Celebrating 200 Years of Havana's El Floridita

The Cuban home of the Daiquiri turns 200 in 2017 and has plenty to celebrate.
El Floridita in black-and-white
El Floridita in black-and-white

How fortuitous it is that we are able to celebrate both Daiquiri Season and the fabled El Floridita's 200th Anniversary this month. The iconic bar and restaurant first opened in 1817 as La Piña de Plata (the silver pineapple) at the same location where the bar still resides — on the corner of Obispo and Monserrate streets just a few blocks from El Capitolio.

Ernest Hemingway's old haunt. Ernest Hemingway's old haunt

The bar grew in international fame thanks to the work of Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, a Catalan immigrant who got his start as a cantinero (bartender). It was Vert who turned the bar into a daiquiri destination and invented the Frozen Daiquiri in the 1930s. Throughout the years it has become a draw for influential writers and famous figures around the world, most notably Ernest Hemingway. He famously requested his daiquiri with no sugar and double the rum, a drink that would become known as "Papa Doble" or The Hemingway Special.

Artwork of El Floridita, with Papa Hemingway in the forefront. Date unknown. Artwork of El Floridita, with Papa Hemingway in the forefront. Date unknown.

Tales recently caught up with Julio Cabrera, a renowned Cuban cantinero who lives and works in Miami. He considers himself the unofficial ambassador to El Floridita, and works to bring international bartenders on cultural exchange trips to Havana. In fact, this October, Cabrera is spearheading another trip to Havana in collaboration with Tales and Lian Calvo Serrano.

Cabrera says, "Every time I go with American bartenders, they [El Floridita's cantineros] put them behind the bar and teach them how to make THE daiquiri in a blender, and the bartenders are so excited." He adds, "The bar is 100 percent hospitality. It's not just about the daiquiris. It's about the profession and the cantineros. It's one of the best bars in the world." However, Cabrera couldn't share the secret behind El Floridita's daiquiri, except to say that "the secret is in the ice."

Julio Cabrera is the unofficial ambassador for El Floridita. Photo courtesy of Rick Jervis Julio Cabrera is the unofficial ambassador for El Floridita. Photo courtesy of Rick Jervis.

So how does a bar celebrate its 200th birthday? With new travel restrictions, it's complicated. But the biggest celebrations will happen in October (during the Tales trip), when 200 bartenders descend upon the city for a tournament to crown "El Rey del Daiquiri" (The King of Daiquiri). The top professional bartenders will battle it out to earn themselves the prestigious international title. "El Dia del Cantinero" (Bartender’s Day) also fortuitously falls on October 7, and will no doubt be celebrated as well.

Artwork from El Florida in 1935.El Floridita’s exceptional bar team once combined close to 75 years of experience serving the bar’s legendary daiquiris and other cocktails. Sadly, Manuel Carbajo, one of the most awarded Cuban bartenders, passed away last December in a car accident. The renowned cantinero won an award at practically every cocktail competition in Cuba starting from the late 1990’s through the early 2000’s, as well being the first Cuban to win an international cocktail competition.

Cabrera, whose nickname is "Papa Doble" after the iconic drink, notes that it's common for El Floridita to serve 3,000 daiquiris a day. "You can't get that experience in any other bar around the world," he says.

Here's to another 200 years of Daiquiris at El Floridita.

Exterior shot of Floridita, an iconic Havana daiquiri bar Floridita, the bar made famous by Ernest Hemingway and his predilection for daiquiris, is still the stronghold of Havana cocktail culture. Photo courtesy of Julie Schwietert Collazo.

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