Bar Review: Havana, Colaba
For Mumbai residents of a certain age, a visit to Havana, the new Cuba-themed bar at The Gordon House hotel, feels like returning to the site of your childhood… okay, young adulthood. Havana, you see, has replaced Polly Esther’s, the retro-themed nightclub where many of us, now in our mid to late 30s, danced while inebriated to 1970s disco, 1980s pop and 1990s hip hop. It isn’t quite like they’ve cleared paradise and put up a parking lot, but walking up the staircase to the bar, we felt a tinge of sadness that a piece of our 20s was now gone forever. To patrons of Polly Esther’s, the place is unrecognisable.
Havana has been designed to resemble a Cuban courtyard, with arched columns painted in pastel colours, patterned floor tiles, wicker chairs and an unused fountain. Predictably though inappropriately – staunch socialists will be displeased with such unabashed commercial exploitation of their imagery – there are frescoes of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara on the walls. There are some fine touches, like the chandeliers. There’s one made of fedora hats above the fountain and another composed of empty bottles of Old Monk and Bacardi over the reception area. And the bartenders do look more dapper in white shirts and suspenders than in the brightly coloured shirts and Afro wigs they had to wear at Polly’s.
Rum naturally figures heavily on the bar menu, from which of course we had to order the mojito (Rs350). Theirs wasn’t the best version of the highball we’ve had but it was adequately boozy. Less potent is the Cuba Libre (Rs250), also known simply as rum and Coke. Havana offers over two dozen signature tipples. We tried, on a bartender’s recommendation, the Jack Sparrow (Rs450), a heady mix of white rum, espresso and Kahlua that you should order if you have plans to party all night, and the Treacle of Bermuda (Rs300), a blend of dark rum, apple juice, brown sugar and bitters.
We didn’t quite know what to make of the latter, because what was first served to us was a watery glass of rum and bitters with barely a hint of apple juice. After we asked for it to be improved, we got what resembled Gold Coin with a dash of rum and a garnish of two slices of apple. If by chance you get this variant of the drink, then you might find it too sweet but to be fair, it is named after treacle. At this point, we recalled how we never came to Polly Esther’s for the cocktails. Most often, we’d get the Cuba Libre and back then, we just called it rum and Coke.
That food is not a priority here is evident from the fact that it takes up only half a page of the menu. The grub, like the rest of bar, was pleasantly palatable but hopelessly inauthentic. The paprika dusted patatas bravas (Rs190) were bite-sized, finger-friendly cubes of masala potatoes that you could very easily make at home. The Cubano traditionally is a sandwich of ham and cheese. Here, they make them with chicken, paneer, roasted veggies or fish. Our chicken Cubano (Rs350) had a slice of bland cheese but no jalapenos, which are listed as a component on the menu. The roast chicken sandwich tasted like something you would get at a cafe chain while the chicken quesadilla (Rs270), one of two main meals offered, was the kind of Indian Mexican snack served at Shiv Sagar but embeliished with the white meat. The dishes reminded us that we never went to Polly Esther’s for the food either. We went to dance.
Because it’s housed in a hotel, Havana, like Polly Esther’s, is open until 3am. Polly’s was the place people flocked to after all the other bars had shut at 1.30am. Typically, you’d get there at around 2am, your stomach lined and your blood alcohol level high enough to help shake off all traces of self-consciousness. When we stepped into Havana, they were playing Now That’s What I Call Latin Music or at least all the songs that would make up such a compilation. The city’s salseros, alas, weren’t doing the baila to ‘Bailandos’ or swaying to ‘Sway’. Then, around 10.30pm, the playlist switched to retro pop and we heard everything from ABBA and Osibisa to Alphaville and Ace of Base. And the crowd started dancing in their seats.
They included a fair number of folks that can be best described as uncle-aunty types, who were also known to frequent Polly’s. And expectedly so. That club, after all, celebrated the time and music of their generation. Havana, one of the few new bars at which we didn’t hear a single EDM remix, will perhaps be a South Mumbai nightspot for grown-ups that isn’t also a restaurant. The neighbourhood, where once again the nightlife scene seems to have slowed down in comparison to Bandra and Andheri, could sure as heck do with such a joint.
Prices exclude taxes. This review was conducted anonymously.
It is our policy to wait at least a week before we review an establishment.
Havana, The Gordon House, Battery Street, Apollo Bunder, Colaba. Tel: 022 2289 4400. Open daily, from noon to 3am. Get directions here.