As an American not permitted to legally visit Cuba until 2016, I envisioned Cuba to be as it is portrayed in the movies and advertisements (i.e.prior to the embargo). Lots of fancy parties, great bands, and fabulous cocktails! While I am sure Havana was once the premier party destination of the the world (or at least North America!), much of that has unfortunately been lost in the last 50 years. Buildings are run down, fancy ingredients are almost impossible to obtain, and many visitors have been forced to stay away for a long time. Despite this, you can still chase Havana’s former glory and visit Hemingway’s old haunts in Havana (just remember that it will not be nearly as glamorous!). A few tour companies offer “Hemingway Tours,” which stop at his favorite spots, but you can visit his favorite bars and taste his favorite drinks on your own by following my itinerary, with a few bonus stops!
STOP 1. EL FLORIDITA.
AKA “Little Florida.” The epitome of 1950s cocktail Havana, and possibly Havana’s most famous bar, El Floridita is home to one of Hemingway’s favorite cocktails – the Daquri. Not a strawberry daquri, just a daquri. El Floridita’s daquris consist of a white slushy beverage (think strawberry daquri mouth feel) with lots of rum. The cost is $ 6 CUC per daquri and unlike other places, El Floridita does not skip on the rum!
El Floridita is located in a busy area, on the corner of Calle Obispo and Avenida Bélgica, across of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana (National Museum of Fine Arts). While there is generally a “bouncer” at the door, just walk in and make your way to the bar. The bartenders know this place is crazy busy and are very quick about taking your order and getting your drink (but they do not rush you to leave). Don’t miss taking your picture with the Ernest Hemingway statute in the left hand corner of the bar, or the life size Daquri at the entrance! A full bar, in additional to Daquris, and food is served here, and bartenders give out complimentary plates of banana chips to all patrons!
STOP 2. EL CHANCHULLERO.
Nope, not a Hemingway favorite, but well worth a cocktail lover’s stop! El Chanchullero is a new, hipster bar in Old Havana. It does not have a sign (SO HIPSTER) and famously has a hispster quote on the door – Aquí jamás estuvo Hemingway (Hemingway was never here). Despite its hipsterness, this spot is cool and one of the few modern bars in Havana. El Chanchullero has several floors, with the top floor being an open rooftop bar (although tiny). The best thing about El Chanchullero – its cheap, cheap cocktails – starting at $ 2 CUC!
In addition to cheap cocktails, a full menu is served and there is often a wait during peak dinner and lunch hours. Definitely worthy of a stop for at least cocktails! El Chanchullero is located on Teniente Rey, just a couple minutes walk from El Floridita. To get to El Chanchullero from El Floridita, walk left down Avenida Bélgica and turn left onto the third street you come across, Teniente Rey (roughly 3 blocks). El Chanchullero is located a block and a half in on Teniente Rey – between Bernaza and Cristo. The entrance is small, gray, and easy to miss. Look for the hipsters.
STOP 3. CAFE PARIS
While I’m not certain whether this bar was around in Hemingway’s time, it feels like it should have been! Cafe Paris is very Cuban cafe serving pretty good coffee and drinks at decent prices! Again, I’m not sure how long this bar has been around, but it certainly feels like it has been operating (and hasn’t changed) for the last 50 years! There is almost always a live band playing awesome Cuban music! This place really fills up at night, so go during the day to enjoy its full glory!
I ordered a double mojito at Cafe Paris and it did not disappoint! I cannot recall the exact cost but it was not expensive!
Cafe Paris is a 10 minute walk from El Chanchullero. To get to Cafe Paris from El Chanchullero, walk down Teniente Rey seven blocks until you get to San Ignacio. Take a left on San Ignacio and walk four blocks – Cafe Paris is on the corner of San Ignacio and Calle Obispo.
STOP 4. LA BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO.
Back on to Hemingway’s bar circuit – la Bodeguita del Medio. La Bodeguita del Medio is a hole in the wall, located just around the corner from the Havana Cathedral. La Bodeguita del Medio is famous for its mojitos! Legend claims that the mojito was invented at la Bodeguita del Medio, and that Hemingway frequented la Bodequita del Medio for its mojitos alone.
As I mentioned, this place is truly a hole in the wall. There is limited seating and you really have to inch your way to the bar and order by holding your hand up with how many mojitos you want. Mojitos were $ 6 CUC, like the Daquri at El Floridita (but I thought the Daquris were better!). Aside from cigars, mojitos were the only drink that I saw served here. Since la Bodequita del Medio is so small, patrons often spill into the street to enjoy the mojitos. A band often plays in the street during busy hours, such as when a cruise ship is in port! Quite the party!
La Bodeguita del Medio is a 3 minute walk from Cafe Paris. To get to la Bodeguita del Medio from Cafe Paris, walk one block until you get to the Plaza de al Catedral. Go down the street to the left of the Catedral, Empedrado, and la Bodequita del Medio is located a few doors down on Empedrado!
STOP 5. PINA COLADA CART.
While this stand was certainly not around in Hemingway’s time, this is the best deal around. What I have dubbed the “Pina Colada Cart” is truly a moveable cart that specializes in making pina coladas out of fresh pineapples. The cart is located on Empedrado, just down from La Bodeguita del Medio.
Definitely get in line and order a pina colada con ron (with rum) for $5 CUC. The result is a freshly made pina colada made and served in a real Cuban pineapple on the spot! They even give you the pineapple that they cut out to eat! While the rum was a bit light, this is such a fun experience!
To reach the Pina Colada Cart from La Bodequita del Medio, make a right as you leave La Bodeguita del Medio and walk down Empedrado – it was the equivalent of a block away.
STEAL OUR TRIP
El Floridita: Obispo No.557 esq. a Monserrate, Habana Vieja, Ciudad de La Habana, Cuba
T:(53-7) 867 1299. Reservations not necessary. Open daily 11:00 – 12:00.
El Chanchullero: Tte Rey # 457 entre Bernaza y Cristo, Habana Vieja, La Habana. T:(+53)7 861 0915. Open 13:00 – 12:00. Recommended to make a reservation during popular hours, or be prepared to wait.
La Bodeguita del Medio: Empedrado, La Habana, Cuba. T: 53 7 571375. Open daily 8:00 – 12:00. No website. Reservations definitely not necessary. There is a gift shop next door selling la Bodeguita del Medio gear.
Pina Colada Cart: Open during crowded times, particularly when cruise ships are in port. No website.
ON A BUDGET
If you are on a budget, El Chanchullero is certainly your best bet! Local beer is also quite cheap throughout Havana.