Hemingway had a long-lasting love affair with Cuba and he made sure the world would know it. His love for Cuba outlives in his writings through the voice of his characters. Daiquiri and Mojito were just two of the many things he loved about Cuba...
The legend goes as far as saying that Hemingway outfished, outhunted and outdrank most of his contemporaries. Truth be told, Hemingway had a passion for drinking and no one did more to play up the heroic magnitude of the writer's drinking than Hemingway himself.
Hemingway's affair with drinking
Hemingway was one people would call an Olympian drinker and he never claimed anything else. He liked his Martinis dry, his Mojitos sweet and his Daiquiri sugarless. On a usual afternoon at Floridita, Hemingway had an average of 6 Papa Doble Daiquiri. He reportedly sometimes downed up to 12 Papa Dobles in one sitting. It was rumored that later in his life Hemingway drank a quart of whiskey a day.
When looking at the daily at artists' alcohol drinking habits, Mason Currey found that while many artists did drink a great deal, very few mixed alcohol with their working hours. Hemingway was similarly also adept at balancing late-night drinking with early-morning work. Currey quotes Hemingway' son, Gregory, who recalled that the author seemed immune to hangovers:
“My father would always look great, as if he’d slept a baby’s sleep in a soundproof room with his eyes covered by black patches.”
It seems all artists need to depart from their own work for few hours and for some of them, including Hemingway, alcohol was a reliable escape. As Hemingway wrote:
"When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky?"
The big man has taken seriously his own advice and whenever someone made a trip to Havana to be introduced to him, Hemingway would meet him at La Florida bar, affectionately known as the "El Floridita." It’s here also were he got his inspiration, got to know Cubans and celebrated his third marriage with Martha Ellis Gelhorn, the American journalist, who is now considered one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century.
Hemingway's affair with drinking speaks through the voice of his characters...
From "La Piña de Plata" to “El Floridita”
Opened in 1817 under the name "La Piña de Plata" (The Silver Pineapple), this historic fish restaurant and cocktail bar situated bar in La Habana Vieja (The Old Havana), El Floridita lies at the end of Calle Obispo (Bishop Street), not far away from Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana (The National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana) and Hotel Ambos Mundos where Hemingway maintained a room from 1932–1939.
Almost 100 years since its opening, the establishment changed its name to "El Florida", but with time it became popularly known as "El Floridita". This is the name under which it became one of the favorite hangouts of Ernest Hemingway in Havana.
In 1914, Constantino, nicknamed Constante, a Catalan immigrant Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, started working in the bar as cantinero (bartender). Four years later, Constante became the owner in 1918. According to cocktail historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Constante was known as “El Rey de los Coteleros” (The Cocktail King) and reportedly squeezed 80 million limes and poured 10 million daiquiris in his lifetime.
Passion, rum and cocktails
It took Constante few years and a lot of passion poured into his numerous creations (Presidente, Habana Special and many more) to turn El Floridita into Havana's cathedral of cocktails.
Although the story goes that the Daiquiri was invented in Cuba in or around 1898, in the town of Daiquiri, by an American mine supervisor named Jennings Cox, it is Constante who is today credited for inventing the frozen daiquiri in the early 1930s.
There were several types of daiquiri Constante and his cantineros used to prepare for Floridita’s visitors, so it’s no surprise the establishment became known as "la cuna del daiquiri" (the cradle of the daiquiri).
When walking today through the doors of Floridita, one cannot help notice the many pictures of famous people hanging on the walls, as well as the life-size bronze statue at the end of the bar, sculpted by the Cuban artist José Villa Soberón.
Despite of the passing years, Floridita miraculously preserved much of the 40’s and 50’s and I guess this is does not have to do only with the with the red coats of the bartenders matching the Regency style decoration that dates from the ‘50s, but also because of the long the original 10-meter long mahogany bar that still dominates the main room, the same Corinthian friezes the carpentry work, lamps and the paintings on the walls. In 1991 El Floridita was totally remodeled, respecting all the original elements.
Tourists and locals entering Floridita’s door, can also enjoy the delicious seafood served in the restaurant area and hear the live music band singing some great Latino songs.
El Floridita’s famous guest list
It is Hemingway’s Daiquiri and written stories that turned El Floridita in one of the most well known bars in the world. Referring to his preferred sugarless Papa Doble Daiquiri, Hemingway once said:
“the drinks had no taste of alcohol and felt, as you drank them, the way downhill glacier skiing feels running through powder snow.”
In 1953, Esquire magazine, called it one the world's seven best bars, along with, the Pied Piper bar in San Francisco, the Ritz in Paris and London, Raffles in Singapore, Club 21 in New York and the bar at the Shellbourne Hotel in Dublin.
The establishment was frequented by many generations of Cuban and foreign intellectuals and celebrities from all parts of the world.
Famous writers as Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, Graham Greene, Jean Paul Sartre, Gabriel García Márquez or Tennessee Williams; actors such as Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Ava Gardner, Gary Cooper, Harry Belafonte, Matt Dillion, Danny Glover, Jack Lemmon, or Jack Nicholson; or celebrities such as Rocky Marciano, Silvio Rodriguez, Javier Sotomayor, Paco Rabanne, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Giorgio Armani, Jean Michel Jarre, and others; they all stopped at least one time at El Floridita to enjoy Hemingway’s daiquiri.
Perfect Daiquiri at El Floridita
F. Scott Fitzgerald may have been the first novelist to introduce the daiquiri to the literary audience in This Side of Paradise, but is Hemingway who made it famous with the voice of his characters in his novels.
In Hemingway's posthumously published novel Islands in the Stream, Thomas Hudson is an artist who paints island scenes for a living. As long as he fills his days by doing what he loves most, namely painting, Thomas finds relative peace on the beautiful island of Bimini, the most western island in the Caribbean. Yet, just like Hemingway, Hudson is also known as a prodigious drinker, enjoying his daiquiris with no sugar, as they could be consumed in larger quantities without getting one sick.
Hemingway’s Daiquiri aka Papa Doble
It feels to me a little bit unfair to end this post and not to share with you the perfect Daiquiri recipe. It’s exactly the one for the Daiquiri I had in Floridita few times along with some delicious slices of fried Cuban bananas.
So, here there are the ingredients you need have so you can to prepare Hemingway’s Daiquiri or Papa Doble as it is also known:
- 2 oz white rum
- 1 oz fresh lime juice
- 1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
- 1/4 oz maraschino liqueur
- shaved or cubed ice
Fill a blender/shaker with one-quarter full of ice, preferably shaved. Add rum, lime juice, and maraschino liqueur to the blender or shaker. Shake vigorously for about thirty seconds, or until the drink is foaming. Strain into a chilled fluted glass.
Share your Daiquiri with your best friends. It will taste even better!
More Cuban stories ...
- 1-hour documentary on Hemingway’s life in Havana (external link)
- Watch mixologist Jim Meehan of PDT preparing Hemingway Daiquiri (external link)
- More Daiquiri classic recipes from Difford (external link)