Some people will travel a long way for a good cocktail. No serious discussion of cocktails in Havana can ignore Hemingway. The American novelist and future Nobel prize winner left his home in Oak Park, Illinois, came to a bar in Havana called El Floridita, and never left. He’s still sitting there on his favourite stool near the entrance, frozen in bronze.
Where Hemingway went, the rest of the world followed -- the Duke of Windsor, Jean-Paul Sartre, Errol Flynn, and Greta Garbo, to name a few. An added incentive for Americans was the so-called “dry laws” that prohibited alcohol from being sold or consumed in the United States from 1920 to 1933. When the thirsty tourists arrived in Havana, they discovered not only the city’s world-class cocktails but legions of bartenders ready to serve them with unrivaled panache. The “Club de Cantineros” (Association of professional Cuban Barmen) was set up in 1924, helping bartending to attain the status of high art.
Hemingway’s favourite bartender, Constantino Ribalaigua at El Floridita, is the man who made the daiquiri famous. The Floridita was his laboratory, and after experimenting with various ingredients and techniques, “El Grande Constante” (as Hemingway called him) finally got the “frappé” texture of the ice just right, sometime around 1920. The Floridita has been calling itself "La Cuna del Daïquiri" (The Cradle of the Daïquiri) ever since.
Of course you wouldn’t expect Hemingway to ignore Havana’s many other drinking establishments, and he didn’t. He famously declared his allegiance to another famous Cuban cocktail, the Mojito, as it was served in La Bodeguita del Medio, and he was no stranger to the bar in the Ambos Mundos hotel on Obispo Street.
Over the years, the local pool of bartending talent and the high quality of Cuban rum have served to cement Havana’s reputation as the world’s cocktail mecca. This is the place where the Cuba Libre, Mary Pickford, Hemingway Special, El Presidente, Mulata, and Saoco first achieved fame, along with the aformentioned Daiquiri and Mojito.
But why stop there? Havana Club has actively encouraged the invention of new cocktails and the serving of them with consummate style. In 1996 the first Havana Club International Cocktail Grand Prix was organised in Havana, attracting leading mixologists from around the world. Since then this prize has become one of the most anticipated of its kind among bartenders around the world. Every two years they compete in Havana to become the best Havana Club Cantinero. The Grand Prix is organized in association with the International Bartenders Association (IBA) and the Cuban Cantineros Club.