Food & Drink The bar tab

We’re in the basement

There’s an air of Mystery! about the Havana Riverwalk Inn. In the parking lot, we came upon a pair of double-handled cast-iron urns chained together and looking rather bleak, as if at any moment their ornate bowels could burp up one of Edward Gorey’s wraiths.

From there, a beguiling throughway led us to a long brick patio overlooking the River Walk. Beneath heaving chandeliers, wood ferns thrive and a small, wooden bar awaits summer — for although the patio is encased in glass today, I can imagine it with the windows open, like garage doors, to let the cool river air up and the smoke out. One could do worse than enjoy a balmy night there.

The Cigar Bar

Havana Riverwalk Inn
1015 Navarro
Mon-Thu 4-11pm,
Fri & Sat 4pm-2am

The Havana’s lobby is delicious in its details, not so much the architecture, which is appropriately turn-of-the-century grand, but in the décor. Amongst a collection of well-worn vintage suitcases waiting to be claimed from a closet labeled “Left Luggage” and a rickety wooden bookstand — its tenants so torn and otherwise abused as to render the titles illegible — even the creak of the floor seems cultivated.

It was tempting to linger, but the Cigar Bar awaited one floor down. In the elevator, lined with aged oriental rugs, I had the feeling of traveling down into a Depression-era speakeasy, and when the doors opened on a dimly lit salon the vision was complete.

“This is not a ladylike place, check your gender etiquette at the door,” said one drinking companion, referring to the deep, oversize leather chairs, which are not conducive to crossing at the ankles, and to a boyish group of suits collected in front of the bar, cigars ablaze.

Yet, the masculine chairs are the perfect size to curl into and, at the end of a long day, seemed suited to a good book and a hot toddy.

“A what?” said the sweet young bartender. No toddies here; the Cigar Bar has no honey, and sugar just won’t do. What it does have is wine, spirits, and a significant list of Czech, Belgian, Mexican, Brazilian, and English beers. But, while the bartender mixed a refreshing and balanced Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic, the Cigar Bar is as much about ambiance as alcohol.

Mirrors in dark frames of varying size and shape, and in various stages of decrepitude cover the walls and make the room feel close, but not uncomfortably so (in spite of the silver-nitrate damage, the mirrors are reflective enough to allow undetected surveillance of the other tables), and tiny antique bottles — Meier’s Wild Mountain Blackberry Wine and Penguin Distilled London Gin — stashed around the room only enhance the speakeasy feel of the place.

And easy it is. Lights dim and candles are lit at 6:30 p.m., when the music switches from Hammond Organ-heavy jazz to Louie Armstrong, but otherwise the place is without a window and the only way to reckon time is in drinks. Z is for Zillah, who drank too much gin, as Mr. Gorey wrote.

Susan Pagani


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