Thursday, June 18, 2015

La Bodeguita de Medio, Just Down the Alley to the Fun

     In 1942, the small Bodega La Complaciente, in the old Havana district was bought by Angel Martinez.    He immediately renamed the bodega Casa Martinez.    Angel Martinez sold typical Cuban products and, from time to time, served dinner to the regulars. But mainly, the clientele visiting Casa Martinez, were there to have a drink and conversation with their friends.  One of the main attractions was a brand new cocktail, the Mojito was made with rum, mint, sugar, lemon and club soda.   In 1949, Silvia Torres “la china” was hired to prepared the food at the Casa Martinez.    The Casa Martinez soon became Havana’s fun and a culinary center.    The crowds were drawn by the bohemian charm of the place.  You could find writers, choreographers, musicians and  journalists meeting there in a subdued atmosphere of the little bodega.    Encouraged by a need for restaurants in Old Town Havana by the end of the 50s, the place started growing in popularity to outsiders as well.

    On April 26, 1950, the name Bodeguita del Medio was officially adopted.   Among the first clients was Felito Ayon, a charismatic editor, who rubbed shoulders with the avant-garde of Havana, and put Casa Martinez on the map amongst his acquaintances. It is the way Felito Ayon used to indicate the location of the Bodeguita to his friends, that made popular the expression Bodeguita del Medio, that was to become its official name in 1950.

     Numerous artists and celebrities were regulars of the Bodeguita : the poet Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gabriela Mistral, Agustín Lara, Nat King Cole, Marlene Dietrich, Nicolás Guillén and Ernest Hemingway. “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita” can still be read on the wall today, in Hemingway's handwriting.  Here of late, there has surfaced some evidence that the plaque’s authenticity.  It has been said that a publicist forged the signature.  It is still a great story and the framed grocery bag that it is written on is still displayed above the bar.

    In September 1997 a bomb went off in the Bodeguita as part of a bombing campaign against several tourist spots in Havana injuring dozens and killing Fabio di Celmo, an Italian tourist.   No-one was killed in the Bodeguita del Medio, but dozens were severely injured.   It was said that just moments before the blast, the barman had posed for a picture with a tourist who later turned out to be a Salvadorian mercenary, Ernesto Cruz Leon, who was arrested and convicted for planting the bomb.
   The little "bodega in the middle", is one really fun place to visit, but be ware that the place is virtually always crowded and may take a while to get to the bar for one of their mojito's.  While you are waiting there, you cam pull out your Sharpie and sin your name on the wall of the place and join the hundreds of others that have already done so.   ;o)