Once in awhile, we all need to take time out…
This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.”- The Sun Also Rises
Chances are that Ernest Hemingway didn’t spend much time making toasts. He would have gotten right down to the business of drinking.
Nonetheless, when you’re visiting Havana, you’ll want to raise a glass to the great American writer in a few of his favourite haunts. Hemingway lived here on and off from 1932 to 1960. It’s not hard to imagine the man strolling the sultry streets and stepping up to the bar in the spirited watering holes of this enigmatic city. From the vintage, tailfinned cars to the weathered colonial architecture, little has changed since those days.
This drink tastes exactly like remorse. – The Garden of Eden
This is where the frozen daiquiri is said to have been invented. El Floridita, at the end of the busy Obispo street, dates back to 1817, with a history as colourful as its exterior.
Indeed, Hemingway regularly held court from the corner of the polished black wood-topped bar with the likes of the Duke of Windsor, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gary Cooper, and Spencer Tracy. Hemingway’s version of the daiquiri, known as the “Papa Doble”, is made with two shots of Havana Club rum, lime and grapefruit juice and 6 drops of maraschino (cherry brandy). Have a few of those, and you may get a taste of remorse as well.
Nowadays, you’re more likely to meet other tourists there, who sidle up to the life-sized bronze statue of Hemingway for a photo. But, the spirit is warm in the cool air conditioned surroundings, and when I visited on a Monday in the early afternoon, the joint was jumping to live salsa music.
La Bodeguita del Medio
All things truly wicked start from an innocence. – A Moveable Feast.
There is a framed, hand-written inscription above the bar at La Bodeguita del Medio, that reads: “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita”, purportedly signed by Ernest Hemingway. Some suggest that the sign is actually the product of effective marketing, ironic in a city where advertising is non-existent. No matter. It’s de rigeuer for visitors to stop in at this small and steamy bar on the narrow Empedrado Street for the famous libation.
The history of the place is literally written on it. Patrons are encouraged to sign or write messages on the walls. One legend has it that revolutionaries would share secret messages in code this way. The walls are regularly painted over, with the exception of some of the signatures by famous guests, like Nat King Cole. Yes, it’s touristy, and yes, it’s fun.
Hotel Ambos Mundos
Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut. -For Whom the Bell Tolls
Down the street from the Floridita is the graceful Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Hemingway stayed between 1932 and 1939 and wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls. Recently restored, the hotel retains its classic charm with an airy lobby and, incredibly, one of those old wrought-iron caged elevators operated by a bellhop.
Hemingway’s room, no. 511, is maintained as a museum of sorts, looking out onto this view.
The real gem of the colonial-style hotel is the rooftop bar, where you can enjoy a beverage while overlooking the rooftops and the harbour of old Havana. By the way, the mojitos and daiquiris are also a better bargain here at 3 CUC, as compared to 5 CUC at the other two locations.
In 1939, Hemingway bought a house 11 kilometres east of Havana called Finca Vigia, or “Lookout House”. Owned by the Cuban Government, the house is now a restored museum, where visitors may peer in through the windows and doors on the life and times of the Pulitzer and Nobel-prize winning author.
Although it’s been over half a century since Hemingway walked the streets of Havana, his larger-than-life presence continues in the hearts and minds of Cubans and tourists alike. In many respects, he’s still there.
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