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Tiki Central Forums » » Locating Tiki » » Trader Vic's/Polinesio, Havana, Cuba (restaurant)
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Trader Vic's/Polinesio, Havana, Cuba (restaurant)
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Oct 19, 2015
Posts: 399
From: East Bay, CA
Posted: 2018-03-01 09:17 am   Permalink

Welcome, Tom! Excellent post, mate! Lovely pics.


On 2018-02-28 21:02, LaHabana57 wrote:
In seven trips to La Habana since August 2016 working on a book project about the cars of Cuba
when they were new, I must have walked past the Polinesio two dozen times, always waiting for
the right moment to stop in. It finally happened last month, and what an experience!

Upon entrance you are transported back to another era, with a mood that can be best described
as ultra-swank, and I felt the urge to see if Fulgencia Batista and Conrad Hilton were seated
in one of the comfy booths in the bar, plotting their next grand project. It's that cool. I was
instantly reminded of my first Trader Vic's experience, in 1973 at the International Marketplace
in Waikiki while we were visiting my brother who was stationed on Oahu.

Batista was all smiles viewing this model, in a photo sourced from a Cuban friend.

Press photo of an architectural model of the Habana Hilton from my collection.

A photographer friend and I arrived at 2:30 for a couple of drinks and a late lunch, and we
had the place all to ourselves. Seated by the large window-walls on the far side past the bar,
the view of bustling Calle 23 was stellar and our server, Ramon suggested we try Mojitos,
"the best in La Habana." Walking around taking in the joint's fabulosity while waiting for
the food, I saw that Ramon was also the bartender and he was correct, the Mojitos he prepared
were killer! (This from one who generally dislikes Mojitos). The Pollo Ahumado a la Barbacoa
Polinesio (roasted half-chicken) was served with brown rice topped with grated cheese and ham,
and rates as the best meal I've had yet, priced at 8CUC ($8US). The chicken was perfectly-cooked,
moist, slightly smokey and even the rice was memorable.

Finally, as a few more diners began to arrive, Ramon explained in his excellent English that he
works 12-hour shifts every other day, and told us about the happy hour from 4-8pm daily, with 1CUC
Mojitos, Cuba Libres, Daiquiris and Rum Collins drinks in shorty glasses (the regular cocktails cost
3CUC). We came back a couple of days later for happy hour (the DJ's boombox music was loud and fun,
and the bar was crowded with locals hanging out), and then once more for dinner in the incredible

The Polinesio is my "new favorite place" in a city that is becoming more and more familiar with
each visit, and I'll take more pics on my return later this year. Travel to Cuba is still relatively
easy even with the recent restrictions, as long as you have a well-scheduled plan in Support of the
Cuban People, or one of the other 12 official authorized categories. I go there as a free-lance
journalist and photographer, and research keeps me near archives and ephemera vendors in La Habana;
I'll venture out to the rest of the country on future trips. In addition to the book project, two other
photogs and I have a gallery show of our Cuba work this September.

I was well aware of the restaurant's Trader Vic's past before venturing in, but what a thrill to
discover this Tiki Central thread (and others) to learn so much more here. Thanks!

A circa-1959 photo from the Sierra Maestra Panoramic room.

Here are a couple of tips....When you're at the Habana Libre, take the elevator to the
Sierra Maestra Panoramic room on the 25th floor and get a wide shot of the city.
You'll be glad you did!

...And if you don't like Mojitos, Daiquiris or Rum Collins, have a Cuba Libre!

1955 Chrysler Windsor on Calle 23 seen from our table.

Tom Gibson

[ Edited by: Hakalugi - Inserted Tom's post as I didn't want to see his great post/photos drop to the previous page! - 2018-03-01 11:08 ]

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Grand Member (first year)  

Joined: Jul 17, 2014
Posts: 1001
From: Austin
Posted: 2018-03-01 12:44 pm   Permalink

Wow, great post! So sad I didn't know about the Sierra Maestra Panoramic room. What a treat that would have been.

I still daydream of Havana all the time and wish we could make another trip out there and explore the countryside. On a different Cuba thread I posted a bunch of Polinesio pics that I feel should be shared here as well. Here's an excerpt from my trip log...


On 2017-05-04 11:44, mikehooker wrote:

The Habana Libre (formerly Havana Hilton) was directly across the street. It had some amazing design aspects including the 16 million tile mosaic.

And fun ceiling.

But our motivation lie elsewhere. Down in the basement.

We sat at the bar and Oswaldo greeted us with menus. Hey, those look familiar!

We got to talking and before you know it he brought out a bunch of goodies from his collection to show us.

The self proclaimed "Tiki Man" gave us the grand tour, showing off his "son," this Barney West carved tiki that is signed on the bottom.

The former Trader Vic's is an immaculate time capsule with so much wonderful eye candy.

And of course the Chinese ovens.

We had three rounds of drinks. Everyone's favorite was the Pirata, which is a twist on a Pina Colada and served in a newly manufactured skull mug.

I forget what it's called on the menu, but their equivalent of a Fog Cutter was pretty good as well. You might want to avoid the Mai Tai which comes out red.

The secret ingredient of the Pirata is the coconut liqueur which is very fragrant. We scoured the city endlessly in search of a bottle. We saw every other flavor variation imaginable from Mulata and had finally given up the search until alas, in our final hour in Havana, sitting on the shelf at Duty Free...

For the sake of non-redundancy, here are a few more pics I never posted...

Glorious, unscathed interior.

And some pre-Revolution pics of pics from Oswaldo's scrapbook of fancy free folks imbibing. I know some major celebrities frequented there in its short existence as Trader Vics. Recognize anyone?

I want one of those coconut mugs. They appear to be different shape and size than the ones you commonly see. Wonder if they are stamped Havana.

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Grand Member (first year)  

Joined: Aug 22, 2016
Posts: 796
From: Colorado (via Iowa)
Posted: 2018-03-01 11:27 pm   Permalink

Wow, LaHabana57, I wish my first post had been half as incredible as yours was. Welcome! I hope you’ll share more about your book, too.

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Joined: Feb 28, 2018
Posts: 3
From: Anderson, SC
Posted: 2018-03-02 09:25 am   Permalink

Wow, great post! So sad I didn't know about the Sierra Maestra Panoramic room. What a treat that would have been.

I still daydream of Havana all the time and wish we could make another trip out there and explore the countryside. On a different Cuba thread I posted a bunch of Polinesio pics that I feel should be shared here as well. Here's an excerpt from my trip log...

Thanks Mike and Hamo. It's great to see so much info and detail shots of the Polinesio.

I'll add a bit more to bigbrotiki's post and the 21 Club seen in "I Am Cuba."...

This is the Twenty One Club's listing in the 1958 Havana telephone directory.

The entrance for the 21 Club was directly across from the arched entrance to the Hotel Capri.
On the far right, we can see the "S-a-l" of the Salon Rojo, the former Casino de Capri,
in which the actor George Raft had a stake before the revolution.

George Raft is seen here in 1958 acting as a greeter at the Casino de Capri's door.

I'm very familiar with this corner, as my friend Bill Rush and I took this Chaika M14 limo to Habana Vieja,
my first ride in one the cars left behind when the Russians left Cuba. Same price as a regular taxi, 10CUC,
and something everyone should do at least once.

Before piling into the Chaika, we had a couple of cervezas at the new club, Havana's 21, at left under the
blue awnings. I've marked the entrance to the 21 Club where the scenes from "I Am Cuba" were shot.

The Mid Century Modern apartment building "21 y N" was designed by the firm of Lanz-Del Pozo.

While having those cervezas, this 1957 Imperial stopped in front of the Salon Rojo to drop off passengers,
and I raced out of Havana's 21 to get this cool shot of it. Close your eyes, and imagine George Raft
standing in the doorway, welcoming gamblers into his chic casino...

Tom Gibson

[ This Message was edited by: LaHabana57 2018-03-02 09:27 ]

[ This Message was edited by: LaHabana57 2018-03-02 09:32 ]

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