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History and the Start of a Phenomenon

Every city in the world has something to boast of or something for which it is especially known. The Cuban city of Havana certainly has many such places, but few have such a long and rich history connected to so many important personalities as La Bodeguita del Medio, located in the middle of the famous Empedrado Street, which connects colonial and "new" Havana.

 

Curiously, it is said that the Bodeguita is exactly 100 paving stones away from the largest American baroque building in Havana, which the Havana Cathedral most certainly is. In 1950, the Bodeguita was named after its location in Empedrado St., at No. 27, which is somewhere around the middle – for in Spanish, La Bodeguito del Medio roughly means the little bar in the middle of the street. This is somewhat in contravention of the usual bar and restaurant philosophy, which holds that the best strategic position is most often found on a street corner. 

If you enter the Bodeguita in Havana, the first thing your olfactory sense will notice is the pleasant aroma of Cuban mint – an herb with positive effects on the digestive system. This is also why it became an integral part of the by now famous drink known as the "Mojito", which gained its current appearance and taste precisely at La Bodeguita. In the back portion of La Bodeguita in Havana, visitors can enjoy excellent Cuban food while listening to traditional melodies played by a Cuban trio. 

But let us return to the war years of the previous century, to 1942, when Angel Martínez Borroto let himself be led by his business intuition and purchased a small shop in Empedrado St., at that time within the still fortified part of historical Havana, where he began to manage and develop his small business named La Casa Martínez. Soon after, Felito Ayón, a friend of Martínez's, opened a printing shop near the Bodeguita. For some time it had no phone, and so Ayón's customers used to go to Martínez's place to make the occasional phone call. During this, they would also drink the occasional glass of rum. Two of the most frequent guests of La Bodeguita were Nikola Guillén, a classic of Cuban poetry, and the outstanding writer Alejo Carpentier. As time passed, the Bodeguita became very sought-after and popular among intellectuals, artists and just plain bohemians. One could say that the Bodeguita gradually became a sort of meeting place for progressive intellectuals and artists, coming not only from Latin America, but from around the world. 

In the beginning, only drinks were served at the Bodeguita bar. Only later did Martínez's friends persuade him to also serve them food. At first, Martínez's wife, nicknamed Arménka, cooked only for family members and the scant staff. The menu back then was composed mainly of a combination of black beans with white rice, "Moros y Cristianos" or "Moors and Christians", also known as "Congri". Roasted pieces of pork known as "Masas de terco fritas" followed, and fried banana chips or banana pancakes, called "Tostanes de plátano" by Cubans. Martínez heard out the pleas of his faithful, and thus began to serve them food, while charging only for drinks. In 1950, he definitively renamed La Casa Martínez to La Bodeguita del Medio, since that's what the regulars had already been calling it for some time anyway. During the 1950s, the Bodeguita was visited by many important personalities from around the world, such as the singer Nat King Cole, Nobel prize-winning writer Ernest Hemingway, the idol of feminine beauty Brigitte Bardot, the no less beautiful and popular Italian actress Sophia Loren, Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, Austin Lara or Mario Moreno. All these, plus the cream of Cuba's intellectual circles, attracted an ever-greater number of enthusiastic visitors to the Bodeguita. 

To this day, La Bodeguita del Medio remains an undying reminder of Old Havana's bohemian past, because it is still visited by intellectuals, politicians and those who are just strolling through the streets of Havana. Many visitors to the Bodeguita claim that this late 19th Century colonial building has preserved on the plaster of its walls the most valuable collection of signatures, reminiscences and photographs from around the world, and this fact should apparently have led to its entry into the Guinness Book of Records long ago.

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