Located on the coastal outcrop of Punta Brava, on the hill of Taganana almost at the end of the San Lázaro cove, the usual place for pirate landings, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba has risen since December 30, 1930, as the most important hotel in the Greater Caribbean.
The hill that receives him was host in the mid-nineteenth century of the famous Santa Clara battery. The “Ordóñez” canyon, one of the largest at the time, still rests in the hotel gardens. Likewise, in the morillo of Punta Brava, the alderman Don Luis Aguiar harassed the British during the siege and assault on Havana. In homage, his surname gives name to the hotel’s most famous and luxurious restaurant.
The American firms McKim, Mead & White and Purdy & Henderson Co, in charge of the plans and execution, completed the majestic mansion in two years.
The visitor’s attention is caught by the galleries in the gardens that recall the monastic cloisters of Spanish-Moorish arcades, the main floor similar to three parallel naves of a medieval church, or the simulated ceiling beams that recall an old Catalan monastery with Arab reminiscences. Its eclectic architecture nuanced by Art Deco or the neoclassical and neocolonial of its designs, the addition of the elegant Apartment of the Republic with direct entrance and the necessary privacy for a guest of the Cuban State, and the cozy Presidential Suite explain the visit of personalities of art, literature, politics, commerce, science and business, age after age.
Among its first illustrious visitors are personalities of art and literature such as Johnny Weissmüller, Buster Keaton, José Mojica, Jorge Negrete, Agustín Lara, Tyrone Power, Rómulo Gallegos, Errol Flynn, Marlon Brando and the famous Ernest Hemingway, who donated a castero to the bar “Sirena”. In addition, famous representatives of the Italian-American mafia such as Santo Trafficante, Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello. They enrich their tradition of hosting luxury personalities from politics and science, such as Winston Churchill, the Dukes of Windsor, the scientist Alexander Fleming, countless Ibero-American Heads of State and European monarchs.
It should be noted that in December 1946 the hotel was the scene of one of the most crucial meetings of all the mafia bosses of the United States and those who took care of their business on the island, bringing together the five families of New York.
At the end of the fifties the Hotel was renovated respecting the original plans, adding as much comfort as possible to make it competitive.
The protagonism of the National Hotel is prolonged in the time, to receive businessmen and noble anonymous people of the world, until it was constituted in headquarters of important international events and to continue being the “enchanted castle” of which Carpentier spoke, so dazzling that appeared the night of its inauguration.
The eight-story, Spanish-style building stands on top of a hill overlooking the Malecon, so guests can enjoy panoramic views of Old Havana and Vedado. The majestic gardens that surround the hotel are a formidable and cozy place to rest after a day of exploration of the city’s centers of interest, or simply an excellent place to enjoy a drink contemplating the enormous expansion of the Caribbean Sea. A uniformed doorman greets guests at the entrance to the extensive lobby, where the aristocratic and luxurious ambience of the place is immediately striking (an eclectic combination of Mudejar slabs, lamps and Elizabethan beam ceilings, reminiscent of a medieval church and which may well help to understand why renowned Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier once referred to this building as an “enchanted castle”).
The lobby is usually full of visitors and groups of tourists, as is the busy bar behind the doors that open into the gardens. So you end up feeling that this hotel never sleeps. The hotel has six bars and a famous cabaret. At the same time, the hotel serves as a stage for live presentations of son, water shows and even sporadic fashion shows. Not to mention the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, which every December installs its press room in the hotel, where you can meet Cuban personalities of culture and art, or one or another Hollywood star. However, the Nacional is not exclusively for night owls or entertainment hunters: it also has a well-equipped business center, exchange houses, nine meeting rooms (including the Salón Taganana, which is used for press conferences) where interpretation services are offered, and a floor completely dedicated to executives with check-in service at the moment and cybercafés for both business travelers and those who come to participate in congresses and conventions.