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  • Andrew Bell

History or Vandalism?

La Bodeguita del Medio

La Bodeguita del Medio is a name which will be instantly recognisable to followers of Earnest Hemingway, who famously said; "My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita"

(For those wanting to know more about the man and the myth, BBC 4 in the UK have a new show, also available on iPlayer.)

This tiny bar, tucked away on a back street in Old Havana was something of a mecca for fans of his work and of the many others who had patronised the bar over the years, including Salvador Allende, the poet Pablo Neruda, the artist Josignacio and many others.

It also lays claim to being the birthplace of the mojito, although this is disputed, mojitos have definitely been served there since the day it opened in 1942, making it one of the longest running establishments in Havana.

It was less known than Floridita and not quite so easy to find, but had a reputation for great music and a wonderful, lively atmosphere... it also had it's own little tradition; signing the wall, as Hemmingway had once signed a barstool and napkin there, this act of homage became something of a right of passage for visitors.

The bar was privately owned until fairly recently when it was acquired by a hotel company and has in recent years become something of a tourist trap, crowded, rowdy and trendy, instead of laid back, relaxed and cool. However it had retained much of it's heritage... until now.

The bar is currently closed for renovations; now whilst there's nothing unusual about that, especially given the lack of tourists at the moment, the work has raised a few questions; quite pressingly, what will happen to all of those signatures (including mine!) across the walls?

Well, sadly it seems that they have all gone... As reported here in The Havana Times

The owners claim that repairs were essential due to leaks and damp and there was no choice but to carry out the work. However many of the artefacts and anything considered a cultural or heritage asset were retained, but the signatures it was deemed "weren't heritage"...

Having been involved in restoration and renovation of historical buildings myself in the past, I know how difficult it can be to draw the line as to what can and can't be saved. Do you keep the facade and change the interior, or do you have to remove the facade to save the structure?

I do find it a little sad that the records of all those visitors are now gone, but take some solace that a great many will have been captured and photographed, thus in some way at least saving them.

It's not yet known if the tradition will be reinstated when El B Del M (as it's now shortened to for the benefit of tourists) reopens, or if that too will be lost.

I hope it does come back and that a whole new generation of visitors will be able to leave their mark.. only time will tell.

We'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions; should this tradition be reinstated, or was it just graffiti and vandalism?

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