Head to Guantanamera (just off Plaza Santo Domingo) for your first drink of the night: Not only does the club-café have one of the city’s most extensive collections of rum (top quality stuff from Colombia Guatemala, Ecuador and other Latin American nations) but the four-piece Cuban band will get your blood flowing and your body moving.
Once you’re sufficiently warmed up, take a short walk to Tu Candela, a small dance club located in El Plaza de Los Coches. The 10,000 peso ($5) cover charge is good for one drink (either a Cuba Libre or a Beck’s beer) once you’re inside. The downstairs bar has a shadowy, cavernous feel to it, and within its sloping brick walls, revelers dance to salsa, meringue, and a few American hits that play on flat-screen TVs.
While there are plenty of places to drinks and move throughout the old city (and the nearby neighborhood of Bocagrande) the epicenter of the clubbing action is along Calle del Arsenal, located in the Getsemaní neighborhood. At first, it seemed odd that all the bars and nightclubs along this strip (and there are nearly a dozen) are located adjacent to several local banks, but it sort of makes sense once you get a look at the drink prices.
While not expensive by American standards (you’ll pay $3-4 for a beer, $5-8 for a mixed drink) they're pretty pricey for South America. When partying with friends, it actually makes more financial sense to buy your hooch by the bottle (that’s what many of the locals do) a move that also guarantees you a table.
By far, the most popular destination along this strip is Mister Babilla, a massive dining and entertainment venue that’s set up with tables like a restaurant, but encourages dancing in any and every inch of spare floor space. The wall are absolutely drowning in kitchy, colorful décor (think: a cross between a TGIFriday and Senor Frogs) and the ceilings are lined with Bose Cannon speakers to allow the nonstop rumba, salsa and merengue music to reach every corner of the joint.
If you haven’t polished up your steps before arriving, you may want to sit back and watch all of the other young couples shaking their hips. As my boyfriend Jeff and I learned, its pretty tough to fake the funk when you’ve got real deal dancers all around you.