Celebrate Ernest Hemingway’s Birthday!

Today is Ernest Hemingway’s 116th birthday, so why not celebrate it in style with an authentic Hemingway cocktail? As I write this, hundreds of Hemingway enthusiasts are in Key West, attending the annual Hemingway Days celebration centered around Sloppy Joe’s on Duval Street, and very likely not enjoying authentic Hemingway cocktails, but that’s a subject for another post…

Here’s one of my favorite drinks from Hemingway’s time in Key West, a simple little cooler invented by Hemingway’s close friends, Betty and Toby Bruce. They referred to it as being “similar in flavor to a daiquiri especially in the punch form.” Their son, Dink Bruce (whose become a great pal), gave me this hand-written recipe:

cayo hueso

Cayo Hueso la Floridita

1.5 oz Pilar Blonde Rum

½ oz fresh lime juice (roughly the juice of half a lime)

3-4 oz grapefruit soda (such as Fresca, Goya, Squirt, etc.)

Add all ingredients to a Highball glass, stir, garnish with a lime wedge, serve. Adapted from the recipe of Hemingway’s close Key West friends Betty and Toby Bruce.

hem house old from lighthouse

Hemingway first came to Key West in 1928, and began spending extended vacations there. He and his second wife Pauline bought the house on Whitehead Street in 1931. He lived in Key West until Christmas of 1939, at which time he moved to the Finca Vigia, near Havana, Cuba.  In 1934, he bought a 38-foot Wheeler Playmate, which he named Pilar.

hem on pilar

“Cayo Hueso” is among the historic names for Key West. Meaning “island of bones” or “bone key” in Spanish, the name given to the island by early explorers after discovering burial mounds left by the island’s earlier inhabitants.hemingway home KW w pool

The Hemingway home, circa 1938, with the island’s first swimming pool.  Photo courtesy Hemingway Collection, JFK Library, Boston.

Papa’s Pilar Blonde Rum is perfect in this drink, as the rum’s citrus notes go perfectly with the lime and grapefruit juices.  The drink is amazingly refreshing on a hot summer day, which today happens to be.

blonde 2

I mentioned Dink Bruce earlier, when he was a little schoolboy he and his Key West classmates were asked to write a book report, and to also comment on the motivations of the author. Dink chose The Old Man and the Sea, not merely because he actually knew the author, but because, after all, it was such a quick read. You see, Dink wasn’t too fond of books as a lad. So Dink interviewed Hemingway, and asked him why he chose to write it. Hemingway gave it to him straight: “I did it for the money.” Dink dutifully noted this in his report, but his teacher refused to believe it. She gave Dink a “D” on his book report. Apparently it wasn’t the only time she gave Dink a hard time over something. “I’m quite certain that she’s now living in one of the rings of Hell,” Dink noted, with some degree of confidence.

Anyway, fix yourself a Cayo Hueso la Floridita and toast Hemingway’s 116th birthday!

tommy gun

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The Bronx Cocktail

The Bronx Cocktail

3/4 oz London dry gin

3/4 oz dry vermouth

3/4 oz sweet vermouth

2/3 oz fresh orange juice

Shake well with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with orange peel

  • This recipe is  from Dining in Chicago – An Intimate Guide, by John Drury (1931), which instructs us to “shake well, and then note the results upon imbibing.”[i]

[i] John Drury, Dining in Chicago – An Intimate Guide (New York: John Day Co., 1931), 15

bronx

CAPTION:  1929 Gordon’s Gin magazine ad (UK), from the author’s collection.

Since this chapter deals with the Bronx, I’ll obviously spend most of my time talking about one of the greatest of American cities, … Chicago.  The Bronx cocktail is an all-time classic, going back over a century; it likely first appeared in William “Cocktail” Boothby’s 1908 The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them.  As is often the case with the classics, you’ll find wide variations in the recipe and proportions of each ingredient.  Sometimes the vermouth is on equal footing with the gin, sometimes far less.  David Embury noted that in the somewhat similar Orange Blossom (gin and orange juice), which he considered “one of the horrors of Prohibition,” the juice is the modifier, whereas vermouth played that role in the Bronx, with the orange merely adding flavor and color.[i]  Note that by adding Angostura Bitters to the Bronx, it becomes an Income Tax Cocktail.  Now you know.

  1. Scott Fitzgerald included the Bronx in his 1920 classic novel This Side of Paradise, where it factors in a rather drunken evening for protagonist Amory Blaine. He’s at the old Knickerbocker Bar in New York, drowning his sorrows after a romantic breakup, and having more than a few belts with some fellow Princetonians.  He’s drinking Bronxes, “his head spinning gorgeously, layer upon layer of soft satisfaction setting over the bruised spots of his spirit.”

The Bronx Cocktail claims a degree of infamy, as well.  After all, it was the first drink ever enjoyed by a nervous young World War I lieutenant named Bill Wilson who, during a party in Newport, found that the Bronx “tasted wonderful, sweet and airy at the same time.  … My gaucheries and ineptitudes magically disappeared.  …  I had found the elixir of life.”  Well, perhaps that’s a bit of a mischaracterization; booze became something other than an elixir for Bill Willson.  See, he went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous. For Hemingway, it was likely that his first taste of the almighty Bronx came around the same time as both Fitzgerald’s noveland Bill Wilson’s Newport soiree..  In October of 1920, having returned from World War I and spending some time “up in Michigan,” Hemingway moved to Chicago.  He’d share an apartment with his friend Bill Horne, at 1230 North State Street.  1920 was a big year for him; he also began writing stories for the Toronto Star.  And it was in Chicago that Hemingway would meet his first wife, Hadley Richardson, that very same October.

According to a letter Hemingway sent to his pal Bill Smith on October 25, Horne “throwed a party the other nocturnal at which a group of young people” were present, notably Katy Smith, Hadley, Horne and Hemingway.  After dinner at the Victor House, which included “two Rounds of Bronix’s (sic),” they then “went to the College Inn and danced.  We were in the finest of shape.  It was a jovial affair.”[iii]

college

CAPTION: The College Inn, Chicago, where young Ernest and Hadley, fortified with “two Rounds of Bronix’s,” danced the night away in October, 1920, and fell in love.  1919 postcard, from the author’s collection.

`Note that it was October of 1920, and Prohibition was supposed to have been in force.  Not so in Chicago.  Indeed, in a November 16 letter to his friend Grace Quinlan, Hemingway observed “[t]he town is in no sense dry.. in fact it’s a long ways wetter than this time last year.”[i]  A month later, writing in the Toronto Star Weekly, Hemingway noted that “the Wild West hasn’t disappeared.  It has only moved.  Just at present it is located at the southwestern end of Lake Michigan, and the range that the bad men ride is that enormous smoke jungle of buildings they call Chicago.”  At the core of this evil, of course, was the rapid rise in organized crime in the wake of Prohibition.  “Chicago is supposed to be a dry town,” he observed.  “But anyone willing to pay twenty dollars a quart for whiskey can get all they want.  …  Now most of the whiskey you buy has a Kentucky label.  Canadian whiskey costs too much and there is too much American liquor on hand.”[ii]  Everybody, sing with me… “Myyyy kind of town, Chi-ca-go is…”

Anyway, Ernest and Hadley’s love blossomed.  They married the following November, and moved to Paris thereafter.  Perhaps it was the “Bronix’s” that helped warm Ernest to Hadley, and finally expunge the pain from his World War I romance with Agnes Von Kurowsky, his nurse in Milan while he recuperated from that Austrian mortar attack.  Hemingway and Hadley became quite the drinking buddies; you see that throughout A Moveable Feast and his letters, and he often boasted about her prowess.  In a letter to John Dos Passos sent from Paris in 1925, he wrote, “Wish you were here to drink.  There’s a girl named Hadley that’s showing a lot of promise as a drinker and she wants to meet you.”[iii]  And to think, The Paris Wife got her start in Chicago with the Bronx.  You can’t make this stuff up.

[i] The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, ibid, 252.

[ii] Ernest Hemingway, Dateline: Toronto – The Complete Toronto Star Dispatches, 1920-24, a reprint of a news story appearing in the Toronto Star Weekly November 6, 1920 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985), 58-59.

[iii] Letter to John Dos Passos, April 22, 1925, in Ernest Hemingway – Selected Letters, 1917-1961, edited by Carlos Baker (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981), 158

[i] David Embury, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, 3d Ed. (New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1958), 25-26

[ii] Eric Felten, “A Toast to April 15,” Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2006, online at http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB114504694150826369.

[iii] letter to William Smith, October 25, 1920, in The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 1, 1907-1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 248.

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Derby Day, Have a Mint Julep!

The Mint Julep

2-4 oz bourbon whiskey

Crushed ice

Simple syrup, to taste

4-5 mint leaves, mint sprig for garnish

In a silver julep goblet, muddle the mint leaves with simple syrup. Crush some ice with a wooden mallet in a Lewis Bag, or a tightly-woven dish towel (not terry cloth, as ice will cling to it too much). You want it dry, almost powdery. Pack ice into goblet, then add your whiskey. Insert a spoon and swizzle it awhile, garnish it with the mint sprig.

The Kentucky Derby is tomorrow, what better time to make that classic drink, the Mint Julep. While the Mint Julep wasn’t in the original edition of my book, To Have and Have Another – A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, I’m happy to report that it will be in the 2d edition, due out on November 3, 2015. Here’s a sneak preview of that chapter.

“Good whiskey was very pleasant. It was one of the pleasant parts of life.” So noted protagonist Frederic Henry, in Hemingway’s 1929 classic, A Farewell to Arms. No doubt, Hemingway loved his whiskey. But as I noted in the Whiskey & Soda chapter, I hadn’t yet found a solid bourbon reference in all of my research. So, it was with great pleasure that I found for this edition a couple good stories from the Great American West. Who knows, maybe bourbon was his local drink of choice; to borrow a line from “Get a Seeing-Eyed Dog,” “it’s our drink for out here.”

From his late 20s through the rest of his life, Hemingway was drawn to the mountains of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. He went there to write, to hunt and fish, for the climate, to just escape. In the summer of 1930, he and Pauline spent a couple of months at the L–Bar–T Ranch in northwestern Wyoming. One day, while hunting for a grizzly bear that had been terrorizing local cattle, Hemingway was riding a horse named Goofy (I’m not making this up). Goofy got spooked by something and bolted, dashing headlong into a thick forest. Hemingway remained on the horse long enough to have his face severely lacerated by tree branches. He was bleeding profusely, and first aid did no good. So Hemingway and hunting companion Ivan Wallace rode on to a nearby ranger station, where they rented a dilapidated old car, driven by the ranger’s teenage daughter.

They drove to the nearest town, Cody, Wyoming, where a Dr. Trueblood (a former veterinarian) stitched up Hemingway’s face. According to Wallace, “The doctor wanted to put him to sleep, but Hemingway wouldn’t hear of it. ‘All I want is some whisky,’ he kept saying, ‘Just give me some whisky.’” [i] So, like any good Prohibition-era sawbones worth his salt, Dr. Trueblood promptly prescribed a bottle of Old Oscar Pepper Bourbon Whiskey which, shall we say, helped numb the pain, while Dr. Trueblood stitched up the gaping wound using, again, no joke, a long strand of horsehair. On the long drive back to the ranch, Hemingway and Wallace took a shot of bourbon each time their teenage driver stopped to open and close the livestock gates. Both of them slept most of the following day away, thanks to that Old Oscar Pepper Bourbon.

prpprt

Just what the doctor ordered? Vintage Pepper Whisky ad, courtesy Georgetown Trading Company, current distillers of James Pepper Bourbon Whiskey.

Later that day, Hemingway offered to buy old Goofy. When the ranch owner offered a more reliable horse, Hemingway muttered through his bandages, “I don’t want to ride him, I want to shoot him for bear bait.”[i]

Hemingway’s son Patrick understood the allure of the West for Papa. “You have to appreciate what a trip to Idaho meant to my father.  He had spent all those years, first in Key West, then in Cuba, where the fall weather was hot and muggy, and there was no respite from the summer they had just endured.  Then to come out to Sun Valley and into that cool, clean, crisp, clear air, with the deep blue skies, the good hunting, the good friends he liked and trusted – that was a wonderful contrast for him.”[ii]

One of those friends was a fellow named Taylor “Bear Tracks” Williams, the Head Guide at the Sun Valley Resort. So respectful of his skills with a rifle, Hemingway referred to him as “the old Kentucky Colonel who will kill you dead at 300 yards with a borrowed rifle.”[iii] Further, “we call him Colonel because he is from Kentucky but everybody thinks he is a British Col. because he looks like one who has been in India too long and is also deaf.”[iv]

Like any “old Kentucky colonel,” Taylor knew his bourbon whiskey. “Taylor had lived in Idaho for years but he was a Kentuckian,” said a friend, Dorice Taylor. “His first personal project on taking a Job at Sun Valley as a guide was to plant a mint bed. Taylor didn’t ‘make’ a mint julep, he ‘built’ a julep. Even if you were on your fourth – or fifth – Taylor didn’t yield to the temptation to sweeten your old drink with another hoot of bourbon. He washed and polished the glass and started from scratch. Hemingway appreciated Taylor’s sportsmanship and juleps.”[v] According to Hemingway’s friend Tillie Arnold, “[h]e always had a mint bed some place. We never did find out exactly where it was. He said that the mint would be better if it was grown on the grave of a Confederate soldier.”[vi] Tillie’s husband, Lloyd Arnold, wasn’t so sure that Williams “hadn’t lifted one complete and transplanted it in Idaho.” In any event, upon sampling his first Taylor Williams Mint Julep, Hemingway exclaimed, “Christ! This is good, how long before a man can’t get up and walk out by himself?”[vii]

sun valley party

CAPTION: Oh, to have been a fly on the wall, a welcome party for Mr. & Mrs. Gary Cooper, Trail Creek Cabin, Sun Valley, Idaho, October 1940. From left to right, Rocky & Gary Cooper, Mrs. Winston McCrea, Dorothy Parker, “Colonel” Taylor Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Winston McCrea, Tillie Arnold, Martha Gellhorn, and Alan Campbell (Parker’s husband, in foreground, facing camera). Photo by Lloyd Arnold, courtesy William Smallwood.

As noted above, the ol’ Colonel kept the location of his mint bed a secret, and I hold no hope of ever finding it all these many years later. I’ve found, however, something nearly as good, “up in Michigan.”

The Hemingway short story “Summer People” is yet another of the great, semi-autobiographical Nick Adams stories, set in the Michigan woods of Hemingway’s youth. His family spent their summers near Petoskey, at their cottage Windemere, on Lake Walloon. “Summer People” is set in the town of Horton Bay, named for an inlet of nearby Lake Charlevoix. The story begins:

“Halfway down the gravel road from Hortons Bay (sic), the town, to the lake there was a spring. The water came up in a tile sunk beside the road, lipping over the cracked edge of the tile and flowing away through the close growing mint into the swamp. In the dark Nick put his arm down into the spring but could not hold it there because of the cold. He felt the featherings of the sand spouting up from the spring cones at the bottom against his fingers. Nick thought, I wish I could put all of myself in there. I bet that would fix me. He pulled his arm out and sat down at the edge of the road. It was a hot night.”

In October of 2013, while presenting at the Michigan Hemingway Society’s annual conference, I visited Horton Bay, and was fortunate enough to talk with Jim Hartwell, proprietor of the Hartwell & Co. Bookshop, part of the Red Fox Inn. Jim’s grandfather Vollie Fox is said to have tutored the young Hemingway on trout fishing in Horton’s Creek. Jim directed me to the very spring mentioned in the story, “halfway down the” now-paved road toward the lake. Sure enough, mint still grows around the spring. I took a few cuttings, and now I have some of that very mint growing at my home. Kinda neat, in an admittedly geeky way.

“Summer People” is the story of a night-time tryst between Nick and his girl, Kate. As I’ve noted, many of Hemingway’s fictional characters were based on people from his life. Kate was based on Katy Smith who, along with her brother Bill, were longtime friends of Hemingway (she went on to marry novelist, and Hemingway’s friend, John Dos Passos). People reading the story today will no doubt be offended when, after Nick and Kate make love, Nick brusquely tells her to “get dressed, slut.” Hemingway scholars acknowledge that this was a misprint; “slut” was actually “Stut,” one of Katy’s many nicknames. An inspection of the handwritten manuscript confirms this. But Hem wasn’t around to proof it (it was published posthumously).

It’s complicated, but Hemingway and his crowd were fond of nicknames. Hemingway (sometimes Hemingstein) became Weminghay became Wemedge, Carl Edgar became “Odgar,” and poor Katy somehow became Butstein, sometimes Stut. And here, as a final indignity, she’s reduced to “slut.” Oh, the humanity.

summer people

Hemingway’s “Summer People” friends. Left to right, Carl “Odgar” Edgar, Katy “Stut” Smith, his sister Marcelline Hemingway, Bill Horne, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Hopkins, circa 1919. Ernest Hemingway Photo Collection, John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, Boston.

Struble

The spring at Horton Bay, with the “close growing mint” surrounding the “forked stick.” The tin cup has been replaced by a blue enameled model. In the distance is Lake Charlevoix. Photo courtesy Christopher Struble, President, Michigan Hemingway Society.

Hemingway also mentions this same spring at the beginning of “The Last Good Country.” The story begins with Nick Adams “watching the bottom of the spring where the sand rose in small spurts with the bubbling water. There was a tin cup on a forked stick that was stuck in the gravel by the spring and Nick Adams looked at it and the water rising and then flowing clear in its gravel bed beside the road.” Nick “could see both ways on the road and he looked up the hill and then down to the dock and the lake, the wooded point across the bay and the open lake beyond …” If you visit today, you’ll see a cup hanging there on a forked stick, so if you want a little branch water for your bourbon, or if you want to mix yourself a Mint Julep, at Horton Bay you’re halfway there.

POSTSCRIPT: Sadly, James Hartwell passed away in March. He was a local legend, a great Hemingway buff and a fine man, he’ll be sorely missed. This year I’ll raise my mint julep to Jim.

[i] Carlos Baker, Ernest Hemingway, A Life Story, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, Inc., 1969), 214-15

[ii] Tillie Arnold, The Idaho Hemingway (Buhl, Idaho: Beacon Books, 1999), 86.

[iii] Ernest Hemingway, By-Line Ernest Hemingway (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1967), from a reproduction of an article in True magazine, The Shot, April 1951

[iv] Ernest Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway – Selected Letters, 1917-1961 , letter to General E.E. Dorman-O’Gowan, June 13, 1951 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981), 729

[v] Dorice Taylor, Ski Magazine, Oct 1971

[vi] Tillie Arnold, “Hemingway in Sun Valley” web site, http://www.svguide.com/hemquotes.htm

[vii] Lloyd Arnold, High on the Wild With Hemingway (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1968), 54-55

[i] Lee Alan Gutkind, Hemingway’s Wyoming, Pittsburgh Press, February 21, 1971. Special thanks go to Chris Warren, owner of HemingwaysYellowstone.com, for tipping me off to this great story.

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A Tale of Two Rum and Mint Drinks – The Mojito (which Hemingway probably never drank) and the Gregorio’s Rx (which he did)

The Mojito

1 teaspoonful of sugar
Juice of one lime
1.5 oz Papa’s Pilar Blonde Rum
1-2 oz sparkling water
4-5 mint leaves
 
Shake all ingredients (except for seltzer) well with ice, strain into an ice-filled Collins glass, then pour 2 oz. seltzer water into shaker to rinse ice (and chill seltzer), then strain into glass.  Stir, garnish with a mint sprig and lime shell, and serve.
 
Recipe adapted from Sloppy Joe’s Cocktails Manual 1939.  Note, I make mine a little differently, I shake rather than muddle the mint.  Why?  Who wants great globs of mint clogging up your straw?  Further, my method of rinsing the ice with seltzer not only chills the seltzer but also releases flavor clinging to the ice remaining in the shaker.

mojito sign

 

bodeguita1

 

The birth of a myth, the allegedly “signed by Hemingway” sign hanging on the wall at Havana’s La Bodeguita del Medio, and the daily hordes of tourists who want to drink their authentic Hemingway Mojito since, after all, it was his favorite drink!  Not.

As they say, you can’t prove a negative; how can you possibly prove that something didn’t happen? You might ask, what on earth does this have to do with Hemingway? Well, it concerns the mojito, and all the claims you’ll see about it being Hemingway’s favorite drink. Although I can’t prove it, I simply don’t believe that Hemingway was much of a mojito drinker, notwithstanding numerous claims to the contrary. But I can’t prove it.

Numerous claims?  Well, there’s a little joint in Havana called La Bodeguita del Medio.  On the wall behind the bar is a framed piece of butcher paper, allegedly written by Hemingway.  It reads, “My Mojito in La Bodeguita  My Daiquiri in El Floridita.”  That simple little inscription has not only launched a thousand claims that “Hemingway’s favorite drink was the Mojito,” but it’s also made La Bodeguita quite a lot of money from visiting tourists, as have many other watering holes in Havana, or Key West, or Miami….  If I had a dollar for every book or Web site that claimed the Mojito to be his favorite drink, or the drink “most associated with” him, well…  For example, the bar menu for the chain restaurant Cheeseburger in Paradise says that the Mojito “was a favorite drink of author Ernest Hemingway who made the bar La Bodeguita famous for them after writing about the mojitos he drank there.”  Oh?  He wrote about them?  What, in a novel?  Short story?  Esquire article?  Oh, butcher paper, really?  If you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth.  Kind of like that story about all those bloody six-toed cats in Key West being descendants of a cat given to Hemingway by a sea captain.  He didn’t have cats in Key West, he had them in Cuba.  But this is about Hemingway’s drinks, not his cats.

bodeguita_pt107451

Lining up the Mojitos for a new batch of suckers, … er, patrons who wish to experience a true Hemingway-channeling moment.  Sorry (not sorry).

mojito recipe

Mojito recipe from 1939 Sloppy Joe’s (Havana) cocktail guide, from collection of the author

Why so skeptical in the first place?  As noted in every other chapter in this book, I can either place the particular drink into Hemingway’s hands, from biographies, memoirs or letters, or into his character’s hands, from his prose.  Heck, if Hemingway wasn’t so fond of writing about what he drank, well, I wouldn’t have written this book, now would I?  If he drank it, he generally wrote about it, somewhere.  Not so with the Mojito.  In fact, I’ve not yet encountered a single reference to either the drink, or the Bodeguita, in all of my research, which spans about 20 years.  Let me qualify that; I did find one.  Indeed, jai alai player Jose Andres Garate, a close friend during the ‘40s and ‘50s, said that he “drank with Papa at the Floridita many times and ate oysters with him at Ambos Mundos Hotel.”  When asked about the Mojito story, he replied, “I’ve never heard of La Bodequita (sic) del Medio.”[i]

Further, there are countless photos of Hemingway at other Havana watering holes, such as the Floridita, Sloppy Joe’s, the Club Puerto Antonio, and at other places worldwide, like Harry’s Bar and the Stork Club.  Any photos of Hem in the Bodeguita?   Ixnay.

But the most damning evidence against the whole “Hemingway loved the Mojito and he drank them at La Bodeguita” story comes from the man who concocted the whole myth!  Indeed, several books have asserted that the whole thing was a publicity stunt, cleverly concocted by Cuban journalist Fernando Campoamor, along with the bar’s owner.  According to Campoamor, they hired a calligrapher to forge Hemingway’s handwriting, and “(t)he little joke grew into a big lie.”[ii]  And a great many pesos, it seems.  The galling thing is that Hemingway and Campoamor were friends.  The plot was hatched in the years following Hemingway’s death; Papa won’t mind, he’d see the humor and value in it, I can hear Campoamor rationalizing.

campoamor finca 2

Hemingway and Campoamor saring a laugh, and a drink (though I don’t see any mint, do you?)

campoamor signed

Hemingway and Campoamor at the Floridita (that’s definitely a Daiquiri Papa is holding, not sure what the bottle of Scotch is doing there).  “From Ernesto Hemingway (the ugly bastard)” he signs it.

What follows is an excerpt from Tom Miller’s excellent book, Trading With the Enemy.

trading

book 1

book 2

book 3

As for the drink itself, well, Hemingway simply didn’t like sweet drinks, and the Mojito (which usually packs an ounce or so of simple syrup) is a sweet drink.  In his later years, with concerns about diabetes and sugar intake, he typically avoided such drinks.  As he noted in Islands in the Stream, he loved to drink “these double frozens without sugar.  If you drank that many with sugar in it would make you sick.”  In fact, when you look at the other drinks Hemingway wrote about, you just don’t see too many sweet drinks.   The Jack Rose does come to mind, but that was from 1926’s The Sun Also Rises, written long before the 27 year old writer was worried about sugar.  By the mid- 30s, however, we’re seeing his penchant for sugar-free drinks, such as his E. Henmiway Special (a Daiquiri with maraschino liqueur in place of the sugar), the Death in the Gulf Stream (Holland gin, lime and bitters.  “No sugar.  No fancying.”), and the Irish Whiskey Sour.  He once complained to his friend A.E. Hotchner that one of the reasons he didn’t like dining at other people’s homes was that he couldn’t trust the food and drink.  On one occasion, they served sweet champagne, which he had to drink to be polite, but it took a week to get it out of his system.[i]

I’m not alone in my skepticism.  The late Hemingway scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli observed, “I do not have any evidence that Hemingway ever drank that particular cocktail,” though “it is a safe generalization that Hemingway tried every cocktail ever mixed.”[ii]  In The Hemingway Cookbook, Craig Boreth names a subchapter “The Myth of the Mojito.”  Further, I’ve asked noted Hemingway historian Brewster Chamberlin for his views on the actual signed inscription.  He’s the Archivist for the Key West Art and Historical Society (the island’s main museum), and has developed an extensive chronology of Hemingway’s life.  Brewster began by noting that he’s spent countless hours poring over the log books of Joe Russell’s boat Anita and Hemingway’s Pilar, most of which is written by Hemingway, and he’s gained quite a level of familiarity with Papa’s handwriting.  Said Brewster:  “I have carefully examined the handwritten note attributed to Hemingway and I am convinced that he did not in fact write it. The handwriting is not his.”[iii]

Forgery?  Publicity stunt?  Who knows?  Who cares?  I’d just like to see the whole “Hemingway’s favorite drink” rubbish put to rest or, at least, the favorite part.  Mind you, I have nothing against the Mojito, it’s a perfectly lovely drink, when made correctly, with fresh lime juice, not lemon-lime soda, and with just a trace of mint, not muddled clumps like Sargasso seaweed.  I make them for my wife now and then with mint from our herb garden.  I just don’t think they were among Hemingway’s favorite drinks, so I therefore offer it to you, dear reader, with a rather strong caveat.

Not only that, here’s a very similar drink I’ll offer to you that I do know that Hemingway enjoyed, I give you the Gregorio’s Rx:

Gregorio’s Rx

1 oz honey syrup (1:1 mix of honey and water)

1 oz fresh lemon juice

4 mint leaves

1 oz Papa’s Pilar Blonde Rum 

2 oz sparkling water 

 

Add all ingredients except for the sparkling water to a shaker with ice.  Shake very well for 15 seconds.  Strain into a glass with fresh ice.  Add sparkling water to shaker, swirl it around, then strain it into the glass.  Stir once or twice, garnish with mint sprig.

 

            This is a drink concocted by Gregorio Fuentes, a longtime crewmember on Hemingway’s fishing boat Pilar.  He was more than just a first mate, cook and bartender; after all, in his will, Hemingway left his beloved boat to Fuentes.  When it became obvious that its maintenance was too much for a humble fisherman to handle, Fuentes donated the boat to the Cuban government.  Not missing a chance to gain some good PR, and of course because it was the right thing to do, Fidel Castro gave Fuentes a new fishing boat.  Fuentes was born in the Canary Islands, of Spanish extraction, and lived to be 104 years old.  Many believe that Fuentes is one of two or three Cuban fisherman who formed a composite for the character of Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea, another being Carlos Guitierrez.

gregorio

Hemingway and Gregorio Fuentes

While at sea, “Hemingway gave full command of the bar to ‘Gregorine,’ as he called Gregorio.  As they sailed past the Morro of Havana, Hemingway would invariably say: ‘Captain Gregorine, please take charge of the Ethyline Department.’  Gregorio had his rules in this area, claiming “that a drink should be held in the hand no longer than half an hour.  Once the sun makes it lukewarm, it should be discarded.”[iv]

It was a pleasure to work for Papa.  I was the skipper and I also cooked and served the drinks….I enjoyed being with him, and he was a real friend.”  Gregorio Fuentes

As for this drink, it seems that “Gregorio had his own special prescription, which he considered very effective to prevent or cure a cold:  ‘Take a clean glass and put two tablespoons of honey in it, add the juice of two lemons, a mint leaf, two ice cubes and rum to taste.  Nothing like it,’ he says.”[v]

I know what you’re thinking, Gregorio’s drink sounds an awful lot like the Mojito, doesn’t it?  Indeed, it has honey in place of the sugar.  It’s not clear if “lemons” actually means lemons, or limon verde, i.e., lime, as has happened before where things get lost in translation (see the Daiquiri).  It’s a very nice drink either way.  Cheers!

SIDEBAR:  Hemingway and Prohibition

According to Gregorio Fuentes , not only did Hemingway partake of bootleg booze during Prohibition, and not only did he consort with rumrunners like Josie Russell, Hemingway himself was a bootlegger!  More on this in a moment, but first a word about The Noble Experiment.

Prohibition went into effect in 1920, and extended nearly to the end of 1933.  Perhaps a statement on America’s overall ambivalence toward the Volstead Act, it didn’t seem to have too great an effect on Hemingway.  It seems a bit ironic that it began the year he turned 21.  At 19 he was serving in the ambulance corps in World War I Italy, getting a taste for a variety of potent potables.  Back in the States, though he temporarily lived in a largely dry household, he didn’t seem too concerned about the coming crackdown.  In a letter to his Red Cross friend Jim Gamble, he notes that America “isn’t such a bad place now with the exception of the coming aridity.”[vi]  According to biographer Carlos Baker, “[h]e gaily predicted that Chicago would never go dry,”[vii] and laid in a good supply in his Oak Park bedroom.  “On the left is a well-filled bookcase containing Strega, Cinzano Vermouth, kümmel, and martell cognac,” he bragged to Gamble.  “All these were gotten after an exhaustive search of Chicago’s resources.”[viii]

During the course of Prohibition, Hemingway either lived in a place that didn’t have it (Paris), or didn’t particularly recognize it (Key West). In Paris, unlike many other American expatriates, he wasn’t necessarily there for the booze or the cafés; he went there to further his writing career (though it no doubt improved its “livability” in his eyes).  And Key West was nearly as free and easy as the Left Bank, this according to a 1940 newspaper account:

“Key west has never felt the restraint of prohibition or gambling laws.  It has more saloons and jooks than you can shake a well-rounded stick at, and most of them advertise a ‘club in rear’ where crap games, chuck-a-luck, and slot machines are open to all comers.”[ix]

By 1928, Hemingway had moved to what was at the time the southernmost town in the U.S., a burg well described by his friend John Dos Passos:

“There were a couple of drowsy hotels where passengers on their way to Cuba or the Caribbean occasionally stopped over.  Palms and pepper trees.  The shady streets of unpainted frame houses had a faintly New England look.  Automobiles were rare because there was no highway to the mainland, only the causeway that carried the single-track railroad.  The Navy Yard was closed down.  The custodian used to let us go swimming off the stone steps in the deep azure water of the inner basin.  You had to watch for barracuda.  Otherwise it was delicious.  There was really abundant fishing on the reefs and in the Gulf Stream.  A couple of Spaniards ran good little restaurants well furnished with Rioja wine.  Nobody seemed ever to have heard of Prohibition or game laws.  The place suited Ernest to a T.”

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Hemingway and Dos Passos, the good life in Key West

There was more there to drink than Rioja.  Hemingway soon befriended Joseph “Sloppy Joe” Russell, and availed himself of “Josie Grunts’” services.  It’s said that they met when Hemingway was able to purchase bottles of bootleg Scotch from him.  According to some sources, Russell made more than 150 rum-running trips from Cuba to the Keys in his boat Anita which, until he bought Pilar, also served as Hemingway’s primary fishing boat.  Russell explained his tactics:

“We loaded our whisky right in the Havana harbor and cleared our cargo in the legal way,” Joe said.  “The American consul would tip off the officers and they’d be waiting for us on the other side.  But we’d stick around Havana for a week and they’d get tired of waiting for us.  Then we’d go across.  Well, the consul finally got wise to what we were doing and got a rule passed ordering us to leave the harbor within 24 hours after clearing.  After that we just didn’t bother about clearing.  We loaded our liquor 12 miles below Havana and came across when we pleased.”[x]

Hemingway described his friend Josie’s exploits, this from a letter to his cousin Bud White, January 29, 1931:

“There is a bootlegger here with damned good fishing boat – 34 foot – Redwing motor – cabin cruiser type – that we can live aboard in Havana harbor.  He knows Cuban coast and has made many trips – can make Havana from here in 10 hours in her or a little less – he will look after all formalities – we can fish tarpon in Havana harbor and drink there – go down coast to little fishing village and fish giant marlin from there – he says we can bring a load & as much liquor as we want back and we can dump it along in outer keys and then go out later and bring it back – you can take all you want 2-3 suitcases back with you on train with no trouble – they have no search nor bother.”,EH 1148N

Hemingway (striped shirt) after a successful day at sea on Anita, with its owner Joe “Josie Grunts” Russell, owner of Sloppy Joe’s.

And according to Gregorio Fuentes, Hemingway himself tried his hand at rum-running:

“During Prohibition, Hemingway went to see [Joe] Russell and told him: ‘I’m broke, lend me your boat.’  Russell and Hemingway made a deal, and the writer went to Havana and managed to get around 600 or 700 cases of cognac from Recalt’s, 24 bottles to the case.  The cognac cost them 40 cents a bottle, and sold in the United States at $3.50 each. …  Hemingway smuggled the ‘goods’ from Playa de Jaimanitas.  He and Russell agreed on the day and place to meet in jurisdictional waters.  They had a prearranged system of signals, using red, white, and blue lights.  According to Fuentes, that was how Hemingway made enough money to go to Europe and Africa.”  [xi]

I believe the story, but am a little dubious of the “around 600 or 700 cases of cognac” claim, simply because I can’t see the 38-foot Pilar holding that much while crossing the Gulf Stream and making the arduous 10 hour, 90 mile voyage from Havana to Key West.  I don’t doubt Fuentes’ veracity, either; as a wise man once said, it’s not a lie, if you believe it.   He may have gotten that number from Hemingway, who liked to, shall we say, embellish.  It is a good story, though.

[i] David Nuffer, The Best Friend I Ever Had (self published, 1988), at p 100.

[ii] Tom Miller, Cuba: True Stories (San Francisco, Travelers’ Tales, Inc., 2004), 146; Alfredo Jose Estrada, Havana: Autobiography of a City (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 87.  Tom Miller, Trading With the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro’s Cuba (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 168.

[i] A.E. Hotchner, The Good Life According to Hemingway (New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1008),  101

[ii] As quoted by Eric Felten, A Cuban Summer Cooler,Wall Street Journal, August 4, 2007

[iii]  Brewster Chamberlin, Author of “A Chronology of the Life and Times of Ernest Hemingway” (forthcoming), Paris Now and Then (2004), The Time in Tavel (2010) and other books.

[iv]  Norberto Fuentes, Hemingway in Cuba (New Jersey: Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1984), 101-102

[v]  Norberto Fuentes, Hemingway in Cuba (New Jersey: Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1984), 101-102

[vi]  Along With Youth (), 116

[vii]  Carlos Baker, Ernest Hemingway, A Life Story (), 61

[viii]  Along With Youth, 117

[ix]  From Aug 6, 1940 St Petersburg FL Independent

[x] From Aug 6, 1940 St Petersburg FL Independent

[xi]  Toni D. Knott, One Man Alone – Hemingway and To Have and Have Not (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc., 1999), 73-74

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The Hemingway (and Fitzgerald) Whisky Sour

Whisky Sour

1 teaspoon sugar or simple syrup

Juice of half a lemon

1 ½ oz whisky

Shake well, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Add a dash of seltzer water if desired.  Garnish with lemon peel.

Suggested reading:  A Moveable Feast – Scott Fitzgerald

             The recipe shown above is the traditional whisky sour, and you’re free to use bourbon, sour mash, rye, blended or Canadian whiskey, or even Irish, as Hemingway did in Islands in the Stream.  Here, Hemingway refers to a drink as a “whisky sour,” but it’s more likely he was drinking a mixture of lemonade (in French, called a citron pressé), Scotch whisky, and perhaps a little Perrier water.  In other words, Hemingway likely didn’t shake the drink as you would a true whisky sour, just built it in the glass, but that’s what he called it nevertheless.

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Shown above, the Dingo, Montparnasse, Paris, where Hemingway and Fitzgerald met for the first time in April, 1925.            

In his Paris memoir, A Moveable Feast, Hemingway writes at length about his relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald.  In this particular chapter, he tells of their first meeting, at the Dingo Bar, where Hemingway was “sitting with some completely worthless characters.”  One of them happened to be Duff Twysden, on whom Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises was based (see the Jack Rose).  In walks Scott.  Hemingway knew of him; after all, he was already a successful writer.  Hemingway described him as looking “like a boy with a face between handsome and pretty.  He had very fair wavy hair, a high forehead, excited and friendly eyes and a delicate long-lipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of a beauty.” 

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F. Scott Fitzgerald

Scott was drinking champagne, and then:

“the strange thing happened.  As he sat there at the bar holding the glass of champagne the skin seemed to tighten over his face until all the puffiness was gone and then it drew tighter until the face was like a death’s head.  The eyes sank and began to look dead and the lips were drawn tight and the color left his face so that it was the color of used candle wax.  This was not my imagination.  His face became a true death’s head, or death mask, in front of my eyes.”

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Hemingway in Paris, around the time of this escapade

Hemingway wanted to get him to a hospital, but Scott’s friend said it was a normal reaction, it happened sometimes when he drank.  So they put him in a taxi home.  A few days later, Scott met Hemingway at the Closerie des Lilas, and they each had two whisky and sodas.  Nothing odd happened.  It was during that encounter that Scott asked a favor of Hem.  It seems that his wife Zelda had been “compelled to abandon their small Renault motor car in Lyon because of bad weather,” and would Hem be good enough to accompany Scott to Lyon to retrieve it.  They could ride down together on the train, get the car, and then drive it back to Paris.  Hemingway was enthusiastic about the trip, as it would give him a chance to spend time with an older and more accomplished writer.  So he accepted. 

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The trip was nothing short of a disaster, something to laugh about years later, perhaps.  Or write about.  First off, Scott failed to meet Hemingway at the train station, so he had to foot the bill for his ticket.  Once in Lyon, he couldn’t find Scott, so he had to pay for that first night in the hotel.  This was not what had been planned, especially for the young, starving writer.  But Hemingway made the most of it and ate a cheap dinner in an Algerian restaurant, engaging in conversation with a toothless fire-eater.  He then returned to his hotel and read Turgenev.  Good times.  Finally, Scott showed up next morning, but his words and manner made it appear that it was Hemingway who’d stood up Scott.  Hemingway was increasingly wondering why he’d said yes.  But they had a nice big American breakfast, then a whisky and Perrier, and felt much better.  The plan was to hit the road after the hotel packed up a lunch for them to go.

When they got to the garage, Hemingway was “astonished to find that the small Renault had no top.”  See, the reason why Zelda had been “compelled” to ditch the car in Lyon was because she’d ordered the top to be cut off, because of some minor accident in Marseilles, and she refused to have it replaced.  She liked convertibles, anyway, even if they had no top.  So, off they started on their drive back to Paris in their topless French car.  Then the rains came.

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They “were halted by rain about an hour north of Lyon.  In that day we were halted by rain possibly ten times.”  Along the way, during breaks in the squalls or under the shelter of trees, they ate an excellent lunch of truffled roast chicken, washed down with white Mâcon wine.  They bought several bottles which Hemingway “uncorked as we needed them.”  Drinking wine straight from the bottle was particularly exciting for Scott, “as though he were slumming or as a girl might be excited by going swimming for the first time without a bathing suit.” 

And then the hypochondria set in.  Scott became convinced that he’d contracted congestion of the lungs (he’d read about it), and he begged Hemingway to stop over at the next big town before “the onset of the fever and delirium.”  They stopped at a hotel, and Hemingway had to become doctor and nurse to Fitzgerald.  Scott took to the bed, and while their rain-soaked clothing dried, Hemingway ordered lemonade and whiskey, which Scott referred to as one of “those old wives’ remedies.”  It didn’t stop him from drinking it, though.  Scott demanded that he have his temperature taken, in spite of Hemingway’s assurances that his forehead felt cool.

When the waiter arrived with the two glasses with the pressed lemon juice and ice, the whiskies, and the bottle of Perrier water, he told me that the pharmacy was closed and he could not get a thermometer.  He had borrowed some aspirin.  I asked him to see if he could borrow a thermometer.  Scott opened his eyes and gave a baleful Irish look at the waiter.

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Scott, giving his best “baleful Irish look.”

The waiter finally brought them a thermometer.  Sort of.  It was a huge affair with a wooden back, designed for measuring bathtub water.  Nevertheless, Hemingway shook it down like a doctor would, and commented that it was lucky it wasn’t a rectal thermometer.  He placed it under Scott’s arm, and whatever the temperature ended up being (it was in Centigrade, of course), Hemingway managed to convince Fitzgerald that it was normal.  Scott remained convinced he was dying, and all the while the waiter kept bringing double Whisky Sours.  Eventually, the drinks worked their magic, and Scott felt good enough to go downstairs for dinner.  There, they had a carafe of Fleurie with their snails, followed by a bottle of Montagny, “a light, pleasant white wine of the neighborhood” with their poularde de Bresse.

Scott ate very little and took one sip of the wine.  He passed out at the table with his head on his hands.  It was natural and there was no theater about it and it even looked as though he were careful not to spill or break things. 

Hemingway and the waiter got him back upstairs to bed, and Hemingway went back down and finished the dinner (and the wine).

The next day they drove back to Paris, the weather was beautiful, “the air freshly washed and the hills and the field and the vineyards all new.”  He said his goodbyes to Scott, and Hemingway took a taxi back to his apartment.  He was never so happy to be back home, and he and Hadley celebrated with a drink at the Closerie des Lilas.  He told Hadley that he’d learned one thing, “Never to go on trips with anyone you do not love.”

For the rest of their friendship, Hemingway not only worried about Fitzgerald’s drinking, but also over Zelda’s negative influence.  He was convinced she was mentally ill (he was probably right), and further believed that she encouraged his drinking so as to diminish his abilities as a writer, so jealous of his success was she.  Hemingway was quoted as saying, “I told Scott that being a rummy made him very vulnerable – I mean, a rummy married to a crazy is not the kind of pari-mutuel that aids a writer.”[i]  Can’t argue with that. 

 

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Scott and Zelda, shown above.

In addition to the Dingo and Closerie des Lilas, apparently both Hemingway and Fitzgerald spent a bit of time at Harry’s New York Bar, a Paris landmark located at 5 Rue Danou, famously pronounced ‘“Sank Roo Doe Noo.”  It was even part of their advertising, like a jingle; visiting Americans were encouraged to “just tell the taxi driver Sank Roo Doe Noo.”   Speaking of the Whisky Sour and Harry’s, owner Harry MacElhone was quoted in 1951 as saying he missed the good old days when Hemingway and Fitzgerald were customers, and that “Hemingway could down 20 whiskey sours at one sitting and then go back to his hotel to work.”[i]   Hmmm….

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According to Harry’s lore, Hemingway served as a most unusual bouncer back in the day, when an “ex-pug” (a former boxer, as in pugilist) would visit the bar with an unwelcomed pet.

“Back in the old days, Harry’s New York Bar on rue Daunou was one of the few good, solid bars, and there was an ex-pug used to come in with a pet lion.  He’d stand at the bar here and the lion would stand here beside him.  He was a very nice lion with good manners – no growls or roars – but, as lions will, he occasionally shit on the floor.  This, of course, had a rather adverse effect on the trade and, as politely as he could, Harry asked the ex-pug not to being the lion around any more.  But the next day the pug was back with lion, lion dropped another load, drinkers dispersed, Harry again made request.  The third day, same thing.  Realizing it was do or die for poor Harry’s business, this time when lion let go, I went over, picked up the pug, who had been a welterweight, carried him outside, and threw him in the street.  Then I came back and grabbed the lion’s mane and hustled him out of there.  Out on the sidewalk the lion gave me a look, but he went quietly.”[i] 

I’m not sure which tale is taller, the one about the 20 whisky sours or the one about the lion.  It’s just my job to pass them along to you, dear reader.  Cheers.


[i]  Hotchner, Good Life, 106


[i] St. Petersburg Times, June 24, 1951


[i]  Hotchner, Good Life,  85

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The Rum Collins

Rum Collins

2 oz rum

1 oz fresh lemon or lime juice

1 teaspoon sugar (though Hemingway likely went without)

4 oz sparkling water

 

Add all ingredients to a tall Collins glass filled with ice.  Garnish with a wedge of whichever citrus fruit you’re using.  Stir and serve.

            For more about the Collins style of drink, see the Tom Collins, below.  This is an excellent refresher, perfect for hot summer days.  You can use a lighter rum, a darker aged rum, or a combination of both.  Add a splash of Angostura or Fee Brothers Aromatic Bitters for an extra bit of spice.

            After several years of chartering fishing boats in Key West, such as “Sloppy” Joe Russell’s Anita, in the winter of 1933-34 Hemingway purchased a sleek 38-foot cruiser from the Wheeler Shipyard in Brooklyn, and outfitted her for fishing in the Gulf Stream.  He christened her Pilar, in part for the shrine and feria in Zaragoza, Spain, and partly to honor his wife Pauline; it was one of her pet names when they fell in love in Paris in 1926.  She bore him two sons, Patrick and Gregory, but always wanted to give him “a little Pilar.” 

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Shown above, Hemingway on board Pilar, circa 1934.

By April Hemingway was ready to take Pilar over to the Bahamian isle of Bimini, nestled on the east side of the Gulf Stream just 45 miles out from Miami.  He’d heard that it was a fisherman’s paradise, where the marlin and tuna were legendary.  On April 7th he and a group of friends (including his Paris friends John Dos Passos and Mike Strater) left Key West for Bimini.

            They decided to fish along the way, and in short order Strater had hooked into a dolphin fish (known as mahi mahi nowadays), while Hemingway and Dos had sharks on their lines.  Hemingway was the first to bring his fish alongside and, as was his custom with the hated shark, he gaffed the shark with one hand, while trying to shoot it with his Colt pistol with the other.  Suddenly, the thrashing shark caused the gaff to break.  Part of it struck Hemingway’s pistol hand, the gun went off, and the bullet went through one of Hemingway’s legs and into another (!).  Humiliated, he turned back to Key West to seek medical treatment.  The wounds were slight, and he carried the bullet in his leg the rest of his days.

 

 

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Wonderful map from inside cover of Islands in the Stream

The incident caused him to hate sharks all the more, as they were always a threat to his deep-sea fishing.  Far too many prized catches were mauled by sharks before they could be boated.  After they finally reached Bimini a few weeks later, Hemingway hooked into a trophy tuna, and an epic battle raged throughout the afternoon between Papa and the big fish.  Soon, a party of onlooker boats circled the Pilar, as Hemingway fought the tuna into the dusk.  It was now dark, and a storm was approaching, and many of the onlookers (including Hemingway’s crew) sought shelter on the largest of the yachts circling the scene, the Moana, owned by multi-millionaire William B. Leeds.  Finally, it looked as if Hemingway had won, he was reeling in the great fish.  But then, the sharks came.  As told by John Dos Passos:

“In the light of the searchlight, we could see the sharks streaking in across the dark water.  Like torpedos.  Like speedboats.  One struck.  Another.  Another.  The water was murky with blood.  By the time we hauled in the tuna over the stern, there was nothing left but his head and his backbone and his tail.  For once, Hemingway didn’t curse – not aloud anyway.  He just muttered a few unheard remarks to himself, stowed his gear and joined his friends aboard Leeds’ yacht for drinks, just as the threatened squall attacked.”[i]

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Rum Collins recipe and rum ad, from Sloppy Joe’s 1939 Cocktail Manual, from collection of author
 

“Now, if I’d had that machine gun,” Hemingway said to Leeds, “I could have taken care of those goddam sharks.”  See, the evening before, Hemingway had been over on Leeds’ boat, having a few Rum Collinses, all the while coveting Leeds’ Thompson submachine gun.  He tried everything, offered to buy it for $1,000, roll dice for it, target shoot for it, every kind of challenge, but Leeds said no.  But somehow that night, he managed to wheedle it away from Leeds, no one knew how, and Hemingway now had a new weapon in his arsenal to fight the hated sharks.  Fast forward 20 years, if only ‘ol Santiago had’ve had it when he took on the big fish and those sharks, well ….  But I hardly think they’d award a Nobel Prize to The Old Man and the Thompson Gun, I reckon.

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Hemingway and eldest son Jack “Bumby” Hemingway, possibly on the stern of the Moana, circa 1935.  And there’s that Tommy gun!  Photo courtesy JFK Library, Boston.

 
Bill Leeds’ Yacht, the Moana

William B. Leeds was a multi-millionaire, heir to a tin-plate empire, certainly one of the “haves” among Hemingway’s acquaintances.  He was a regular on the Gulf Stream circuit from Bimini to Miami to Havana to Key West.  Hemingway didn’t just drink Rum Collinses on Leeds’ boat; in a 1939 letter written to his second son Patrick, he wrote:

“I was getting awfully stale from working so hard and then Mr. Ben Finney . . . turned up on Mr. Leed’s yacht the Moana.  We stayed up late and I drank a few highly frozen Daiquiris just to see what their effect would be (it was moderately terrific and made me feel a friend of all mankind).”

In addition to serving as the venue for a couple of Hemingway drinking stories, the Moana had quite a history of its own.  It was built in 1931 at the Bath Iron Works in Maine, and was christened the Caroline.  After Leeds purchased it, he renamed her Moana.  In the summer of 1937, Leeds considered outfitting her as a hospital ship to be stationed in the Galapagos Islands, where medical services were lacking.  Although that plan never came to pass, in 1941 Leeds sold the Moana to the U.S. Navy, which re-fitted her to become a PT boat tender, and was renamed yet again, the U.S.S. Hilo.  She had an illustrious service record, and earned four battle stars during campaigns across the South Pacific.

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The Moana, shown above.  Note the striking similarity between this yacht and the one shown below, in a 1930s Gilbey’s Gin ad.

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[i][i]  Milt Machlin, The Private Hell of Hemingway (New York?: The Paperback Library, 1962), 116-117

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The Hemingway Daiquiri(s)

The Daiquiri

In honor of its (roughly) 112th birthday, I’m writing today about the “Cradle of the Daiquiri,” the Bar Floridita in Havana, affectionately known as the Floridita.  There are two versions of the Daiquiri associated with Hemingway, as follows.

Two versions from which to choose:

E. Henmiway Special (circa 1937)

  • 2 oz white rum
  • 1 teaspoon grapefruit juice
  • 1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
  • ½ oz fresh lime juice

“Frappe” (chip or crush) some ice, add to shaker, then add remaining ingredients.  Shake well, then pour contents of shaker into a chilled cocktail glass.

 Papa Doble, aka the Wild Daiquiri (circa 1947)

  • 3 ¾ oz White Rum
  • 2 oz fresh lime juice
  • 2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
  • 6 drops of maraschino liqueur

Blend well with ice.  Serve in a large chilled goblet.

 Suggested reading:  Islands in the Stream, Cuba

As I reached the drinking age in the early 1980s, I thought there were two types of Daiquiri:  banana and strawberry, and both required a blender.  Not only that, Daiquiris required bottled, canned, or worse, powdered mixes; at least, that’s what I saw around my parents’ suburban home.  After making a lot of bad store-bought atrocities, or merely drinkable alcoholic Slurpees, I’ve since learned that the Daiquiri is a very simple but elegant cocktail made with rum, lime juice and sugar.  That’s it.  Hemingway was a bit luckier, he moved to the Gulf Stream just as the King of the Daiquiri was just getting his start, behind the bar of the Floridita in Havana.  We’ll come back to him in a moment.

Cocktail historians (yes, there are such things) tell us that the Daiquiri was invented around 1900.  It seems that an American mining engineer by the name of Jennings Cox, stationed in the southeastern Cuban beach town of Daiquiri, was preparing to entertain some visiting friends from the States.  To his horror, he discovered that he’d run out of gin.  Just as so many cocktail origin stories are based on the “what do I do with these seemingly surplus and incongruous ingredients?” theme, Cox did have a goodly amount of rum, sugar, and limes.  This was, after all, Cuba.  Cox rolled up his sleeves, and the Daiquiri was born.  Or so the story goes…

Presumed inventor of the Daiquiri, American mining engineer Jennings Cox

Jennings Cox’s handwritten recipe.  Image courtesy University of Miami.

Another version of the story finds our Horatio Alger-esque hero Jennings Cox in a Santiago saloon known as the Venus Bar, tossin’ ‘em back with some co-workers.  The following is an excerpt from the Miami Herald of March 14, 1937:

“One day a group of American engineers who had come into town from the Daiquiri mines were imbibing their favorite drink in this restful spot.  It was one of those wonderful rum concoctions made from Ron Bacardi.  A jovial fellow by the name of Cox spoke up.  ‘Caballeros y amigos, we have been enjoying this delicious mixture for some time, but strange to admit the drink has no name.  Don’t you think it is about time something was done to extricate us from this sad predicament?’  It was unanimously agreed that the drink should be named, without further procrastination.  There was silence for several minutes as each man became immersed in deep thought.  Suddenly, Cox’s voice was heard again.  ‘I have it, men!  Let’s call it the “Daiquiri!”’  And so it was christened.” 

Miami Herald, March 14, 1937

As an aside, based on the preponderance of lofty praise for the fine products of Ron Bacardi, mentioned no fewer than 10 times, the author strongly suspects that this news story was planted by their PR department (!).

New York Times, June 23, 1898

Yet another Daiquiri origin theory is also tied to this same Cuban coastal town, not as a mining town, but as the landing zone for an American invasion.  In his excellent book And a Bottle of Rum, author Wayne Curtis tells also of a U.S. Army general by the name of William Shafter, who:

“came ashore during the Spanish-American War in 1898 near Santiago.  He was not shy of girth and in poor health, and he liked food and drink more than the tedious chore of battle.  When he sampled the drink of the Cuban patriot – rum, lime juice, and sugar muddled together – he found it to his liking and declared, ‘only one ingredient is missing – ice.’  He set about remedying that omission, and, lo, the daiquiri was born.”[i]

In both stories, you’re left with something of an imperialistic tale, a wise American, coming to a foreign land, assessing the local ingredients, and figuring out what the noble savages were too ignorant to see for themselves, that this holy trinity of rum, sugar and lime juice taste pretty damned good together!  Didn’t Rudyard Kipling mention the Daiquiri in his politically incorrect poem The White Man’s Burden?  Please.  Rum, sugar and lime juice had been around in the Caribbean since the 17th century.  I rather doubt that some Yanqui engineer or general was the one to get it sorted.  Perhaps the name was coined in this manner, but I suspect that the drink had been around for quite awhile.

Witness the classic Ti’ Punch in Martinique (rhum agricole, lime wedge, cane syrup), or the Caipirinha in Brazil (cachaca, lime wedges, and sugar/cane syrup), or even the alleged prototype of the Mojito, El Draque; all have rum, sugar and lime.  Look also to the British Royal Navy, which had been serving the trinity to its sailors going back over 250 years!  Indeed, as early as 1740, British Admiral William Vernon ordered that lemon or lime juice be added to his sailors’ daily ration of rum, to dilute the strength of the spirit and improve the taste.  It was later learned that the citrus juice contained Vitamin C, as a preventive to scurvy.  In Vernon’s honor, the men came to call this daily cocktail “grog,” and the name stuck (“Old Grog” was Vernon’s nickname, as he was said to wear a coat made of grogram cloth).

Vernon directed that the daily half-pint of rum be diluted with a quart of water, “to be mixed in a scuttled butt for that purpose and to be done upon the deck, and in the presence of the Lieutenant of the Watch. Who is to take particular care to see that the men are not defrauded of their full allowance of rum … and let those that are good husbandmen receive extra lime juice and sugar that it be made more palatable to them.”[ii]

The “scuttled butt” referred to a cask that had a hole drilled in it, to allow the grog to be served to each man.  The inevitable gossip that accompanied this ritual became known as scuttlebutt.  So, if you wondered about that term, or where “grog” came from, or why Brits are called limeys, now you know.  If you’re still in the mood for trivia, in 1741 Vernon led a successful British attack on the Spanish garrison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Among the members of his crew was a young Royal Marine named Lawrence Washington, who later named his estate, Mount Vernon, in his honor.  You might have heard of his kid brother, George….

Well, let’s leave aside how the Daiquiri was invented, and focus on the man who perfected it, none other than Constantino Ribalaigua, bartender and owner of Havana’s Bar La Florida, affectionately known to locals as the Floridita.[1]  That’s where Hemingway comes in.  Often.

VIntage Floridita postcard

Hemingway began frequenting the Floridita during visits to Havana from his home in Key West, circa 1932.  He would stay at the Hotel Ambos Mundos, just down Obispo Street (where he is said to have written much of Green Hills of Africa, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, and For Whom the Bell Tolls).  He would often find himself at the Floridita in the late afternoon, after a morning spent writing and afternoons fishing in the Gulf Stream.  He became such a regular that the 1937 edition of the Floridita’s cocktail manual featured a special version of the Daiquiri named for him.  Well, sort of.  The spelling’s a bit off; it was christened the “E. Henmiway Special.”  The typo wasn’t the only mistake; note the loss in translation that occurs when limes become lemons.  You see, in Cuba, a lime was referred to as a limon verde, i.e., a green lemon.  The translator forgot the verde, and a great many faulty Daiquiri recipes were launched.

Excerpt from 1937 Floridita menu. Note how “lemons” get lost in translation.

Prohibition-era Bacardi ad. Image courtesy Bacardi.

As a result of Prohibition, and the allure of nearby Cuba for thirsty Americans, Havana had already become an internationally known destination.  This was particularly true at the Floridita, where Constante held court.  As was noted by David Embury in his 1948 classic, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks:

“For approximately 40 years prior to his death in early December 1952, Constante Ribalaigua presided over the bar at La Florida.  … He is said to have squeezed over 80 million limes and to have made over 10 million daiquiris.  …  His limes were gently squeezed with his fingers lest even a drop of the bitter oil from the peel get into the drink.  The cocktails were mixed (but not overmixed) in a Waring Blendor; the stinging cold drink was strained through a fine sieve into the glass so that not one tiny piece of the ice remained in it.  No smallest detail was overlooked in achieving the flawless perfection of the drink.”

Indeed, while many folks today might think of the blender to be a modern contraption, it was a staple behind the bar at the Floridita in the 1930s.  The Waring Blendor was the state of the art, perfected by none other than Fred Waring, leader of the big band Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians.  From the 1937 Floridita cocktail guide, a description of Constante’s “ace in the hole,” his Daiquiri No. 4:

You take two ounces of Bacardi and toss it into a cocktail shaker.  Add one teaspoon of finely granulate sugar.  Do not use powdered sugar which Constantino insists has starch in it.  Then add one teaspoon of Marraschino (sic) – – a cordial which is made from wild cherries grown in Dalmatia.  Squeeze in the juice of half a lime.  Next toss in finely shaved ice until the shaker is nearly full.  This ice must be shaved so fine that it’s almost snow.  Do not use scracked (sic) ice.  Then place the shaker under an electric mizer one of those malted milk stirrers in American drug stores.  Let it stir for about three minutes.  If you haven’t an electric mixer, shake it rapidly in a regular cocktail shaker for about four minutes.  Meanwhile chill your glasses by pouring in cracked ice and a bit of water.  Now – – toss out the cracked ice and water, and strain your  Daiquiri from the shaker into the glasses through a half-strainer – – one that is not too fine.

Caricature of Constantino Ribalaigua, from 1937 Floridita cocktail menu, from the author’s collection.

Daiquiri versions from 1937 Floridita cocktail book, from the author’s collection, above and below.


Between 1937 and the late 40’s, the “E. Henmiway Special” appears to have evolved, and not just to correct the spelling.  Indeed, by 1947 we see a marked increase in the amount of grapefruit juice and the overall size of the drink.  From Papa Hemingway, by A.E. Hotchner:

Requested by most tourists, a Papa Doble was compounded of two and a half jiggers of Bacardi White Label Rum, the juice of two limes and half a grapefruit, and six drops of maraschino, all placed in an electric mixer over shaved ice, whirled vigorously and served foaming in large goblets.[i]

He grew to love the drink, and likely supervised in the making of Daiquiris wherever he had the capability.  In a letter he sent to his son Patrick from Havana in 1939, he noted:

“I was getting awfully stale from working so hard and then Mr. Ben Finney . . . turned up on Mr. Leed’s yacht the Moana.  We stayed up late and I drank a few highly frozen Daiquiris just to see what their effect would be (it was moderately terrific and made me feel a friend of all mankind).”

Author’s note:  see also the Rum Collins, for more tales of the Moana.

Hemingway preferred that the drinks be made as doubles, thus the “doble” designation.  The “double frozen daiquiri with no sugar” pretty much steals the show in the second book of the novel Islands in the Stream, titled Cuba, which recounts a marathon drinking session at the Floridita by the protagonist, painter Thomas Hudson.

But on this night Thomas Hudson had been ashore about four days when he got really drunk.  It had started at noon at the Floridita and he had drunk first with Cuban politicians that had dropped in, nervous for a quick one; with sugar planters and rice planters; with Cuban government functionaries, drinking through their lunch hour; with second and third secretaries of Embassy, shepherding someone to the Floridita; with the inescapable FBI men, pleasant and all trying to look so average, clean-cut-young-American that they stood out as clearly as though they had work a bureau shoulder patch on their white linen or seersucker suits.  He had drunk double frozen daiquiris, the great ones that Constante made, that had no taste of alcohol and felt, as you drank them, the way downhill glacier skiing feels running through powder snow and, after the sixth and eighth, felt like downhill glacier skiing feels when you are running unroped.  Some Navy that he knew came in and he drank with them and then with some of the then-called Hooligan Navy or Coast Guard.  This was getting too near to shop, which he was drinking away from, so he went down to the far end of the bar where the old respectable whores were, the fine old whores that every resident drinker at the Floridita had slept with sometime in the last twenty years, and sat on a stool with and had a club sandwich and drank more double frozens.

In a later scene, Hudson is in mourning following the death of a loved one.  After having a couple of whiskey highballs at home, followed by a Tom Collins for the road, Hudson heads for the Floridita, where he spends the afternoon with some colorful locals, including a hooker with a heart of gold name of Honest Lil.

He was drinking another of the frozen daiquiris with no sugar in it and as he lifted it, heavy and the glass frost-rimmed, he looked at the clear part below the frapped top and it reminded him of the sea.  The frapped part of the drink was like the wake of a ship and the clear part was the way the water looked when the bow cut it when you were in shallow water over marl bottom.  That was almost the exact color.

“I wish they had a drink the color of sea water when you have a depth of eight hundred fathoms and there is a dead calm with the sun straight up and down and the sea full of plankton.”

            “What?”

            “Nothing.  Let’s drink this shallow water drink.”  … 

“This frozen daiquiri, so well beaten as it is, looks like the sea where the wave falls away from the bow of a ship when she is doing thirty knots.” 

At the Floridita, Hemingway hosts his wife Mary, Spencer Tracy, his son Jack, and others.  Photo courtesy JFK Library, Hemingway Collection, Boston, Mass.

The basis for that epic Daiquiri binge from Islands may have come from a day in 1942, as recounted to his friend Harvey Breit years later:

“I’ve been good about drinking for a long time now.  Not because I get tight or feel bad.  But to give myself all the edge I can.  But I can remember one time in 1942 comeing (sic) in when the weather was too bad to stay out and running into Guillermo the great Basque pelota player at the Floridita.  It was about ten thirty in the morning and he had played the night before and lost and I was feeling beat-up.  We drank seventeen double frozen Daiquiris apiece in the course of the day without leaveing (sic) the bar except for an occasional trip to the can.  Each double had four ounces of rum in it.  That makes 68 ounces of rum.  But there was no sugar in the drinks and we each ate two steak sandwiches.  He left finally because he had to go to the Fronton to be a judge at the Jai-Alai that night.  I drank one more double and went home and read all night.

We met the next day at the bar at noon and had a couple of frozen Daiquiris.  We both felt good and neither one of us had been drunk and there was no compulsion to go on drinking and neither one of us had a hangover.[i]

As an aside, Hemingway mentions “an occasional trip to the can,” he was a bit upset in the mid-50’s when the Floridita’s owners decided to upgrade the facilities, so to speak.  Hemingway groused about how the addition of air conditioning detracted from its former open-air market nature.  He wasn’t happy about the new bathrooms, either.  “A wonderful old john back there,” he once noted, “makes you want to shout, ‘Water closets of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.”[i]

The total number of his “record” appears to be a moving target.  It was 16 when he told A.E. Hotchner about it, and 17 in the above instance.  The latter figure is “corroborated” by a 1945 letter he wrote to his soon-to-be wife Mary, where he made great efforts to tell her how well behaved he’d been in her absence:  “Haven’t bought anything for myself except books, magazines, pop-corn and peanuts, and phonograph records for house.  Never been to Floridita more than three times a week and not had more than four daiquiris (once had 34 some years ago.  Still record…).”  If these were singles, not dobles, the 17 number holds fast.  Whichever, that’s a hell of a lot of Daiquiri.  Folks, I recommend you just have one or two.  Cheers!


[i]  Robert Manning, Hemingway in Cuba, August, 1965, Atlantic Monthly, reprinted in Conversations With Ernest Hemingway, edited by Peggy Whitman Prenshaw (University Press of Mississippi, 1986), 186


[i]  Ernest Hemingway, Letter to Harvey Breit, February 24, 1952, Selected Letters,


[i]  A.E. Hotchner, Papa Hemingway


[i]  Wayne Curtis, And a Bottle of Rum (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2006), 170-171

[ii]  Ian Williams, RUM, A Social and Sociable History(:, 2005),

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