It all started in Santiago de Cuba, where musicians known as trovadores earned their living by singing and playing the guitar in the style of the 19th-century Cuban trova music. The poetic songs evolved to create melodic boleros, which spread the country’s rhythms throughout the world.
A few years ago, restaurateur David Martinez and world-famous cantinero (bartender) Julio Cabrera traveled to Santiago de Cuba to research ideas for a venue they wanted to open on Miami’s Calle Ocho, settling on a nostalgic formula based on a retro Cuban atmosphere. There would be handcrafted classic rum cocktails, like Cabrera’s own versions of daiquiris and other inventive island potables, along with live Cuban music nightly. Meanwhile, James Beard Award-winning chef (and Martinez’s wife) Michelle Bernstein would create Cuban and Latin-inspired dishes such as Cuban sandwich empanadas and Maine lobster croquetas. And Cafe La Trova was born.
“Cafe La Trova is not a bar, restaurant or club—it’s a feeling, where you have to leave happier than when you came in,” says Martinez. “We aim to create a happy place.” And they’ve succeeded. During a recent visit, my friends from Lisbon were spellbound by the electrifying scene of people celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, as families and couples twirled on the dance floor. The cocktails were equally intoxicating: La Chancleta, a signature drink made with Leblon cachaça, ginger-honey syrup and fresh lime juice, was served on a chancleta shoe, while El Guayabero, concocted with guava marmalade blended with Herradura reposado tequila, citrus and cayenne-agave syrup, became a palate obsession. But it was the award-winning Buenavista, with Bombay Sapphire gin, cucumber, mint, lime and elderflower liqueur, that truly knocked me off my feet. No wonder Cafe La Trova ranks at number six on North America’s 50 Best Bars list and has been named one of the country’s top bars by Esquire.