A spontaneous trip brought us back to the beautiful Cartagena, Colombia. We were excited to stroll the colorful streets in the historic walled city for a second time and visit Cuba 1940s, a gastro bar serving up more than just great eats. See why this hip hideaway quickly became our favorite restaurant in all of Cartagena.
Inside the historic walled city near the Caribbean coast of Cartagena, Cuba 1940s is among the restaurants and cafes tucked around the arcane streets that trace their history back to the Conquistadores. The city, as a key Spanish export city for Peruvian silver, was officially settled in 1533, and the walled city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
On the corner of Calle 39 (Calle Stuart) and Carrera 8, the restaurant opens on to the corner of Plaza San Diego; two doors up from an Anthony Bourdain-featured Cevicheria (mostly hype, we wouldn’t return). From Boca Grande (Hyatt Regency Cartagena) or elsewhere along hotel row (Intercontinental, Hilton) the restaurant is an 8,000 COP taxi ride, or just less than $3.
Calle Stuart #7-46, Cartagena, Bolivar, Colombia
+57 5 6685124
How We Found It
Rewind to a couple of years ago, we had been wandering around the walled city aimlessly. In the scorching afternoon sun with a very tired two-year-old in tow, we were looking for a place for reprieve. A savory aroma of something comforting filled the air and our noses pulled us into a cafe doorway on the corner. The moment we stepped foot inside we were transformed into Cuba in the 40s. The woman who greeted us wore retro styled garb playing the part of a hostess in Havana circa 1940 and the man behind the bar in his suspenders and fedora.
It was hot and this place was cool.
To our surprise, there was a small plunge pool toward the back of the dining room. The hostess insisted we relax poolside and dip our toes as we sipped our cold drinks. We looked over the menu and asked about that delicious smell that filled the air, whatever it was we wanted it. “Sorry, that’s not on the menu, it’s my boss’s lunch.” As we were the only patrons in the joint, we chatted with the wait staff and ended up chatting with the owner as well. He even offered us a bowl of the stew he had made himself for lunch. The cafe had only been open a couple of months and we knew we had stumbled upon a real gem.
There was no doubt that on our recent spontaneous trip to Cartagena, we would make it a priority to visit Cuba 1940s again.
The tables and chairs that filled the space are beautiful and look to be original sets adopted from various places, all pieced together in a perfectly mismatched way. Photos of jazz singers and nightclubs in Cuba fill the walls between the brick archways that separate the room into three different areas; the bar, dining room, and pool. This place is oozing with character and yet it still feels laid back and comfortable.
At the far end of the pool, a stage bridges over the water giving the restaurant space for entertainers. There is live Cuban music every day; Monday through Saturday nights and on Sunday afternoons. Our daughter was overcome with excitement when she heard the lively Caribbean Jazz fill the room. It held her attention through the entire meal and even afterward as she sat soaking her feet in the pool and bobbing along.
It’s one thing to pull off the ambiance and have a pool in your restaurant, but to do that and also have great food is a big win. When we first visited (in 2016) the menu consisted of only a few tapas items and we gladly sampled nearly all of them. Now the menu has more than doubled offering a variety of starters and entrees. We still did our best to try as much as possible.
There is a lot of food pictured here but to be honest, we visited for dinner and for lunch the following day. (More on that in a moment.) The food for me is a solid 10 out of 10 but I might be so bold as to say that a few of these dishes are an 11. We tried a wide sampling of the menu which you can see in its entirety by clicking here.
Our favorite dishes if we had to pick just a few were:
Pio pio vaca frita – a serving of fried shredded chicken and sweet plantains. It’s juicy, crispy and the perfect balance of salty meets sweet.
Panceta pasión – Pork belly with a passion fruit glaze served over yucca. Like the pio pio, it’s the balance of salty with sweet but this time add the sour from the passion fruit. It was rich and fatty – perfect for sharing as this on its own might be a little too much.
Tostones con mojo – Tostones (or Patacones) are everywhere in Colombia and I wanted to eat them every chance I had. This smashed plantain is savory, salty, and the perfect texture for dipping or topping. Usually, we love Tostones with black beans, but here they were served with a green tomato and lime sauce for dipping. It was delicious.
The menu prices range from about $5-$9 USD for drinks and appetizers to $12-18 USD for dinner entrees. For a nice night out in Cartagena’s walled city, it’s completely affordable by US standards. There are many places around the city where you can eat for cheaper, but the overall experience with ambiance, service, and quality of food is extremely high.
The pool gives this spot an extra something special. For patrons coming in from the heat, to have a cold drink and a small bite it’s the perfect spot to sit and unwind. The outer ledge is filled with small cushions inviting guests into this space and a small basket with clean towels sits off to the side, making it easy to dry off before you depart.
The best part is, the entire space above the pool is open air and gives the whole restaurant an airy feeling. It rained after our lunch and we enjoyed watching the rainfall into the pool between the building. When you look up from the pool you can see the second story of this building is private, I assume an apartment or living space for the owner. This place looks like an expats dream. It looks like mine, anyway.
Lucy Insists We Return
We were going to come back to Cuba 1940 when we returned to Cartagena no matter what. In all honesty, my husband has dreamed about returning to this particular place for some time given the unique architecture and style of the property and the experience we had our first time around. But our return this time was based on two things, the food is incredible, and Lucy loved the pool. When we asked Lucy what she would like to eat for lunch the next day she said: “I’d like to go back to the place we had dinner and try something new.” We didn’t need any excuse to go back for lunch the following day, we were more than happy to do so.
There are plenty of popular, trendy, and delicious places to try within the walled city but we knew exactly what kind of food we would get at Cuba 1940s and we were happy to try more off the menu. Every visit to this spot has been so good, it was worth writing about. If you find yourself wandering around the walled city on a hot day, make your way to Calle Stuart and duck into the little blue corner spot with a Cuban flag out front. Tell ’em Lucy sent you.
Have you tried Cuba 1940s? Do you have another favorite restaurant in Cartagena, Colombia?