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BEST COCKTAILS Minneapolis 1998 -

The transformation of this restaurant from its drab West Bank roots to probably the classiest act in the Warehouse District is one of those mixed blessings for us old-timers. We lost a good, cheap eatery, but we gained an extravagant hangout--this is not Che's Havana. The house specialties are Cuban: The mojito ($4.75) is a sweet summer concoction of club soda, sugar, fresh mint leaves, and rum. Speaking of rum, there are currently 25 varieties behind Havana's bar, and their martini list features them prominently. Lightweight drinkers might enjoy a glass of Hatuey ($3.75), a pre-Castro beer brewed by the Bacardi family (who now call Puerto Rico home), available exclusively at Havana. But it isn't really the drinks that make Havana the prime destination for the cocktail set; cocktail snobs might prefer the more staid Lexington in St. Paul. The secret to the appeal here is the scene: the ornately carved bar, the sexy paintings, the overstuffed chairs, the heavy drapery. It's like a club, with a clientele that's dressed to kill. A menu that includes entrées and appetizers such as ropa vieja (spiced shredded beef over rice), puerco asado (marinated roast pork), lamb shank, and fried plantains cuts the alcohol beautifully.

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