The first thing that thousands of people from all parts of the world do when they arrive in Cuba is ask for a daiquiri to counter the effects of the island's heat. There are variations of the cocktail, but the essentials are rum, lime, sugar and crushed ice. It is a drink wrapped in Cuban history, with a touch of rebelliousness, a dollop of gourmet craving and a symbol for drinkers and nondrinkers alike.
Daiquiri's closest relative is the canchánchara, a refreshing drink closely tied to Cuba's wars of independence.
The mambises, Cuban rebels who fought Spanish colonialism in the 19th Century, prepared the canchánchara with 2/3 rum and 1/3 lime sweetened with honey to quench the fighters' thirst and calm them before combat, as noted in campaign chronicles of the time. Generally, soldiers carried a bottle with the mix that later was named canchánchara, but it was still far from becoming the drink most served at Havana's Floridita Bar.
There are different tales about how the daiquiri was born.
One takes us to the early 20th Century when engineer Pagliuchi, a captain in the Cuban rebel army, visited an iron mine named Daiquiri in eastern Santiago de Cuba. At a meeting there with his American friend Jennings S. Cox to arrange recovery of some mines in the EI Cobre region, where today stands an important basilica, Pagliuchi tried to find some refreshing drink in his friend's cellar. He only found rum, sugar and lime and decided to mix those ... thus creating the daiquiri.
The second version of daiquiri 's origin dates back to 1898 when US troops landed in the same Daiquiri region. Troop commander General Shafter noticed the mambises' canchánchara and tried it. He added some ice and hence gave it the distinctive touch undoubtedly named for the beach located in the easternmost region of Cuba.
The daiquiri became a traditional drink at the Venus Hotel in Santiago de Cuba where many Cuban and American engineers asked for it as "Daiquiri Natural". Later, the daiquiri became famous in Havana thanks to Spanish bartender Emilio Gonzalez, nicknamed Maragato, who prepared it at the bar in the Hotel Plaza. However, it really became famous through the Spanish bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Veri (aka Constante), who prepared the drink at the restaurant-bar EI Floridita in downtown Havana.
American novelist Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Cuba for twenty years from 1939, was a regular at the Floridita and a special taster of Constante's daiquiris, who prepared four versions before offering the classic "Daiquiri Floridita".
Hemingway suggested reducing the amount of sugar and doubled the rum for what became the "Papa Doble" prepared by Constante.
Nowadays, the place to drink all kinds of daiquiris is the Floridita, considered the drink's official cradle. Floridita opened in July 1817 on the corner of Obispo and Monserrate Streets in one of the busiest areas of Old Havana, declared a Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1982.
Despite its long history with drinkers and customers, this bar-restaurant, with some twenty stools at the bar and 10 tables, is best known for Hemingway reminiscences.
Originally named La Piña de Plata (The Silver Pineapple), it was open to the street but had the characteristics that attracted famous customers.
Today, the number 1 stool is still reserved for Papa Hemingway. That is where he used to sit and drink daiquiris and chat with his friends, and carry home a thermos if different daiquiris, what he called the "stirrup drink". The Floridita was also a meeting place for other famous people visiting Cuba; among them actors Errol Flynn, Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper and actresses Ava Gardner and Marlene Dietrich.
Esquire magazine included the Floridita on the 1943 list of the 7 best bars in the world and it won the Best Star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences in 1992.
A really refreshing drink surrounded by stories and myths, including being the favorite drink of revolutionaries, generals, doctors, and of course, novelist Ernst Hemingway.