Hotel Sevilla

Havana, Cuba | C.1908

Photo Credit: Kenny Gunawan

The historic Hotel Sevilla in Havana, Cuba, is a fourstory Moorish Revival structure located at 55 Calle Trocadero. It opened on March 22, 1908, as Havana’s top luxury hotel. Later, it would be purchased by New York hoteliers and renamed the Sevilla Biltmore.

The original architects drew inspiration from the Court of the Lions in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain—whose entrance incorporates open-air marble columns and mosaic tiles. That style is reflected in the vibrant glazed tiles decorating the hotel’s lobby.

In 1939, the hotel was owned and run by the Havana Mafia, its principal owner the Italian Uruguayan Amleto Battisti, mobster kingpin of La Bolita, the city’s lottery racket, the racecourse, and the Casino Nacional. Over the next two decades, partial ownership of the casino was assumed by one of the most powerful mobsters in America, Santo Trafficante Jr., who was happy to offer Al Capone a complimentary stay at the hotel.

However, the Sevilla Biltmore’s days of shady extravagance came to a halt in 1959 on New Year’s Day, when Fidel Castro’s rebel army descended on Havana, forcing then-president Fulgencio Batista to flee the country for the Dominican Republic. Mobs destroyed much of the city—including the hotel and its famed casino, forcing Amletto Battisti to flee, taking refuge in the Uruguayan embassy.

Today, the hotel remains a landmark of Old Havana’s social and cultural scene. From the revived rooftop restaurant—its former grand ballroom—the city sparkles before you, as a rum cocktail sparks the illusion of sharing the rhythm of dancers who once graced the floor beneath you.

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