Houston’s New Secret Bar Is a Sexy, Sophisticated Speakeasy Wonderland — Your First Look Inside the Hidden Emilia’s Havana
Prolific Restaurateur Ben Berg's Latest Is Something Different and ExclusiveBY Shelby Hodge // 11.15.22
Berg Hospitality Group's speakeasy Emilia's Havana draws a chic and well-monied crowd to the luxury hideaway on Post Oak Boulevard. (Photo by Brian Kennedy)
Emilia's Havana is restaurant magnate Ben Berg's gift to Houston sophisticates who crave something different in their nightlife adventures. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
Emilia's Havana, the intimate speakeasy, seats a maximum of 50. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
Lobster corn empanadas and duck Cubanos are on the limited menu of light bites at Emilia's Havana. (Photo by Brian Kennedy)
Guests are invited to fill their cups at the rum fountain that flows continually in the center of the intimate club. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
Table lighting in Emilia's Havana, the latest entry into Berg Hospitality Group's stable of entertainments. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
Caviar servered two ways on the menu at Emilia's Havana. (Photo by Brian Kennedy)
Julep's Alba Huerto created the cocktail menu for Emilia's Havana. Here the bartender prepares an El Presidente. (Photo by Brian Kennedy)
The bar at Emilia's Havana exudes the vibe of the Hemingway era in 1950s Cuba. (Photo by Brian Kennedy)
Monkeys traipse across the wallpaper at Emilia's Havana, a chic speakeasy entered through The Annie Café kitchen. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
Musicians from Cuba keep the bossa nova beat going throughout the night at Emilia's Havana. (Photo by Shelby Hodge)
Diners in The Annie Cafe couldn’t contain their curiosity as guest after guest was escorted by a suited manager through the dining room only to disappear into the kitchen — and not return for hours. That is just part of the mystique of Emilia’s Havana, prolific Houston restaurateur Ben Berg’s latest and surely the sexiest, entry — speakeasy style — into his hospitality stable.
The peripatetic restaurateur has transformed an unused corner of The Cafe Annie building into a luxurious throwback to 1950s Havana, a nod to Cuba’s colonial era when nightclubs flourished, the bossa nova was king and Hemingway called it home.
“When presented with this small space by my landlord, which was formerly a storage closet, my immediate thought was to create an intimate, speakeasy style lounge with live music every night,” Berg tells PaperCity of Emilia’s Havana. “This is something I feel Houston is still really lacking.
“You are going to pay a premium for your seat, but I am positive that this is a space where everyone will be able to really let loose and enjoy that nostalgic Havana vibe and unique bossa nova style of music that most people have only seen in the movies.”
Our Emilia’s Havana journey began at The Annie Cafe reception desk where a manager was summoned to escort us through the restaurant and into the kitchen where pantry shelves opened to reveal a dark and alluring passageway. It was as if we moving through a lady’s darkened closet with mirrors and shelves filled with jewel boxes, pearls, ashtrays and the random cigar. At the end of the narrow hallway, we were greeted by a glamorous hostess who invited us to enter the world of Havana in the 1950s.
The intricately carved doors opened to reveal a fern- and palm-infused bôite with wallpaper of rollicking monkeys and a gleaming (though not too bright) chandelier anchored amid the ceiling of draped satin. Before being seated, the hostess handed us each a tiny cup and invited us to fill them at the rum fountain that centers the room. We then took our seats on the banquette and settled our cups on the low-profile cocktail tables.
Let the drinkees and the light bites begin.
The Emilia’s Havana space is intimate, luxurious and divine, accommodating no more than 50. A trio of Havana musicians plus a songbird deliver the sounds of the bygone era. Dancing encouraged.
Berg tapped Julep’s James Beard Award-winning bar owner Alba Huerta to create the cocktail menu that includes upscale variations on the Cuba libre, daiquiri, el Presidente and mojito. Shareable gourmet light bites include two caviar presentations, lobster corn empanadas, duck cubano, truffle tartar, snapper and scallop ceviche, and king crab croquetas. That’s it.
Nights at Emilia’s Havana are a rare, rich and pricy experience. If the price tag doesn’t stagger you, do not miss it. In fact, we would hope that some of our friends would buy out the glamorous speakeasy for private parties and put us on the guest list.
There are two seatings at Emilia’s Havana — 7 to 9:30 and 10 pm to 12:30 am nightly, which includes two hours of live music. From 12:30 am to 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays, a DJ spins tunes.
Reservations are $50 per person entertainment fee plus a $100 minimum per person food and drink charge for the early seating and a $150 per person charge for the later seating. A 22 percent service fee is automatically applied to the food and beverage tab.