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CocktailsEl Floridita: The secret story behind Cuba’s coolest cocktail bar

Reading Time: 5 mins

Posted on the 04 October 17

With 200 years of fascinating history, we don’t think there’s another bar in existence that can claim a story as long, varied, and rich as the legendary El Floridita.

From tiny rundown bodega to Hemingway’s favourite haunt, to world-renowned award-winning cocktail bar. El Floridita is one of Havana’s best-loved treasures and once you hear their story… It’s easy to see why!

So as Cuba’s coolest bar turns 200, we’re delving into its heritage and squeezing out the secrets that make El Floridita so special.

Humble beginnings

Originally opened in 1817 and named La Piña de Plata (the silver pineapple), what we know today as the most famous bar in the world was nothing more than a Spanish-style bodega (like an off-licence!) in a city that was littered with this kind of cheap ‘n’ cheerful shopping establishment.

That’s not to say the place wasn’t popular, because the location of the bodega just inside Havana’s city walls (still standing at the time), meant there was a steady flow of patrons from business owners, to soldiers, to artists… and of course, writers.

A cocktail revolution

While the interior of La Piña de Plata didn’t change much over the 19th century, it’s safe to say the city and the country did.

Following the Spanish-American War in 1898, Cuba gained independence from Spain and in doing so, began to look more and more towards its big, northern neighbour for inspiration. In fact, there was a complete fascination for all things American, and obviously, this extended to drinks.

With Cubans wanting to sample New York’s famous cocktails, many bodegas and hotels including La Piña de Plata looked to expand their cocktail selection, although it took some new owners to really transform the place.

El Floridita is born, kind of…

In 1910, two Catalan brothers – the Sala Pareras – turned the rundown bodega into a modern establishment: with plush décor, a sophisticated atmosphere and the coveted red jackets the Cantinero’s still wear to this day.

They gave the transformed place a suitably American name: La Florida, which was quickly ignored by the diminutive-loving locals who made the bar their own by calling it El Floridita.

The brothers soon hired the renowned Constante Ribalaigua, an expert Cantinero from a village in the ‘old country’. After a time, Constante bought the bar just as the Prohibition era kicked off in the United States. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Under Constante’s stewardship, El Floridita became home to some of the best Cantinero’s the world has ever seen, mixing up the most delicious cocktails with fluidity and grace, and entertaining hundreds of American tourists fleeing from the opression of the USA’s ban on booze.

All this helped El Floridita gain the reputation as the ‘greatest bar on Earth’, and due to the way they nurtured and perfected one particular Cuban classic, they also quickly became known as…

‘The Cradle of the Daiquiri’

Whether Constante Ribalaiguia was the first to come up with the Daiquiri is a story full of dispute, but what is clear is that Constante (affectionately nicknamed El Grande Constante) created the blend we know and love today.

A work of perseverance, it took almost 20 years to finally perfect his beloved drink: when he discovered the granita machine. By making infinite crushed ice that would keep the drinks slushed and cool, he created the blended Daiquiri that proved to be way ahead of its time.

It was quite the innovation, but maybe Constante’s Daiquiri wouldn’t have achieved such worldwide fame if it didn’t have a huge fan; in the shape of infamous writer, Ernest Hemingway.

The Hemingway factor

With an untarnished reputation for serving up delicious cocktails, El Floridita was already popular in Cuba, but it was Hemingway that ultimately catapulted the bar to astronomical status.

The story goes that after Hemingway first stumbled upon El Floridita, he was spellbound by the Daiquiri and the charming atmosphere of the bar. In fact, as his love affair with El Floridita blossomed, it became more about its ambience than its Daiquiris.

It was the wild heydey of glorious Havana, and while American mobs ruled much of the city, El Floridita was still very much run by the self-made Constante – who lived for his business.

He didn’t need mafia influence to attract customers, and when word got out that this was Hemingway’s favourite haunt, all of Hollywood’s elite followed.

From Clark Gable to Ava Gardner to John Wayne, it wasn’t about who came to El Floridita, but more likely, who didn’t?

An actual revolution

When the Cuban Revolution happened in the early 60s, followed by the nationalisation of private establishments, it could have spelt the end for El Floridita.

But as the locals put it, there’s ‘something stronger inside these walls’, which meant the bar was able to resist politics and continue to blend a couple thousand delicious Daiquiris… Day in, day out.

And 200 years on, few bars in the world can rival its atmosphere. Sitting on a stool with your right elbow on the bar, listening to the salsa or jazz as your Daiquiri is flawlessly mixed, it’s one of the great cocktail experiences, and most importantly…

… It’s still inspiring today!

That’s right, inspired by Havana’s iconic hotspot, we’re letting you enjoy a taste of elegant Cuban history without even getting your passport out, thanks to our brand new El Floridita cocktail specials.

From superior signatures fit for El Floridita, to sophisticated blends lovingly mixed by our very own expert Cantineros, check out our cocktail menu, and get ready to fall in love with the fascinating history behind Havana’s finest cocktail bar!

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