O’Reilly 304 may sound to American readers like a local Gaelic league or an auto-parts store, but in Havana, it means the cutting edge of Cuban mixology. You’ll never forget its address, which doubles as the establishment’s name. Located on a street named for a long-lost Irish general from the Spanish empire, O’Reilly brings the world of hip liquor to the streets of Old Havana.
As with many of the most exciting watering holes in the city, the story of O’Reilly 304 begins with the removal of restrictions on private ownership. It was founded by two brothers in 2013. As soon as it was possible for them to open their ode to avant-garde cocktails, they leapt at the chance. One brother with experience in government run operations, José Carlo, runs the bar. The other, Julio Cesar, travels the country in search of the most delicious produce to feature in their recipes.
Familiar rice and beans, a Cuban staple, won’t be found here: the brothers have abandoned them in the spirit of fresh ideas. You also won’t find hipsters crafting overpriced drinks here. Instead, O’Reilly specializes in gin cocktails infused with the life of Havana. The food critics at Grubstreet call it “whimsology,” a kind of drink crafting that concerns itself more with the exciting fringes of drink possibility rather than the extraneous rules of mixology. Drinks are as colorful as the flora of Cuba itself, featuring fresh fruit and even flowers. Many faces of the ever-present mojito are featured at O’Reilly: one is made with Jagermeister, another with Jim Beam.
Reservations are necessary in this tiny bar. Only 30 patrons can fit inside the building, and it’s always at max capacity during daily operating hours of 12PM to 12AM. If you happen to be wandering the streets of Old Havana and find yourself staring at a narrow jar filled to the brim with blue liquid, garnished with a long spiral of lime, you’ve found the right place. Once you press your way through the throng of people on the sidewalk, you’ll be able to place a drink order through the window. Many cocktails cost around $8 a glass, so you’ll be glad for the reservation and the chance to sit down and sample the extensive menu.
Should exquisite Cuban cuisine be your forté, you won’t be disappointed by the O’Reilly’s offerings. In addition to a tasty gin-based beverage, they’ve featured such varied fare as malangas empingadas, in which formerly-traditional malangas (also known as taro, a root vegetable like a potato) are sautéed with soy and oyster sauce and served with a whole red pepper.
They’ve even begun serving Japanese cuisine, like the formerly unheard of seared tuna with a raw interior that would have never been found at a curbside Cuban restaurant before. Sometimes change comes from the bottom and works its way up; sometimes, it descends from above. O’Reilly 304 has proven that real change often comes from the gut.