I’m writing today about the “Cradle of the Daiquiri,” the Bar Floridita in Havana, affectionately known as the Floridita. There are two versions of the Daiquiri associated with Hemingway, as follows.
Two versions from which to choose:
E. Hemingway Special (circa 1937)
- 2 oz white rum
- 1 teaspoon grapefruit juice
- 1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
- ½ oz fresh lime juice
“Frappe” (chip or crush) some ice, add to shaker, then add remaining ingredients. Shake well, then pour contents of shaker into a chilled cocktail glass.
Papa Doble, aka the Wild Daiquiri (circa 1947)
- 3 ¾ oz white rum
- 2 oz fresh lime juice
- 2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
- 6 drops of maraschino liqueur
Blend well with ice. Serve in a large chilled goblet.
(Suggested reading: Islands in the Stream, Cuba)
As I reached the drinking age in the early 1980s, I thought there were two types of Daiquiri: banana and strawberry, and both required a blender. Not only that, Daiquiris required bottled, canned, or worse, powdered mixes; at least, that’s what I saw around my parents’ suburban home. After making a lot of bad store-bought atrocities, or merely drinkable alcoholic Slurpees, I’ve since learned that the Daiquiri is a very simple but elegant cocktail made with rum, lime juice and sugar. That’s it. Hemingway was a bit luckier, he moved to the Gulf Stream just as the King of the Daiquiri was just getting his start, behind the bar of the Floridita in Havana. We’ll come back to him in a moment.
Cocktail historians (yes, there are such things) tell us that the Daiquiri was invented around 1900. It seems that an American mining engineer by the name of Jennings Cox, stationed in the southeastern Cuban beach town of Daiquiri, was preparing to entertain some visiting friends from the States. To his horror, he discovered that he’d run out of gin. Just as so many cocktail origin stories are based on the “what do I do with these seemingly surplus and incongruous ingredients” theme, Cox did have a goodly amount of rum, sugar, and limes. This was, after all, Cuba. Cox rolled up his sleeves, and the Daiquiri was born. Or so the story goes…
Another version of the story finds our Horatio Alger-esque hero Jennings Cox in a Santiago saloon known as the Venus Bar, tossin’ ‘em back with some co-workers. The following is an excerpt from the Miami Herald of March 14, 1937:
One day a group of American engineers who had come into town from the Daiquiri mines were imbibing their favorite drink in this restful spot. It was one of those wonderful rum concoctions made from Ron Bacardi. A jovial fellow by the name of Cox spoke up. ‘Caballeros y amigos, we have been enjoying this delicious mixture for some time, but strange to admit the drink has no name. Don’t you think it is about time something was done to extricate us from this sad predicament?’ It was unanimously agreed that the drink should be named, without further procrastination. There was silence for several minutes as each man became immersed in deep thought. Suddenly, Cox’s voice was heard again. ‘I have it, men! Let’s call it the “Daiquiri!’ And so it was christened.
As an aside, based on the preponderance of lofty praise for the fine products of Ron Bacardi, mentioned no fewer than 10 times, the author strongly suspects that this “news” story was planted by their PR department (!).
Yet another Daiquiri origin theory is also tied to this same Cuban coastal town, not as a mining town, but as the landing zone for an American invasion. In his excellent book And a Bottle of Rum, author Wayne Curtis tells also of a U.S. Army general by the name of William Shafter, who:
…came ashore during the Spanish-American War in 1898 near Santiago. He was not shy of girth and in poor health, and he liked food and drink more than the tedious chore of battle. When he sampled the drink of the Cuban patriot – rum, lime juice, and sugar muddled together – he found it to his liking and declared, ‘only one ingredient is missing – ice.’ He set about remedying that omission, and, lo, the daiquiri was born.[i]
In both stories, you’re left with something of an imperialistic tale – a wise American, coming to a foreign land, assessing the local ingredients, and figuring out what the noble savages were too ignorant to see for themselves, that this holy trinity of rum, sugar and lime juice taste pretty damned good together! Didn’t Rudyard Kipling mention the Daiquiri in his politically incorrect poem The White Man’s Burden? Please. Rum, sugar and lime juice had been around in the Caribbean since the 17th century. I rather doubt that some Yanqui engineer or general was the one to get it sorted. Perhaps the name was coined in this manner, but I suspect that the drink had been around for quite awhile.
Witness the classic Ti’ Punch in Martinique (rhum agricole, lime wedge, cane syrup), or the Caipirinha in Brazil (cachaca, lime wedges, and sugar/cane syrup), or even the alleged prototype of the Mojito, El Draque; all have rum, sugar and lime. Look also to the British Royal Navy, which had been serving the trinity to its sailors going back over 250 years! Indeed, as early as 1740, British Admiral William Vernon ordered that lemon or lime juice be added to his sailors’ daily ration of rum, to dilute the strength of the spirit and improve the taste. It was later learned that the citrus juice contained Vitamin C, as a preventive to scurvy. In Vernon’s honor, the men came to call this daily cocktail “grog,” and the name stuck (“Old Grog” was Vernon’s nickname, as he was said to wear a coat made of grogram cloth).
Vernon directed that the daily half-pint of rum be diluted with a quart of water, “to be mixed in a scuttled butt for that purpose and to be done upon the deck, and in the presence of the Lieutenant of the Watch. Who is to take particular care to see that the men are not defrauded of their full allowance of rum … and let those that are good husbandmen receive extra lime juice and sugar that it be made more palatable to them.” (Ian Williams, RUM, A Social and Sociable History; 2005)
The “scuttled butt” referred to a cask that had a hole drilled in it, to allow the grog to be served to each man. The inevitable gossip that accompanied this ritual became known as scuttlebutt. So, if you wondered about that term, or where “grog” came from, or why Brits are called limeys, now you know. If you’re still in the mood for trivia, in 1741 Vernon led a successful British attack on the Spanish garrison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Among the members of his crew was a young Royal Marine named Lawrence Washington, who later named his estate, Mount Vernon, in his honor. You might have heard of his kid brother, George….
Well, let’s leave aside how the Daiquiri was invented, and focus on the man who perfected it, none other than Constantino Ribalaigua, bartender and owner of Havana’s Bar La Florida, affectionately known to locals as the Floridita. That’s where Hemingway comes in. Often.
Hemingway began frequenting the Floridita during visits to Havana from his home in Key West, circa 1932. He would stay at the Hotel Ambos Mundos, just down Obispo Street (where he is said to have written much of Green Hills of Africa, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, and For Whom the Bell Tolls). He would often find himself at the Floridita in the late afternoon, after a morning spent writing and afternoons fishing in the Gulf Stream. He became such a regular that the 1937 edition of the Floridita’s cocktail manual featured a special version of the Daiquiri named for him. Well, sort of. The spelling’s a bit off; it was christened the “E. Henmiway Special.” The typo wasn’t the only mistake; note the loss in translation that occurs when limes become lemons. You see, in Cuba, a lime was referred to as a limon verde, i.e., a green lemon. The translator forgot the verde, and a great many faulty Daiquiri recipes were launched.
As a result of Prohibition, and the allure of nearby Cuba for thirsty Americans, Havana had already become an internationally known destination. This was particularly true at the Floridita, where Constante held court. As was noted by David Embury in his 1948 classic, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks:
For approximately 40 years prior to his death in early December 1952, Constante Ribalaigua presided over the bar at La Florida. … He is said to have squeezed over 80 million limes and to have made over 10 million daiquiris. … His limes were gently squeezed with his fingers lest even a drop of the bitter oil from the peel get into the drink. The cocktails were mixed (but not overmixed) in a Waring Blendor; the stinging cold drink was strained through a fine sieve into the glass so that not one tiny piece of the ice remained in it. No smallest detail was overlooked in achieving the flawless perfection of the drink.
Indeed, while many folks today might think of the blender to be a modern contraption, it was a staple behind the bar at the Floridita in the 1930s. The Waring Blendor was the state of the art, perfected by none other than Fred Waring, leader of the big band Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. From the 1937 Floridita cocktail guide, a description of Constante’s “ace in the hole,” his Daiquiri No. 4:
You take two ounces of Bacardi and toss it into a cocktail shaker. Add one teaspoon of finely granulate sugar. Do not use powdered sugar which Constantino insists has starch in it. Then add one teaspoon of Marraschino (sic) – – a cordial which is made from wild cherries grown in Dalmatia. Squeeze in the juice of half a lime. Next toss in finely shaved ice until the shaker is nearly full. This ice must be shaved so fine that it’s almost snow. Do not use scracked (sic) ice. Then place the shaker under an electric mizer one of those malted milk stirrers in American drug stores. Let it stir for about three minutes. If you haven’t an electric mixer, shake it rapidly in a regular cocktail shaker for about four minutes. Meanwhile chill your glasses by pouring in cracked ice and a bit of water. Now – – toss out the cracked ice and water, and strain your Daiquiri from the shaker into the glasses through a half-strainer – – one that is not too fine.
Between 1937 and the late 40’s, the “E. Henmiway Special” appears to have evolved, and not just to correct the spelling. Indeed, by 1947 we see a marked increase in the amount of grapefruit juice and the overall size of the drink.
Requested by most tourists, a Papa Doble was compounded of two and a half jiggers of Bacardi White Label Rum, the juice of two limes and half a grapefruit, and six drops of maraschino, all placed in an electric mixer over shaved ice, whirled vigorously and served foaming in large goblets.
(From Papa Hemingway, by A.E. Hotchner)
He grew to love the drink, and likely supervised in the making of Daiquiris wherever he had the capability. In a letter he sent to his son Patrick from Havana in 1939, he noted:
I was getting awfully stale from working so hard and then Mr. Ben Finney . . . turned up on Mr. Leed’s yacht the Moana. We stayed up late and I drank a few highly frozen Daiquiris just to see what their effect would be (it was moderately terrific and made me feel a friend of all mankind).
Author’s note: see also the Rum Collins, for more tales of the Moana.
Hemingway preferred that the drinks be made as doubles, thus the “doble” designation. The “double frozen daiquiri with no sugar” pretty much steals the show in the second book of the novel Islands in the Stream, titled Cuba, which recounts a marathon drinking session at the Floridita by the protagonist, painter Thomas Hudson.
But on this night Thomas Hudson had been ashore about four days when he got really drunk. It had started at noon at the Floridita and he had drunk first with Cuban politicians that had dropped in, nervous for a quick one; with sugar planters and rice planters; with Cuban government functionaries, drinking through their lunch hour; with second and third secretaries of Embassy, shepherding someone to the Floridita; with the inescapable FBI men, pleasant and all trying to look so average, clean-cut-young-American that they stood out as clearly as though they had work a bureau shoulder patch on their white linen or seersucker suits. He had drunk double frozen daiquiris, the great ones that Constante made, that had no taste of alcohol and felt, as you drank them, the way downhill glacier skiing feels running through powder snow and, after the sixth and eighth, felt like downhill glacier skiing feels when you are running unroped. Some Navy that he knew came in and he drank with them and then with some of the then-called Hooligan Navy or Coast Guard. This was getting too near to shop, which he was drinking away from, so he went down to the far end of the bar where the old respectable whores were, the fine old whores that every resident drinker at the Floridita had slept with sometime in the last twenty years, and sat on a stool with and had a club sandwich and drank more double frozens.
In a later scene, Hudson is in mourning following the death of a loved one. After having a couple of whiskey highballs at home, followed by a Tom Collins for the road, Hudson heads for the Floridita, where he spends the afternoon with some colorful locals, including a hooker with a heart of gold name of Honest Lil.
He was drinking another of the frozen daiquiris with no sugar in it and as he lifted it, heavy and the glass frost-rimmed, he looked at the clear part below the frapped top and it reminded him of the sea. The frapped part of the drink was like the wake of a ship and the clear part was the way the water looked when the bow cut it when you were in shallow water over marl bottom. That was almost the exact color.
‘I wish they had a drink the color of sea water when you have a depth of eight hundred fathoms and there is a dead calm with the sun straight up and down and the sea full of plankton.’
‘Nothing. Let’s drink this shallow water drink.’ …
‘This frozen daiquiri, so well beaten as it is, looks like the sea where the wave falls away from the bow of a ship when she is doing thirty knots.’
The basis for that epic Daiquiri binge from Islands may have come from a day in 1942, as recounted to his friend Harvey Breit years later:
I’ve been good about drinking for a long time now. Not because I get tight or feel bad. But to give myself all the edge I can. But I can remember one time in 1942 comeing (sic) in when the weather was too bad to stay out and running into Guillermo the great Basque pelota player at the Floridita. It was about ten thirty in the morning and he had played the night before and lost and I was feeling beat-up. We drank seventeen double frozen Daiquiris apiece in the course of the day without leaveing (sic) the bar except for an occasional trip to the can. Each double had four ounces of rum in it. That makes 68 ounces of rum. But there was no sugar in the drinks and we each ate two steak sandwiches. He left finally because he had to go to the Fronton to be a judge at the Jai-Alai that night. I drank one more double and went home and read all night.
We met the next day at the bar at noon and had a couple of frozen Daiquiris. We both felt good and neither one of us had been drunk and there was no compulsion to go on drinking and neither one of us had a hangover.
(Ernest Hemingway, Letter to Harvey Breit, February 24, 1952, Selected Letters)
As an aside, Hemingway mentions “an occasional trip to the can,” he was a bit upset in the mid-50’s when the Floridita’s owners decided to upgrade the facilities, so to speak. Hemingway groused about how the addition of air conditioning detracted from its former open-air market nature. He wasn’t happy about the new bathrooms, either. “A wonderful old john back there,” he once noted, “makes you want to shout, ‘Water closets of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.” (ibid.)
The total number of his “record” appears to be a moving target. It was 16 when he told A.E. Hotchner about it, and 17 in the above instance. The latter figure is “corroborated” by a 1945 letter he wrote to his soon-to-be wife Mary, where he made great efforts to tell her how well behaved he’d been in her absence: “Haven’t bought anything for myself except books, magazines, pop-corn and peanuts, and phonograph records for house. Never been to Floridita more than three times a week and not had more than four daiquiris (once had 34 some years ago. Still record…).” If these were singles, not dobles, the 17 number holds fast. Whichever, that’s a hell of a lot of Daiquiri. Folks, I recommend you just have one or two. Cheers!
[i] Robert Manning, Hemingway in Cuba, August, 1965, Atlantic Monthly, reprinted in Conversations With Ernest Hemingway, edited by Peggy Whitman Prenshaw (University Press of Mississippi, 1986), 186
[i] Ernest Hemingway, Letter to Harvey Breit, February 24, 1952, Selected Letters,
[i] A.E. Hotchner, Papa Hemingway
[i] Wayne Curtis, And a Bottle of Rum (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2006), 170-171
[ii] Ian Williams, RUM, A Social and Sociable History(:, 2005),