A bronze statue of Ernest Hemingway sits at Floridita bar and restaurant in Old Havana. // © 2016 Greg Olsen
Feature image (above): Stepping into Floridita is like stepping back in time, as little has changed since the novelist was a frequent visitor there. // © 2016 Greg Olsen
On a barstool in the corner of the Floridita bar and restaurant in Old Havana is a bronze figure of Ernest Hemingway — a tourist attraction that draws many visitors into the bar for a selfie and a drink. During his lifetime, the famous writer known to Cubans as “Ernesto” spent many hours sipping daiquiris and visiting with bartenders at this establishment. Some say Floridita was his favorite bar, and it hasn’t changed much since 1960, when he was last there. Truth be told, you wouldn’t need a bronze statue to feel connected with him here. In Havana, Hemingway seems to be everywhere.
Hemingway isn’t just remembered in Cuba — he’s revered and celebrated. He lived in Cuba for more than two decades, and his experiences and interactions formed the basis for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Old Man and the Sea,” which is still taught in U.S. schools today. If you wander around Havana’s airy courtyards and cobblestone streets, you’ll feel as if you have slipped back to a time when you might run into him around any corner.
Hemingway’s presence is almost tangible in Havana, but the following sites are particularly associated with him.
Large block-style brass letters across the front of the red and black bar declare Floridita as the birthplace of the daiquiri, and it’s still the established drink of choice. Hemingway loved a good drink and is said to have spent many hours in Floridita — proclaiming its daiquiri to be the best in the world. Today, there’s a brass statue of him on his favorite barstool that’s roped off with a velvet rope. A picture of the famous novelist with Fidel Castro hangs on the wall.
La Bodeguita del Medio
A small plaque hung inside La Bodeguita del Medio displays Hemingway’s original signed quote: “My mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and my daiquiri in the Floridita.” This establishment claims to be the birthplace of the mojito and has been serving the drink since the place opened in 1942. It was a popular drinking spot for many celebrities, including Hemingway. In its heyday, La Bodeguita del Medio hosted the likes of singer Nat King Cole, the president of Chile, poet Pablo Neruda and artist Josignacio.
Hotel Ambos Mundos
Hemingway wrote portions of his famous novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” while residing in room 511 of Hotel Ambos Mundos, located at the edge of Plaza de Armas, Havana’s oldest square. This tiny hotel is very much like it was in his day, and the staff likes to say that guests who stay there will dream about the characters in the writer’s novels. Room 511 has been turned into a museum of sorts, and there’s a small charge to enter and see the room just as it was in the 1930s.
About 10 miles east of Havana, in the small town of San Francisco de Paula, is Hemingway's Cuba house, Finca Vigia, or "lookout house." The house was built on a hill in 1886 by Spanish Architect Miguel Pascual y Baguer and was purchased by Hemingway in 1940 for $12,500. He wrote portions of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and other novels while living at Finca Vigia. After Hemingway's death in 1961, the Cuban government took ownership of the property and turned it into a museum that is currently being restored. Visitors can tour the site for a small fee.
The largest marina in Cuba is named after Hemingway, and an annual fishing tournament held out of the marina also bears his name, in honor of his love of big-game fishing and proof of his iconic status in Cuba. Marina Hemingway has room for about 100 vessels, and there are plans to expand the marina hotel in the near future. The Hemingway International Billfish tournament, which dates back to 1950, is considered one of the oldest big-game saltwater tournaments in the world. The writer participated in the tournament and won the championship cup three times.