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A Visit To The Most Famous Bar In The World – El Floridita Bar In Havana

It’s been a pilgrimage site for travelers to Cuba for over a hundred years for a reason.

El Floridita sign
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HAVANA, Cuba- It was hot. Real hot. And I was thirsty. And there before me on Obispo Street near the Parque Central was El Floridita.

El Floridita is a bar that could probably be in the running for the biggest tourist attraction in all of Cuba. It’s a tourist attraction not really because of their daiquiris — which are globally recognized — but because Ernest Hemmingway was a regular there.

In fact, the headline of El Floridita’s homepage proudly states that it was “Hemingway’s favorite bar in Havana,” and judging from the amount of testimonials and photos of him being in there— unlike the nearby La Bodeguita, which he probably never actually went to — it may be correct.  

Yes, people from all over the world go there just because some other guy did. Which I suppose is actually the basis of most tourism … just following in footsteps, all over the world.

Daiquiri at El Floridita

I can’t say I planned on visiting El Floridita. There are plenty of other bars in Old Havana that I imagined served the same drinks at a fraction of the cost. But there it was right before me. I had just walked halfway across the city from El Vedado and was sweating in the sweltering noon-time sun … and there’s just something about thinking about the relief from drinking an ice cold daiquiri that makes you feel even hotter.

It was right before they were about to open and there was only a short line of tourists standing outside. If I didn’t go there now I knew I never would.

So I took my place behind a group of older tourists from Spain and waited. Right at noon they flung open the corrugated steel gate which revealed a set of saloon-style doors and we all streamed in. I made a beeline for the magnificent mahogany bar and took a seat. As though on cue, a well dressed band concurrently manifested with a row of sharp dressed bartenders in bowties. The band took their places at the side of the room; the bartenders took their places behind the bar. And as soon as the first note struck the drinks began being poured.

A row of blenders began buzzing, as ice, grapefruit juice, maraschino liqueur, fresh limes, and rum were tossed in and swirled about. The entire operation had the look and feel of an assembly line, as each bartender and bar back had a defined role to fill, and they did it as fast and efficiently as a 1950s era Ford plant.

The dress of the bartenders, their hairdos, the music of the band, the interior decor — everything about place — seemed straight out of another era, which isn’t something that’s necessarily out of the ordinary in Havana. Cuba is the place to come to if escaping the present is your intrigue. 

Bartenders at El Floridita

But here’s the thing here: El Floridita is legitimately from another era … and is over 200 years old. It first opened as a bodega in 1817 under the name “La Piña de Plata.” The place was apparently popular with locals but would undergo a major change and rebranding soon after the turn of the century. 

This was a period of time right after the end of the Spanish-American war, Cuba had just become independent and was looking for inspiration. The people here looked north to the USA, and began trying to recreate the things that they saw or heard from there. 

In 1910 — nearly a hundreds years after it was first opened — the bar was purchased by two bothers from Catalonia who sought to make the place a sophisticated, modern joint as they redid the interior to match the bars of the time in America. At the bequest from patrons who may have actually been from Florida, they changed the name to La Florida, which eventually became “El Floridita.” They also had their bartenders were a uniform that consisted of sharp red jackets. Like many things in Cuba, this styles has stuck.

In 1918, one of their most enthusiastic bartenders bought the place. His name was Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, otherwise known as Constante, and he transformed El Floridita into the legend that it is today. 

Constante was prone to experimenting with drinks, having created over 200 different cocktails, but his most memorable concoction happened in 1931 when he introduced a twist on the daiquiri that made it a classic. Apparently, it took him twenty years to perfect the mix, and he didn’t consider it a masterpiece until he got his hands on a granita machine which could crush ice into the customary slush that we identify with daiquiris today. “La cuna del daiquiri” is written across the back of the bar for a reason. 

By the 1950s, El Floridita was already known around the world, with Esquire magazine ranking it as one of the seven most famous.  

Then in the early 1960s, the Cuban Revolution happened. The previous government was disposed and everything was nationalized. But the show went on at El Floridita. The bar simply transitioned from serving American tourists — who were now banned from visiting — to Europeans.

The bartender here didn’t really have to ask me what I wanted. Everyone here just orders the same thing: a Hemingway daiquiri, which is a normal daiquiri without the sugar. 

In a moment my drink was poured into a cocktail glass, a steel straw was dropped in, and it was slid over to me. I dropped some bills on a small saucer that was placed in front of me and took my first sip. 

The frozen, slushy-like substance hit my mouth and my eyes lit up. It was exactly what I was looking for. Honestly, given the circumstances it was probably one of the best drinks I’ve ever had. My body temperature dropped instantly, I leaned back, and I tipped my hat to the bronze Hemingway statue at the end of the bar. 

I’m a fan of Hemingway not because of his writing — I may not have even read any of his books — but because of his discipline. Dude lived a life of frolicking and adventure but every day he would get up at the crack of dawn and begin writing by six am and keep churning until noon. Only then would he spend the rest of the day getting into shit and drinking in bars:

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write…

Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.

If you don’t make writing a daily necessity that you have no other choice but to do, you will never write anything. The process of writing is just so unnatural that it takes an obsessive form of mania to do — you’re sitting still in a room all alone for hours talking to yourself and stenotyping it. If you do this long enough you cross the divide between real life and story, and that’s when things start getting interesting.

It’s one thing to write all day; it’s another to give yourself things to write about all day. 

I thought about all of this until my first daiquiri ended with a final gurgling rattle of the steel straw. I wanted a sequel to that experience so I ordered another. 

This time I turned my attention to the music. There were four musicians and a female singer. They were playing a Santana-esque mix of rock, jazz, and Cuban rhythms, and every once in a while they would even play a Santana song, whereupon everyone in the bar would begin singing along. 

The place was full at that point, and there was a line outside of people waiting to get in. My seat was a hot commodity that I wished to hold on to for at least a few minutes more. I ordered a third drink. 

In 1992, El Floridita won the Five Star Diamond award as the best bar in the world. I looked around thinking about this for a moment but couldn’t really argue against it. While it’s certainly not my favorite bar, I could not detract from its quality and from the show that they’ve been putting on here generation after generation. But there was something else about it that I liked:

Yes, El Floridita is a tourist bar … but it’s been a tourist bar since 1910. Tourist attractions generally don’t age well — there’s ruins from even relatively young tourist sites scattered all around the world. But this bar has hung in there, serving drinks to more or less the same clientele for the past 114 years. In a way, the place has become a pilgrimage site of sorts — everyone who has passed through Havana over the past century has passed through the saloon doors of El Floridita. 


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Filed under: Cuba, Drink Drank Drunk, Travel Diary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

4 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • Trevor Warman March 18, 2024, 10:55 pm

    Dude, just love your writing!!!!

    I will get to Havana one of these days..

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    • VBJ March 19, 2024, 6:50 pm

      Thanks, man! Yes, definitely have to go there. It’s the perfect mix of exactly what you’re looking for and exactly what you don’t want to find 😂

      Link Reply
  • Rob March 19, 2024, 5:10 pm

    Good story!
    Talking about tourist attractions that last, or don’t…this morning on a different blog the “Standin’ on the Corner Park” in Winslow Arizona was mentioned, the corner made famous by the Eagle’s song.
    About 10 years ago I was there and had breakfast across the way and watched a steady stream of people (about my age) pull up, look around, take a picture and head out. I wonder how that park will fare in the future?
    100+ years is really something!

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    • VBJ March 19, 2024, 9:58 pm

      Thank you!

      It’s funny the things that become tourist attractions. It’s funny to think that El Floridita was around for a hundred years BEFORE it was turned into a tourist bar a hundred years ago.

      I bet people will still be coming to that corner a hundred years from now!

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