SIPPING A COLD ONE WITH "PAPA", THE BODEGUITA DEL MEDIO, HAVANA


Jul 16, 2001


The Bottom Line Escape from the tourist herds, and explore the real Havana, at night.

On a small side street just west of the Plaza de Cathedral is perhaps the most famous bar in all of Habana, the Bodeguita del Medio. At first glance this tiny hole in the wall bar doesn't appear to be much. The furnishings are worn even by Havana standards, and the walls appear to be covered in graffiti.

They are in fact, and a closer examination of this graffiti shows you one of the reasons why this place is so famous. The walls are covered with signatures and comments from past patrons. The names on the wall of past patrons include Nat King Cole, Fidel Castro, and the man most associated with the place, Ernest Hemmingway.

The Bodeguita originally started as a small general store in 1942, owned and operated by one Angel Martinez. By 1946, he realized that the place was becoming more of a popular hangout and it slowly converted into a restaurant and bar. It soon became a hangout for students, musicians, and bohemians. Late evening conversations here over a glass of rum would run the gamut from local politics to the specifics of Son and other forms of Cuban rhythms.

Over the years the popularity of the place grew, and more and more began to call the small little store turned bar into their home away from home. After the Revolution which brought Fidel Castro to power, the place continued to prosper. Many of the present regime had spent some of their earlier student days here after all.

In recent years it has become one of the most popular tourist draws in all Havana. each day busloads from all over the world are deposited here. Each hopping to share in the history, enjoy a Mojito, the house special, and add their names to the wall.

It is not quite clear who or how the idea of scrawling names on the wall began. Some claim Hemmingway started it. More than likely it started as a way of leaving messages for friends, and just grew from there. For whatever reason everyone now does it, and some names famous and not have been obscured under hundreds of others.

I've personally signed it on four different occasions and am never able to find where I did the last time. The most famous signature on the walls of course belongs to Ernest Hemmingway. The Bodeguita was one of his favourite haunts.

The tiny restaurant with only fifteen tables to the rear of the bar, may not look it, but it is actually a five star establishment and winner of numerous awards. There is always a line up to eat here, and as reservations are hard to make in Havana, prepare to be patient. The menu of Cuban and Creole dishes however is well worth the wait.

The best time to visit is in the evening after the throngs of tourists have left. While it is still hard to get a table in the restaurant, the front bar is relatively quiet. You can sip your Mojito in peace and examine the photos and autographs that cover the walls. Feel free to add your own of course, it's a tradition. You can even ask one of the bartenders to show you how to make a Mojito, just like "Papa" liked them.

MOJITO

1 tsp. sugar
oz. lime juice
2 sprigs of mint leaves
2 oz. of soda water
1 oz. light dry rum

In an 8 oz. glass, dissolve 1 tsp. of sugar and oz. of lime juice. Add 2 sprigs of mint leaves and crush stems with muddler. Then add ice cubes and 1 o. of Havana club light dry rum. Fill with 2 oz. of soda water and stir.

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