When you walk in the streets in Havana, Cuba, you can feel its history all around you. It's in the texture of the buildings, in the live music playing at night in the bodeguitas, and in the laughs of people gathering in the plazas. Like wrinkles on the face of an elder, these are signs that show a city has many stories to tell. You just need to seek out the storytellers. One of those storytellers is El Floridita, La Cuna del Daiquiri (The Cradle of the Daiquiri).
El Flordita opened its doors in 1817 and was originally named La Piña de Plata. The story, as it was told to me, was that sometime later the name was changed to El Florida. However, there were two bars in town called El Florida at the time, so people would plan to meet at El Florida but end up at different locations. In 1942, the owners of the bar decided to change the name to El Floridita and the rest, as they say, is history.
The El Floridita building sits at 557 Obispo, at the corner of Avenida Belgicia in Havana Vieja or Old Havana. The outside walls are painted bright pink with white, blue, and green signs that light up in the night. Inside the décor is reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby era. The plush reds and gold accents are slightly tarnished and faded, but still reminiscent of its spectacular heyday. The long wooden bar stretches the length of the back wall and black metal chairs scatter the floor, parked next to small round tables. Thick red velvet curtains hang at the far end of the room, separating the bar area from the dining room, which is beautifully festooned with white tablecloths and stemmed glassware, albeit very dated in the most charming of ways. A small four-piece band plays by the front door welcoming guests into the over-capacity bar as the singer belts out beautiful Merengue songs in Spanish.
I look behind the bar and see the same two guys that served me when I was here three years ago, with the same white shirts and red waistcoats, and the same lackadaisical look with irreverence towards their customers as they pump out daiquiris by the blender-full, almost with their eyes closed.
In recent years, El Floridita has become a popular destination for tourists in Havana, a pilgrimage for hospitality professionals and literary buffs hoping to recapture the days of old while sitting next to the bronze statue of Hemingway in the corner of the bar.
Supposedly, this is where he always sat and enjoyed his Papa Doble. The Papa Doble was Hemingway’s favorite twist on the traditional daiquiri made with fresh grapefruit juice, lime juice, a small amount of maraschino liqueur, and the simple syrup is removed. It's been said that he drank his daiquiri with a double shot of rum, hence the moniker Papa Doble. Hemingway drank this version so often that it is now on the menu at El Floridita as the Papa Hemingway.
I sat next to Hemingway's statue and imagined coming here to meet with him to discuss his upcoming book or a recent trip to the French countryside. It turns out, he didn't have much to say that day, which is alright by me. I was busy watching people stream in and out of the bar in astonishing numbers. Some only to shuffle behind me to pose with Earnest while their friends took pictures from across the bar.
I watched as the bartenders made batch after batch of daiquiris sending out 20 glasses at a time, only breaking from the routine to make the odd strawberry daiquiri or a glass or two of the Papa Doble version.
I ordered a Classic and within seconds it arrived, as well as a small plate of salty fried plantain chips. A perfect combo.
These days the original recipes have been altered and the fresh-squeezed juices have been substituted with sweetened concentrates, eliminating the need for sugar or simple syrup. The results are as anticlimactic as the price, which at $6 U.S. is high by Cuban standards.
Nevertheless, El Floridita remains a cornerstone, figuratively and literally, in the foundation of world wide cocktail culture and a must-sip location in the city of Havana. As Hemingway himself said, “My mojito at El Bodeguita, my daiquiri at El Floridita.”
Since the recipes at El Floridita have been altered for speed and efficiency, I have included the original recipe by Constantino Ribalaigua Vert and an altered one by cocktail legend Dale Degroff from his book, The Craft of the Cocktail.
Recipe originally created by Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, as remembered by A.E. Hotchner. This drink takes the standard daiquiri recipe, doubles the rum, and adds maraschino liqueur and fresh sweet Marsh grapefruit juice.
- 3 oz. white rum
- Juice of 2 limes (1.5 - 2 oz.)
- 0.5 oz. juice from a Marsh grapefruit
- 6 drops Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1) Blend rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice, and maraschino liqueur with ice.
2) Pour into a chilled coupe glass and serve without garnish.
“The original daiquiri recipe didn’t call for any sugar, just a touch of the maraschino liqueur, and it is always reprinted that way out of respect to Papa; Hemingway had an aversion to sugar. But you can be sure that for the average customer at El Floridita, the simple syrup was part of the recipe.” - Bartender Dale Degroff
- 1.5 oz. white rum
- 0.75 oz. fresh lime juice
- 0.5 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
- 0.75 oz. simple syrup
- 0.25 oz. maraschino liqueur
1) Shake the ingredients with ice.
2) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
About Chef Dylan Benoit
Dylan Benoit is currently on hiatus, traveling the world to experience different culinary cultures around the globe. Previously, he was the head chef for the Market Street Group in Grand Cayman, which includes Craft Food & Beverage, Mizu Asian Bistro, Waterfront Urban Diner, Duke's Seafood and Rib Shack, Fidel Murphy's Public House and Lone Star Bar and Grill. Originally from Toronto, he trained with some of the top chefs in Canada, like Mark McEwan, before moving to Halifax for a few years and eventually the Caribbean.
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