Getting an Authentic Taste of Havana

For MTThe recently opened Floridita bar has been several years in the making. It boasts a live band, professionally mixed cocktails and hand-rolled cigars.
Though recent rumors regarding the possibility of Russian strategic bombers refueling on Cuba and allusions to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis might amount to nothing more than a lot of hot air, a Cuban base of sorts has opened its doors for business right in the heart of Moscow.

Floridita, famous for being one of Ernest Hemingway's favorite Havana haunts, as well as for inventing the daiquiri, has set up shop on Moscow's Arbat with the blessing of the Cuban government, which owns the exclusive licensing rights for the Floridita brand.

"Moscow is a cigar-friendly city," noted John Rose, an advertising executive and investor who has been the driving force behind bringing Floridita to Moscow.

The bar is already open, but the grand opening will take place at the beginning of September. Like other Floridita outposts in London, Dublin and Madrid, the Moscow bar will offer an impressive selection of only hand-rolled Cuban cigars in its huge downstairs humidor. In contrast with its counterparts in European countries, where smoking in bars and restaurants has been outlawed, patrons of Floridita in Moscow will be able to puff away inside the establishment.

Even during Soviet times, when people had to wait in lines for basic staples like bread and meat, high-quality Cuban cigars were available to ordinary people, as the Soviet Union sought to buoy the exports of its Communist client state in the Caribbean by purchasing hefty quantities of one of its few viable exports. However, proper maintenance was not usually observed, often causing the cigars to dry out, grow mold or otherwise lose their quality.

Since the turn of this century, Russia's rising wealth has facilitated a new interest in premium cigars among the upper strata of society.

A few other establishments in Moscow, including the Grand Havana Room and Old Havana restaurant, have sought to cash in on this trend as well, offering hand-rolled cigars to complement drinks and dishes.

The Grand Havana Room originated in Hollywood after California banned smoking in bars and restaurants as a place where the business and entertainment elite could rub elbows and blaze up at will. It seeks to retain this exclusive atmosphere in its Moscow incarnation by restricting admission to club members, whose membership must be unanimously approved by the powers that be.

Floridita, Rose said, aims to provide more "cozy, intimate surroundings," with a live band playing in the corner, just like you would actually find in Havana.

Floridita is located at 36/2 Arbat. Metro Arbatskaya. Tel. 626-7177.

Grand Havana Room is located at 2 Slavyanskaya Ploshchad. Metro Kitai-Gorod. Tel. 974-3218.

Old Havana is located at 28 Ulitsa Talalikhina, Bldg. 1. Metro Volgogradsky Prospekt. Tel. 723-1656.