Can an Ernest Hemingway-themed bar help bridge the gap between the U.S. and Cuba?
At a minimum, it can’t hurt.
There’s been some speculation that the Hemingway Bar, set to open next month in the Cuban Interests Section — the diplomatic mission of Cuba — in Washington, D.C., contains an implied diplomatic message.
It could be an attempt by Cuba to boost its international relations by honoring a major American writer. Or it could be an attempt to claim Hemingway for Cuba.
For the record, Cuban representatives say it is neither.
“It’s true that first and foremost Hemingway was an American,” said Juan Jacomino, spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section. “But he also had a long history with Cuba, and he was close to Cuba in so many ways. This is simply a gesture to remember that relationship.”
As a memorial to the notoriously hard-drinking literary jock, a bar seems a natural tribute to Hemingway’s connection with the small island country. In fact, this kind of boozy feting is already commonplace in Cuba. When in Havana, Hemingway took his daiquiris at El Floridita, where today a life-sized bronze statue of the man sits planted at the bar.
“He was diabetic so he had his own special daiquiri there — double rum, no sugar,” Jacomino said. “It’s a beautiful old bar with dim lighting, and when you walk in, you see a guy sitting there reading a book. That’s Hemingway.”
The U.S. has an economic embargo against Cuba and has diplomatically isolated the country, so the Cuban Interests Section isn’t technically an embassy. It’s located inside the Swiss Embassy at 2630 16th St. NW, and because it is Cuban territory, the Hemingway Bar will only be open for special diplomatic functions.
But those invited inside will be rewarded: Because American-Cuban commerce is forbidden, the drinks will be free, and because Hemingway was such a connoisseur, the menu will be robust.
The Hemingway daiquiri and Cuban mojito are author’s most well-known libations, but a recent pop-culture resurgence (Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman in the upcoming HBO biopic) has rescued all manner of Hemingway-inspired drinks from the dust bin of mixology.
Patrons can see how firm a stomach they have for the Hemingway Hammer, Death in the Afternoon, Death in the Gulfstream, Jack Rose, Green Isaac’s Special or the Papa Doble.
Of course, Hemingway’s connection to Cuba will be remembered beyond the fuzzy aftermath of an alcoholic haze, as two of his greatest literary successes sprang from his time there. He wrote parts of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” at the Hotel Ambos Mundos (Both Worlds), where his room, No. 511, is still a local attraction.
Hemingway was also a popular figure in Cohima, a fishing village east of Havana which is the setting for “The Old Man and the Sea.” The aftermath of that book’s publication is what makes the Hemingway Bar such a meaningful gesture to the writer from the Cuban people.
“He won the Nobel Prize for ‘The Old Man and the Sea,’ which was inspired by his time fishing in Cuba,” Jacomino said. “He donated the prize to Cuba, and it’s kept in a shrine for Cuba’s patron saint, La Caridad del Cobre.”
The entire Swiss Embassy building, including the Cuban Interests Section, is currently being renovated. The Hemingway Bar will be on the second floor, and the consulate is aiming for a Nov. 3 opening.
And who knows — though it wasn’t designed as a medium for diplomatic relations, perhaps that will be a side benefit. Get the U.S. and Cuba talking over a Hemingway Hammer and anything is possible.