The tourist that stay here today are a far cry from some of the people that used to frequent this storied old building in years past. From the beginning of the 20th century until the Revolution in 1959, Havana was known as the playground of Mafia bosses from the United States. From the 1940s onwards, the Hotel Nacional hosted Mafia figures as they went about their business in Havana, and 1946 saw the infamous Havana Conference take place.
Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, two of the biggest mobsters of the time, set up the meeting at the Hotel Nacional to discuss business plans and policies with crime families from across the United States. All of this took place with the apparent blessing of the Cuban dictator of the time, Fulgencio Batista, under the cover story of a gala dinner with entertainment provided by legendary singer Frank Sinatra.
Sinatra’s links to the mob are another story entirely, but the Hotel Nacional was a hugely important venue for the crime families. Not only did it provide a space for them to discuss US business interests away from the prying eyes of the FBI, but they could also run their extensive interests in Cuba.
The full extent of what was discussed at the Havana Conference will never be known, but historians agree that decisions taken there had wide repercussions for Mafia activities across the US for decades. In popular culture, the conference was represented in the film The Godfather Part II, in which Michael Corleone flies to Havana for a meeting.
Visitors to Havana can stay in the Hotel Nacional to this day, but it’s pretty pricey. Those on a budget are better off staying elsewhere but you can always visit the hotel for a cocktail, many of which have names inspired by the Mafia era.