Dateline Havana: Hotel Inglaterra

You stand in the grand lobby – gilded, ornate – waiting for the lift-doors to open. Off to your right, behind the wrought-iron grille, a pair of well-heeled diners sip at their coffee, eyeing the menu, while an unctuous waiter in starched shirt glides by. At any moment the lift will arrive and Bogart will step out, a laughing Bacall or Bergman on his arm….

You don’t go to the Hotel Inglaterra in Havana for its service (we left without eating, even though we were starving) but for the elegance, the ambience, the colours and scent of the corrupt and gorgeous neo-colonialism of pre-revolutionary Havana.

There is Somerset Maugham – or is it Graham Greene? – lounging on the patio. Outside the sun pounds like an iron spike into the pavement, but here, under the awnings, in the high-ceilinged dining room, or on the rooftop, at sundown, you are invited – seduced, inveigled – into a resurrected world of stars and starlets, fish-eyed politicians, sharp-suited mafiosi. Just around the corner – across the square, down a crumbling street – the ruined majesty of Habana Viejo, the old city, waits.

But first you pay homage at the Hotel Inglaterra. You take the lift to the rooftop, and order a caipirinha.