The Hunter's Column
Summer 2013

Cuba Dive Inn

I wouldn't think that Fidel Castro drinks pints, not of real ale anyway. I don't think Ernest Hemingway did either, otherwise why would he go all the way to Cuba to drink Daiquirís? On holiday in Cuba, we found ourselves in the "world famous" Floridita Bar, in Havana, which has a life size, bronze statue of The Man With The Flying Fists, that's Ernie not Fidel, leaning against the bar. I had been advised not to bother with the Floridita, "same as every other bar, but twice the price" but losing a taste, that I'd never had, for canned lagers, it was definitely time to try something a bit different. Guided by the 'When In Rome' rule, my nearest and dearest, who is far braver than I, went for the house speciality, Daiquiri. I had been unimpressed when I'd tried one previously, so thought I'd try a pint of Pina Colada instead. They didn't do pints, quite right; I couldn't have got through it, but did prefer it to Daiquiri. I liked the song as well; it mentions a bar called O'Malley's, so I could only hear positives in it.

As I said, it was the "world famous" Floridita Bar, one of the "7 Best Bars in the World". All I can say is they haven't been to the Boat, Ashleworth lately, the winner of 2 recent Tewkesbury CAMRA awards. Just like corporation buses (remember them?), you don't see one for years, then 2 come along at the same time! Back at the Floridita, there were pictures of many a silver screen star and Mafioso on the walls. I'm not sure that Fidel (but not while Rome burns) gets the full credit for ridding his island of the gangsters that ran it before. In 1959, when he and Che Guevara finally entered Havana, they took over the newly built, prestigious Havana Hilton, the company flagship, opened by Conrad himself, as their HQ. It nearly bankrupted Hilton. Just think - no Paris!

Cuba never stood a chance. It was first stop for pirates, conquistadors, slave traders and colonialists (what a select bunch) on their way from 'civilised' Europe to southern and South America. It gained strategic importance again in the 20th century, with the opening of the Panama Canal. Following the revolution, the island was bankrolled by the Russians, then Venezuelan petro-dollars, although Fidel, true to his principles, absolutely refused to change his name to Castrol. Throughout this turmoil, Cubans have been sustained and strengthened by their history, culture, music and, probably most importantly, rum and cigars. They certainly couldn't have done it on the canned lager that they serve now. The main brands are Bucanero (5.4%) and Cristal (4.9%). They also have Magabe (who'd vote for him?) and Cacique (!*?!), which comes in a tin with Baggies stripes on it - particularly hard to swallow for a Wolves fan. I was mainly Buccaneering, but they all led me to revisit one of my Drinking Sins of the Seventies, which was Lager and Lime. Come on, I wasn't the only one! I remember Carlsberg Special Brew (9%) was our 'drug of choice' at the time; Winston Churchill's too. In fact, the Danes originally brewed it in his honour. If you ever get stuck in a foreign field, my only advice is to insist on a slice of real lime in it; it's not as sweet as the bottled juice and takes the edge off the taste of aluminium. The Cubans honoured Churchill by naming a cigar after him. I'm sure Winston and Fidel would have got on like the Kremlin on fire, with their lagers and cigars. More in common (ownership) than they think. Meanwhile, back home, I still like Pina Colada (although would prefer a Pinta something) and can hardly avoid walks in the rain.

Bill Hunt