Floridita Making History for 200 Years
By Mercy Ramos, Photo: José (Tito) Meriño
Floridita bar and restaurant is without a doubt one of Havana’s emblematic places, known the world over for its daiquiris and for being the “home” of North American Nobel Prize winning writer Ernest Hemingway.
The restaurant’s history is much talked about, and its manager Ariel Blanco proudly refers to it as a place that cannot be missed by anyone visiting the Cuban capital.
Located in the heart of Old Havana (a Unesco World Heritage site,) Floridita’s rich history and the indisputable quality of its service place it among the best of its kind in the world. As well as being the oldest restaurant on the island, it is one of the three most popular Cuban gastronomic locations, alongside Tropicana and La Bodeguita del Medio.
Founded in July 1817 as a bar under the name of La Piña de Plata (The Silver Pineapple) it began gaining popularity at the beginning of the 20th century and its own customers began calling it Florida because of the big inflow of North American tourists who visited it. At that point the bar expanded to include a restaurant with a French chef.
In 1914 Catalan bartender Constante Ribalaigua began working at the establishment and four years later he became its owner. According to specialists, Constante was a “genius” and is considered the father of Cuban cocktail makers.
Blanco says that Constante succeeded in making the most well-known version of the daiquiri, which was named after a beach in Santiago de Cuba. Originally this cocktail’s only ingredients were ice, lemon juice and rum. Constante improved it by making the frozen blended version and added maraschino to it, creating Floridita’s classic cocktail.
Floridita’s reputation was such that Ernest Hemingway visited it on his first trip to Cuba in 1928 to taste the daiquiri and promptly fell in love with the place. During the years that he resided in Havana he visited the bar every day, meeting up with celebrities, artists and politicians. Blanco says Hemingway turned Floridita into his office and his home, and it is known he held the daiquiri drinking record, imbibing more than sixteen in one day.
The restaurant specializes in fish and seafood dishes and it is one of the two Cuban restaurants with a 5 fork category, the other is El Café del Oriente. It has also inspired many literary works.
Many other personalities have visited the Floridita over the years, among them Errol Flynn, Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper and Ava Gardner to mention but a few. Today it receives about seven hundred tourists daily from all over the world. Something that one cannot forget to mention, says Blanco, is the high level of professionalism among its employees, two of whom are world champions of the Havana Somelier Contest: Orlando Blanco and Zudlay Nápoles.
Anyone who comes to the Cuban capital on vacation must visit Floridita —if you haven’t been, you haven’t been to Havana. I recommend it, having had the privilege to sample one of its exquisite dishes (the mixed Kayuca, comprised of fish and lobster) and of course, the daiquiri— a refreshing way to enjoy the island’s tropical climate.