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A trip to Havana is a trip back in time. It’s a place with little internet access and few smartphones. Antique cars in various states roll down the streets, ferrying tourists around the city, as well as intrepid Cubans who have kept the cars running in creative ways through the decades.
In many ways, Havana remains similar to the unique city that was beloved by Ernest Hemingway, who spent much of his time in Cuba prior to the Revolution.
Many of the bars that Ernest Hemingway frequented (and if you know his reputation, you might want to change “frequented” to “lived in”) still stand today. While his fame has been exploited to keep the tourists coming, there’s still a certain romantic charm to going to a bar where a famed writer spent his time, especially when those bars haven’t changed much through the years. Each has its own history, which may or may not have evolved in the truth department as time has passed.
I visited four bars in Havana, Cuba where you can drink where Ernest Hemingway drank.
Two of Hemingway’s haunts are famous for specific drinks. While the cocktails may or may not have been invented in each is besides the point, what matters now is if they still make them well or if they’re just a marketing tool to pry money away from tourists.
Floridita’s reputation is for being the “Cradle of the Daiquiri.” The daiquiri was definitely created in Cuba, and perhaps to some it was perfected here.
The bar has variations of the cocktail depending on your preferences (Hemingway apparently did not drink his with sugar), but the traditional floridita daiquiri contains rum, sugar, ice, lime, and maraschino liquor. The video below features one of the bartenders making the famous drink.
A bar has been in this location of Havana Vieja since 1817, eventually changing its name to Floridita after about a century. A century after that, you can visit the bar much as it was in the 1950s, aside from the presence of air conditioning and a life-size statue of Ernest Hemingway that stands in the corner.
Of the Hemingway bars I visited, this was the most touristy feeling. A band played Cuban music near the door as visitors crowded to take photos with the statue. I managed to find a seat at the bar after a few minutes, but otherwise most tables were taken. With great daiquiris and air conditioning, who can blame people for staying on a 95 degree day? If you’ve ever had a frozen daiquiri made from a machine or mix at a crappy bar, be sure to have a real one at El Floridita. You won’t be disappointed.
La Bodeguita del Medio
If Floridita is fancy, then La Bodeguita del Medio is a dive. I mean that, of course, with complete adoration. There’s no air conditioning in this tiny bar in Havana’s Old Town. Instead, half of the front wall is open, plus there are ceiling fans. Good luck finding a seat in the small bar area, though there is a restaurant portion in the back. The fun is in the front, with live bands playing music in the corner.
La Bodeguita del Medio claims to be the “Birthplace of the Mojito.” To be honest, I’ve never loved mojitos. This changed as soon as I arrived in Cuba and had one from La Bodeguita del Medio. My issue with mojitos in many American bars is that for some reason, bartenders believe the mint needs to be chopped up, so it’s like drinking pond water. Muddling the mint is sufficient for releasing the flavor into the rum and doesn’t result in tiny bits of leaves getting into your mouth. The mojitos at La Bodeguita del Medio are great. I stayed for one, and then two, and then perhaps a couple more, as the atmosphere was great.
During lulls in the music, enjoy your mojito while looking at the signed walls and decorations. While the quote on the wall reading “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita” may not actually be from Ernest Hemingway, and perhaps he didn’t drink here much (the history appears to be a ploy to piggyback on his fame), that doesn’t stop visitors from packing in. No trip to Havana is complete until you’ve had both famous cocktails in their “home” bars.
Another Havana bar frequented by Ernest Hemingway is Dos Hermanos, along the waterfront in Havana Vieja. Dos Hermanos is located right next to the Havana Club Rum Museum, making for a perfect stop after the tour.
It’s a spacious bar with large windows facing the promenade. Los Dos Hermanos is one of the oldest bars in Havana, but renovations over the years have made it look more modern & less divey than its history would suggest.
Despite it being a hot, humid day, Dos Hermanos was mostly quiet when I visited. While Dos Hermanos may not have a signature cocktail, in Cuba you can’t go wrong with anything involving rum. I opted for a Cuba libre, the simple drink made from rum & TuKola from Ciego Montero (the Cuban equivalent of Coca-Cola).
Sloppy Joe’s combines both the history of Havana and the promise of its future. For decades, it was popular with celebrities who made the short trip from the United States. However, the bar fell into disrepair after the Cuban Revolution and was eventually shut. In 2013, after a long restoration process, Sloppy Joe’s finally re-opened to customers.
The painstaking restoration recreated what was once the place to be seen in Havana. Old photos adorn the walls, along with those of new patrons who have continued the tradition. In addition to Ernest Hemingway, celebrities who have visited Sloppy Joe’s include John Wayne, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Frank Sinatra, and uh… Adam Sandler.
It’s a huge, air-conditioned space, but it wasn’t packed. The long bar had plenty of room, and the ample cocktail menu & decent food would keep any drinker busy for days. I had a Cubano sandwich, tamale wrapped in bacon, plus a chocolate cake dessert, washed down with a beer and a pineapple & maraschino rum cocktail. Given its central location in Havana Vieja, Sloppy Joe’s will see the crowds once again.
Yes, all of the above bars are popular with tourists, but that was the case even when Hemingway passed many hours in them. There’s a reason why everyone wants to visit for at least a drink. If you want to see classic early-to-mid 20th century Havana while having some nice Cuban rum in a place steeped with literary tradition, follow the drunken ghost of Ernest Hemingway through Havana Vieja.
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