The Most Famous Daiquiri in the World Tastes Like Sweet, Frozen Fame

The Most Famous Daiquiri in the World Tastes Like Sweet, Frozen Fame

I visited the cathedral of daiquiris in Havana, the place where Ernest Hemingway visited on a daily basis, to see if the drink still held up after all these years of fame.
April 17, 2016, 8:00pm

Ernest Hemingway liked his daiquiri unsweetened and oversized: four ounces of white rum blended with crushed ice, lemon juice, grapefruit juice, and six drops of cherry liqueur from El Floridita bar, in Havana, Cuba. Legend has it he once drank 16 of these "papa dobles" in one sitting. Perhaps this is why the daiquiri became a cocktail classic.

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Hemingway at el Floridita bar. An archive photo, courtesy of Floridita Bar.

Daiquiris are, in appearance, a simple thing: white rum, lemon juice, sugar, and crushed ice that's shaken vigorously into frothy frostiness. But as David A. Embury wrote in his book, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, the daiquiri "is a cocktail that is difficult to improve upon. It is dry, yet smooth. The reaction time is short." They also go down real easy.

READ MORE: The Dark Side of Daiquiri Beach

These days, it is, sadly, hard to get a decent one, even if you're in Cuba. Playa Daiquirí, where the drink was invented, now belongs to the Cuban military, and most bars in Havana serve monster aberrations called "slurpe-slushees"–industrially-flavored smoothies made with processed sweeteners.

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Floridita Bar. Foto de Luis Cobelo.

After sipping on a few of these myself, I've realized that Hemingway's favorite drink seems to be trapped in sweet, frozen nostalgia for Havana's Golden Age.

Hemingway's first trip to Cuba took place in 1928; he stayed for a couple of days during a layover on his way back to the US. His biographers claim that the images of a lavish and magic Havana were instantly burned into his retinas, which would become the beginning of a historic future for both Cuba and the nobel laureate.

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Outside El Floridita. Photo by Luis Cobelo.

But it wasn't until 1932 when Hemingway returned to Havana, looking to fully dedicate himself to his passion: fishing. He stayed at Hotel Dos Mundos, an iconic hotel, and dropped by El Floridita for daiquiris and La Bodeguita del Medio on a daily basis for mojitos by the bucketful. Who could blame him?

As the story goes, Hemingway was walking through Calle de Obispo, one of Habana's busiest areas in 1934, when he needed to use the bathroom and randomly walked into El Floridita. On the way out of the restroom, he noticed the bar's drinks and asked Constante, the bartender and founder of the establishment, to serve him what everyone else was drinking. He gave the daiquiri a taste and said "I want it with no sugar and double the rum." Constante, used to pleasing his customers—especially if they were gringos—complied, and when handing it to him said "Ahí está, papa" Giving birth to the "Papa Hemingway."

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Photo by Luis Cobelo.

From that moment on, the writer adopted a new routine: every morning before fishing, he would send his chauffeur to El Floridita to get a thermos full of Papa Hemingways to get him through the day. On weekends, he would sit down at the bar from opening time as if it was his personal office and meet his friends and colleagues there. The Duke of Windsor, Gene Tunney, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gary Cooper, Luis Miguel Dominguín, Ava Gardner, Tennessee Williams, and Spencer Tracy all made appearances.

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In 1954, El Floridita's owners placed a life-sized bronze statue of the writer in his usual corner spot. To this day, the spot is still reserved for Hemingway.

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El Floridita bar today. Photo by Luis Cobelo.

The bar still exists, it's been nicknamed, "The Cathedral of Daiquiris and Daiquiri's Birthplace," though nowadays it feels more like a tourist trap that's feeding off of its glamorous past. They still make a killer daiquiri and it's worth a visit, though next door there's another bar (that shall remain nameless) where the daiquiri is equally as good and much cheaper. To me, they share the title of Cuba's tastiest daiquiri, but at El Floridita, you have to pay for the price of fame.