Café Habana

This Latino bar-restaurant in Souk Al Bahar is rowdy but surprisingly good laid-back fun. Don’t be misled — Café Habana isn’t a café. Nor, as our eating out editor will reluctantly tell you, is it much of a restaurant. If you ask us, it’s really a bar in disguise. When we visited late one weeknight evening we struggled to play spot the diner. But our eyes couldn’t move a micro-swivel without meeting another trendy affluent thing swigging a cool mixed drink, leaning artfully against faux-faded wooden panelling that recalls the picture postcard version of a Havana social club. This rowdy and sociable atmosphere can be easily explained by the venue’s prominent bar area, loud party tunes, eager bartenders — and potent concoctions. So for our purposes it’s a bar, we say. Although one that’s rather confused about its own identity: the sleek modern mirrored ceiling jars uncomfortably with fake bricks walls, while urban art deco three-tone prints sit oddly on faux terracotta walls. An established US brand that landed in Manhattan in 1998, now transported to the Souk Al Bahar, perhaps we should forgive the cultural mish-mash. Nonetheless, the affect is that of visiting an expensive Downtown bar, which is doing its best impression of a less glamorous nightspot, much like a rich man donning his old torn jeans for show. Or, to put this another way, there’s not many bars cool enough to pull off a Che Guevara portrait, and this could be a case of close, but no Cuban cigar. The cluttered sense isn’t helped by the frantic staff, buzzing around in a state of seeming confusion. Twice food was delivered to our table and then taken away: The first time, it was someone else’s order and thankfully removed. The second, it was ours, and it took some negotiation to reclaim. Perhaps fittingly, only the barman seems on top of the situation, recommending mixed drinks with a smile and oodles of charm to spare. Despite the breakneck close-to-chaos vibe — or perhaps, in some way, because of it — we can’t deny this place is great fun. It might seem odd that this bar sits so close to another new Latino arrival in Souk Al Bahar, Fuego, but judging by the heaving crowds Habana is in little danger. There’s no arguing this is a counterfeit Cuban experience, and filtered both through New York and Dubai, now so many degrees away from the original concept, there’s not a great deal of authenticity left. There is spirit however, and while perhaps not a spot to bring the parents to, there are few more colourful places to enjoy a Downtown drink.

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