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The Myth Behind Hemingway's Favorite Drink

Actually, the Mojito wasn't Hemingway's beverage of choice.

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Hemingway enjoying a Daiquiri at the Floridita bar with friend Toby Bruce and an unknown woman, circa 1946.
Hemingway enjoying a Daiquiri at the Floridita bar with friend Toby Bruce and an unknown woman, circa 1946.
Photo courtesy the Betty and Toby Bruce Collection, Key West, Florida.

The greater the person, the more mythology surrounds him/her.  Many grew up hearing tales of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, that emperor Nero played a mean fiddle while Rome burned, or that Newton needed to have an apple bonk him on the conk to figure out gravity. So, too, is it with the prototype of The Most Interesting Man in the World, Ernest Hemingway. In my book, To Have and Have Another—A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, I set out to debunk common myths associated with him.

According to myth, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite drink was the Mojito, which he drank often at one of his favorite bars, La Bodeguita del Medio, in Havana, Cuba. Yet, aside from a handwritten quote on the wall at La Bodeguita, there exists no evidence that Hemingway ever drank Mojitos, or that he ever set foot in the joint. As for that inscription, it looks a lot like Hemingway’s handwriting, and it plainly says "My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita." So this is proof, right?

The supposed Hemingway quote at La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, Cuba. [Photo courtesy Tony Abou-Ganim.]

"... This was merely a private joke among friends. But the little joke grew into a big lie.

Wrong. It’s a forgery. Indeed, back in the late 1950s, the owners of the bodega, a Mr. and Mrs. Martinez, were brainstorming with a Cuban journalist (and Hemingway friend), Fernando Campoamor, about how to gin up more business.  Per Campoamor, in Trading With the Enemy by Tom Miller, "We were trying to figure out how to help his business, and someone said, 'Mi mojito en La Bodeguita, mi daiquiri en El Floridita.' It was a funny joke, nothing more ... Well, I had these things at home in Papa’s handwriting, so they hired a graphic artist to imitate it. I protested this even though I enjoyed the humor at the beginning. This was merely a private joke among friends. But the little joke grew into a big lie."

To say that it worked would be the understatement of the yearthousands flock to La Bodeguita each year to get their "Hemingway Mojito." Hell, even Pope Francis and Chinese President Xi Jinping have made that phony pilgrimage in recent years.

tktk

Souvenir photo from the Floridita, one of Hemingway’s favorite bars in Havana, circa 1932. Also shown are Hemingway’s friends Charles Thompson (front left), Joseph "Sloppy Joe" Russell (front right), and Hemingway’s second wife Pauline (behind Russell). [Photo courtesy of the Betty and Toby Bruce Collection, Key West, Florida.]

As further evidence, you never see either La Bodeguita or the Mojito mentioned in any of Hemingway's prose, letters, or in his various biographies. The premise behind 'To Have and Have Another' is that Hemingway tended to write about what, and where he drank. Harry’s Bar in Venice? You’ll find it his novel Across the River and into the Trees. The Daiquiri and the Floridita are in countless letters, as well as in his novel Islands in the Stream. The Gin & Tonic at Museo Chicote in Madrid? See "The Denunciation," one of his short stories from the Spanish Civil War.

Indeed, if he drank it, he generally wrote about it, somewhere. Not so with the Mojito. In fact, I’ve not yet encountered a single reference to either the drink, or the Bodeguita, in all of my research, which spans about 20 years. Let me qualify that I did find one. Indeed, jai alai player Jose Andres Garate, a close friend during the ‘40s and ‘50s, said that he "drank with Papa at the Floridita many times and ate oysters with him at Ambos Mundos Hotel in Havana." When asked about the Mojito story, he replied, "I’ve never heard of La Bodequita (sic) del Medio."

But Hemingway did enjoy a drink like the Mojito while out on his beloved boat, Pilar. Gregorio's Rx was created by his skipper, Gregorio Fuentes, which he made for Hemingway when he was under the weather. Many believe that Fuentes and another Hemingway skipper, Carlos Gutierrez, both served as the basis for the character of the old fisherman Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea.

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