A shop or a pub is made on a kuche. To be seen from everywhere. Such is the iron philosophy of the good trader. But apparently the dignified Señor Ángel Martínez did not know her, or the surrounding kitchens were occupied, after he opened his grocery store right in the middle of the small street “Empedrado”, not far from the Cathedral in the square of Old Havana, on April 26, 1942.
A few typical local goods and the occasional snack for friends, that’s what the modest establishment offered. The menu and especially the prices, of course, were tailored to the availability in the pockets of the poor journalists, poets, artists who worked in the surrounding editorial offices and the nearby printing house.
However, when they didn’t have a peso, the owner would nobly serve them a plate of beans or chicken with white rice, with payment being deferred indefinitely or…forever. The talents, on the other hand, promised that when they became famous, they would bring all the famous guests of Cuba to him. He naturally smiled, because it never crossed his mind that soon the poets Nicolas Guillén or Alejo Carpentier would become so famous that they would be known and read not only in Cuba, but also in the world.
In 1949, the famous master or as we would say modern Chef Silvia Torres entered the kitchen of “Martinez House”. And then, exactly a year later, the store became a bar-restaurant. They christen it as all regular customers are used to calling it “Bodegita del Medio” or “Grocery of the Middle”. However, the menu was no longer a grocery store, because Señora Torres turned out to be an extraordinary cook, but an artist who turns the preparation of meals into art.
Perhaps the first great Chilean poet and future Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, or his compatriot Salvador Allende, decided it was appropriate to mark their presence in the Bodeguita with an autograph on the wall. Others like the idea. So soon the signatures, wishes and short comments of artists, presidents, ministers litter the entire space, which becomes a priceless book of praises, but not complaints.
But on January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro and the commanders found something non-revolutionary, not to say bourgeois, in the “Bodeghita”. The bar is closed, the walls painted and the expensive autographs erased. The photos of the famous guests who feasted freely in the establishment also disappear. Yet, thanks to the insistence of the aforementioned Salvador Allende, later President of Chile, the restaurant was once again restored to its former appearance, and new signatures and photographs graced the walls.
If today the curious visitor begins to explore them, he will certainly find something written by Gabriel García Márquez, the actors Gerard Depardieu, Brigitte Bardot, the famous jazzman Nat King Cole, Francis Fred Coppola, Errol Flynn and many others. Because there is no person, regardless of whether he is decorated with world fame or an ordinary tourist-pedestrian, who, as soon as he arrives in Havana, does not rush to visit the Bodeguita.
But when it comes to this important landmark of the Cuban capital today, another important thing must be added to its name: “Hemingway’s Pub”.
This is really aerobatics in advertising. Because there is no mere mortal who does not dream of sitting in the chair once sat the writer who turned an old fisherman into a world celebrity, to breathe the bohemian air, to experience Paris as his “Endless Holiday” and to conquer so many sultry beauties along the way .
That’s why the queues in front of this temple of the Cuban mojito start in the morning and stretch to the street. All eyes are on the officiating fakir bartenders. There are always dozens of glasses lined up on the counter in front of them, which are filled with the dream cocktail in seconds.
At first glance, the recipe is simple: a few mint leaves, brown sugar, lemon juice. All this is beaten well so that the aroma of the herb can be felt, “Havana Club” rum is added, carbonated water and it’s done. For five bucks, it’s all yours, along with the straws. The glasses fly on the galvanized counter, and the money in the opposite direction. And this magical machine never rests.
Tourists sip slowly, listening to the guitar of a street musician or an orchestra singing “Guantanamera”. Then they take selfie after selfie and mentally shape their story that their friends must hear as soon as they get home.
“Mi mojito en La Bodeguita, mi daiquirí en El Floridita”.
“My mojito at Bodegita, my daiquiri at Floridita” Hemingway.
This sentence, written by the Nobel laureate and framed, stands prominently above the bar and attracts the attention of anyone who enters the restaurant. It confirms the legend of “Hemingway’s Tavern.” But one morning, while stirring the daiquiri I had ordered, the elderly dignified bartender slipped me another version:
“I’ve been working here for fifty years. Hemittway came to the Bodegita only once, but the owner made such a clever use of that visit that he wrote the sign in question himself, so that today everyone thinks that the Pope never left here. And he lived in the opposite hotel “Dvata Svita” and preferred to have lunch and dinner at “Floridita”.
Is this the truth? Perhaps. But people today believe the legend. Otherwise, the whole experience here loses its meaning.
And let’s finish the story of the legendary pub with one chair. He is nailed feet up to the ceiling in one of the corners at the bottom of the restaurant. The story goes that once upon a time one of the poet-visitors had to go to Spain to receive a great literary prize. The friendly company that had gathered to send him off, late in the evening, as a sign of affection, decided: “To make sure that we are waiting for you and guarding your chair, we will nail it to the ceiling.”
Unfortunately, the poet died during the journey. So the chair stayed up there forever and it has not yet been heard that anyone sat on it.
Prepared by: Isaac GOZES