The digital photograph the guard returned to me confirmed that Hemingway's tastes in liquor were catholic. The bar was stocked with Campari and Gordon's gin, among other libations. (Hemingway was also fond of tequila. On his fishing boat, now housed in an open shed behind the house, he had a small bar built atop the bridge to avoid the inconvenience of having to descend a ladder between drinks. He called tequila "the steering liquor.")
His home bar also held a bottle of Bacardi rum. Hemingway liked Cuban rum in general and frozen daiquiris—which provoked him into a small rhapsody—in particular. "This frozen daiquiri," he wrote in Islands in the Stream, "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 daiquiri as we know it is a sort of alcoholic sherbet, often extruded from vast, Dairy Queen—like dispensers. It is associated with sundresses and strawberries, linked more to ice-cream headaches than hangovers. One wonders: How did the manliest of bare-fisted fighting men fall in with such a beverage?
Seeking the answer to a simple question can give a pilgrim great stamina. So it was with my quest.
I began my stay in Havana as Hemingway did, in a room on the fifth floor of the Ambos Mundos Hotel, a flamingo-colored pile in the heart of the old city. Hemingway's early stays in Havana allowed him to escape outbreaks of guests at his Key West home, which made it impossible to get any writing done. His favored hotel room, where he was a frequent visitor until he moved into his house, in 1939, is now a shrine, with a red rope in front of the bed to keep tourists from stealing the bedclothes, and his typewriter housed in a Plexiglas reliquary. Hemingway would write or review drafts from about 8:00 A.M. until 2:00 P.M., and spend the rest of the day watching jai alai or cockfights, or drinking in Havana's bars.
Bars catering to Americans were abundant. Hemingway had arrived on the island during the waning days of the Volstead Act, the law that ushered in Prohibition and in effect served as an economic-development program for Cuba's rum and saloon industries. Ferries and cruise lines brought thirsty Americans to Cuba throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, and aviation technology was marshaled to meet demand. The first scheduled international flight from the United States took off just ten months after Prohibition began, connecting Key West and Havana by means of an eleven-seat sea plane.
Old Havana is a sort of museum of forgotten drinks. Well-groomed waiters wearing short-waisted jackets take orders at outdoor cafés for cocktails such as El Presidente and the Mary Pickford, the latter a fine blend of rum, pineapple juice, maraschino, and grenadine. Those who have recently been introduced to the mojito may be surprised to learn that it's not new; it has been popular in Cuba for decades.
Hemingway was also partial to mojitos, and evidence of this is on display at La Bodeguita del Medio, a small, often raucous bar on a narrow side street. Called the Pleasant Storage Room when it opened, in 1942, it morphed from a shop selling dried beans into a hipster hangout. If Cubans had ever been inclined to sport foam trucker hats and soul patches, this is where you would have found them. The bar attracted celebrities such as Pablo Neruda and Errol Flynn, and a photo on the wall shows a not very iconic Che Guevara sitting in a booth. A framed epigram handwritten by Hemingway hangs behind the bar, like a coat of arms in a British pub: "My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita."