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Hemingway’s Watering Holes and Life in Cuba

While walking on a sweltering heat in Havana, I finally gave up finding La Bodeguita, a place where Papa Hemingway used to get wasted.

I found a small cafe, sat there and ordered a bottle of mineral water. When the waiter came back, I asked him where the said bar was and he told me it’s just two blocks from the cafe.

“You like Hemingway? Me, I read no his stories but Havana people like him, so I like him, too.”, he asked, without giving me a chance to answer.

Hemingway is a good Cuban!”, he continued like it’s a fact.

Next to Fidel Castro and Che Guevarra, perhaps, Ernest Hemingway is the third most famous guy in Havana. Ask every Havana resident, even a random guy sitting in a park, about the prolific writer, their eyes sparkle at the familiarity of his name—and beam with pride. Hemingway, no doubt, is an honorary Cuban.



Hemingway’s Watering Holes and Life in Cuba

Let’s start Hemingway’s Cuban connections with his two favorite watering holes in Havana: La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita.

1. LA BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO

Tucked in an alley around San Cristobal, La Bodeguita is the birthplace of mojito, a drink said to be concocted by Hemingway (debatable).

Hemingway Bars in Havana

Heningway Bars in Havana.

It’s a small place and it was mercilessly crowded on the day I went there. After 10 minutes and three times of trying to call the waiter’s attention for my order, I left frustrated. I can’t compete shouting with others.

Hemingway Bars in Havana La Bodeguita

Hemingway’s mojito at La Bodeguita El Medio Bar in Havana.

A skinny glass of mojito is ridiculously priced at $6—because Hemingway’s name is attached to it. The constant flow of tourists make it more expensive—and I’m not even sure if it’s worth it. The same amount can get you 3 glasses of mojito in any bars in Vedado’s bar district, La Rampa.



Hemingway Bars in Havana La Bodeguita

This man issues certificate of attendance to prove that you’ve been to La Bodeguita El Medio.

Outside, you can literally vandal (leave your autograph on) the wall–write whatever comes to your artistic mind. And oh, Nat King Cole was once here, too. 

2. EL FLORIDITA (Little Florida)

The “Farewell to Arms” writer didn’t go anywhere but here when he wanted his daiquiri. To immortalize him, a life-size bronze statue is erected inside, his left arm leaning on the bar, like he’s excitedly waiting for his drink.

Hemingway Bars in Havana El Floridita

Hemingway’s statue at El Foloridita Bar in Havana, Cuba.

You have to line-up if you want to take a picture with the cold statue. On the walls are photographs of him with Fidel Castro and of other famous luminaries who visited the bar. 

Hemingway Bars in Havana El Floridita

If could gulp down 13 doubles in one sitting, then, you beat Hemingway’s record.

This place, however, is a much bigger than El Bodeguita. There’s a live band here singing all day and there’s even a space for dancing. If you are a poor backpacker, just line up for the photo op. They won’t notice it anyway. 🙂

3. HOTEL AMBOS MUNDOS

Hemingway once rented Room 511 in this hotel where he wrote three of his novels/stories. Though the room is spruced up, an old bed and some pieces of furniture are kept as they were. There’s also display of Hemingway’s books and photographs and his old typewriter sits forlornly in a glass box.

Hemingway in Havana Cuba Ambos Mundos

Hemingway’s Room at Hotel Ambos Mundos in Havana.

Lonely Planet claims that Hemingway wrote his FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS here but the guide said it’s never true. I showed her the book and let her read it and she was laughing, “Believe me, I breathe Hemingway, so I should know.” 

Hemingway Bars in Havana Ambos Mundos Hotel

Old Havana from Room 511 / Ambos Mundos Hotel.

From his room window, the view of Havana Vieja is wonderful.

When you go, tell the receptionists that you are going to Room —-. They will call the guide to open the room for you. They will then direct you to an ancient elevator that will bring you upstairs. Fee: $2.



Hemingway's Watering Holes and Life in Cuba Hemingway Bars in Havana

View from the rooftop of Hotel Ambos Mundos in Havana.

When you’re done, go one floor up and enjoy the panorama of Old Havana. You don’t need to order from the rooftop restaurant/bar as long as you don’t sit in one of the tables.

Read: Hemingway’s Birthplace / House in Chicago

4. FINCA LA VIGIA

For almost 20 years, Hemingway and his wife lived here. Fifteen kilometers from the city center, this house is kept as it was. There’s a bell that visitors can ring at the front door—because this is where he wrote the classic FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS and THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA that won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. Parts of A MOVEABLE FEAST was also witten here.

Hemingway's House in Havana Cuba Finca La Vigia

The living room of Hemingway’s house in Havana, Cuba (Finca La Vigia).

Visitors aren’t allowed to go inside the house—but all the doors and windows are open where you can have a peek of almost every area in the house. The smell his old books lingers the air.

5. THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE MEDALLION AT EL COBRE

Even before he won the most-coveted Nobel Prize, Hemingway promised to give the medallion to Batista’s government (before Fidel Castro)—but he changed his mind and gave it to the Catholic Church for safe keeping instead.

El Cobre Church Hemingway in Havana Cuba Nobel Medal Hemingway

Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Cobre.

For many many years, nobody knew of the whereabouts of the medallion—until one day in 1999, the world read this article. A priest kept it with care at Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Cobre, just outside Santiago de Cuba in the southeastern part of the country.

When I visited the Basilica, I asked one of the Church attendants if there’s a chance for me to see Hemingway’s Nobel Medallion. He was very surprised of my question and asked me where I got the information. I told him I’m a fan of Hemingway and therefore I know things most tourists in the area don’t know. He smiled and like a trained Catholic congregant, he said in an unconvincing words, “It’s not here.” I tried hard to convince him to show me where the medal was displayed, to the extent of sounding like I was ready to bribe him, but again, he said, “It’s not here, really. I swear to God.” Sensing that I was very persistent, he led me to an area where devotees to the Lady of Charity left their gifts for miracles or for favors that came true. He pointed to a small picture frame of Hemingway handing the medallion to the Catholic Church.

Hemingway's Watering Holes and His Life in Cuba

Hemingway presenting the Nobel Medallion to the Catholic Church.

Back in Havana, when I visited Hotel Ambos Mundos (see #3 above), the guide to Hemingway’s room told me that the Nobel Medallion is there at El Cobre. When I told her what the church attendant told me, she said, “It’s there. I’m 100% sure. It’s really there.” 


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3 Responses to “Hemingway’s Watering Holes and Life in Cuba”

  1. Doreen
    May 26, 2014 at 12:21 PM #

    I think I’m going to freak out or emotional when I see his house. I’m such a fan of him. Like I read ALL his stories since grade school.

  2. Fred
    May 27, 2014 at 9:58 AM #

    I didn’t like daiquiri but i do love mojito.
    You forgot to visit the fishing area where Hemingway used to go fishing.

    • TheSojourner
      May 27, 2014 at 11:13 AM #

      Oh yeah, I know about that fishing area but I just didn’t have time. I did the Hemingway’s house two hours before my bus to Varadero left. I guess, I have to go back there. LOL

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