nightlife and entertainment, particularly the famous Tropicana cabaret, as well as for the area’s swanky international restaurants and its upmarket paladars, which between them offer the most diverse and sophisticated eating options in Havana. You’ll have to go all the way to the western extremities to find the only proper beach, at Club Habana and, just beyond that, Marina Hemingway, where boat trips and diving expeditions are the main draw.
The whole area west of the Río Almendares is occasionally mistakenly referred to as Miramar, but this is in fact the name only of the oceanfront neighbourhood closest to Vedado, the two linked together by a tunnel under the river. Most of this western section of the city, including Miramar and its even leafier neighbour Kohly, belongs to the sprawling borough of Playa, stretching out for some 15km along the coast.Read More
Not for nothing were the female dancers of the Tropicana described in their heyday as Las Diosas de Carne (goddesses of the flesh). There is something quite idolatrous about the spectacle of intricately painted showgirls clad in feathers, sequins and elaborate headdresses commanding the stage of the most famous cabaret in the world.
Evolving to cater to the north American tourist trade, Cuban cabaret really started when nightclub owner Victor de Correa cut a deal with casino operators Rafael Mascaro and Luis Bular and relocated the dance troupe and musicians from his successful nightclub Edén Concert, to the rented grounds of Guillermina Pérez Chaumont’s stately villa in Havana’s Marianao. The new business partners renamed the cabaret Tropicana in reference to the lush vegetation that would characterize their outdoor cabaret; and with a winning combination of dazzling musical shows and high-stakes casino, the club went from strength to strength.
Its heyday was in the 1950s, when the famous Arcos de Cristal glass-walled stage opened. The 1950s also saw cabaret-casinos open in various venues across Havana including at the Havana Hilton, the Riviera and the Nacional hotels – all of which still operate cabarets to this day. Following the Revolution all cabarets were nationalized and the mob, which had grown to have a large commercial interest in the cabarets, were expelled from the country.
Today the standard of both house band and dancers at the Tropicana is phenomenal, with the troupe often including several dancers who narrowly failed to make the grade at the Cuban national ballet. While some might find the sexist nature of scanty costumes and provocative dances somewhat hard to swallow, there’s no denying that this spectacle is a quintessential Cuban experience.