HAVANA, Cuba — The grave of the barman who served drinks for writer Ernest Hemingway was the setting Friday for an unprecedented toast with daiquiri prepared by United States and Cuban bartenders at Havana’s Colón Cemetery.
A dozen bartenders from both countries — which this week re-established diplomatic ties after half a century of enmity — gathered under a scorching tropical sun at the cemetery to honor Catalán barman Constantino Ribalaigua, known as Constante, who died in 1953.
The peculiar tribute began with a minute of silence in front of the mausoleum of Constante, who for 35 years owned the Floridita bar in Old Havana, where this cocktail made of rum, lime juice and ice, created in Cuba in the late 19th century, became famous.
“This is an incredible event, it’s very important for any barman from anywhere in the world to be able to be here with the person who immortalized the daiquiri and turned it into one of the most famous cocktails around the world,” U.S. bartender Christian Delpech told AFP.
“We did this incredible ceremony for him, and it’s a great pleasure for me to be a part of this,” added Delpech, born in Argentina and now working in Miami after doing the same in Las Vegas.
Several bartenders prepared daiquiri rounds and toasted, in a tribute during which participants highlighted the fact that reconciliation between Washington and Havana will allow Americans to enjoy Cuban rum-based drinks, just as they did during the 1920-1933 Prohibition Era in the United States.
A bar with a 200-year history
The homage to Constante marked the start of activities to celebrate the bicentennial of Floridita, in 2017, one of the bars preferred by Hemingway (1898-1961), who lived in Cuba for 21 years.
“I’m very happy, moved and honored to be here celebrating not only Floridita’s 200th anniversary but to be at the grave of the most famous barman in Cuba’s history,” said U.S. bartender Ricky Gómez, of New Orleans, the son of Cuban parents.
Constante not only prepared daiquiris for Hemingway (with double portions of rum and grapefruit juice, no sugar) but was also his friend.
Next to the Floridita counter there is a life-size, bronze statue of the author of “The old man and the sea” and 1954 Nobel Prize-winner for literature, with which nearly all tourists take a selfie.
“It’s 200 years in a 500-year-old city (in 2009). I think we have accompanied the city (of Havana) for some time, bar manager Ariel Blanco said.
The Floridita serves daily between 600 and 700 customers, who pay $6 for each daiquiri, and is one of the two most famous bars in Cuba. The other is the “Bodeguita del Medio,” where Hemingway used to drink mojitos, also in Old Havana.
Despite the United States-Cuba political dispute after the 1959 revolution, devotion to Hemingway was kept alive on the Communist island. In fact, he is one of Fidel Castro’s favorite writers.