Cuban officials' bar in Washington toasts 'Papa'

Washington and Cuba have had an icy relationship for decades, but the Cold War foes now have a place to share something else: chilly drinks.

Washington and Cuba have had an icy relationship for decades, but the Cold War foes now have a place to share something else: chilly drinks.

Last month, Cuban officials inaugurated an invitation-only bar at the mansion in northwest Washington where they have their offices. The bar is named after Ernest Hemingway, the iconic American writer who had an affinity for Cuba.

Born in 1899 in Illinois, Hemingway traveled widely and lived in Canada, Paris and Florida's Key West before buying a home in Cuba with the profits from his novel, "For Whom the Bell Tolls." He spent some two decades living at his home Finca Vigia — now a museum — and wrote "The Old Man and The Sea" there.

"People will frequently say to me 'Gosh, I had no idea Hemingway lived in Cuba,'" said Mary-Jo Adams, the executive director of The Finca Vigia Foundation, a Boston-based organization that is trying to help preserve Hemingway's home in Cuba and its contents.

But Hemingway didn't spend all his time in Cuba writing. He was a regular at the Floridita, a Havana bar where his favorite drink was the Papa Doble, a sugarless daiquiri with rum, maraschino liqueur, lime and grapefruit juice.

Washington tourists shouldn't expect to drop in and order a Papa Doble at the new watering hole. The bar is on the second floor of the Cuban Interests Section, the Latin American country's quarters in Washington, and getting in requires connections.

The United States and Cuba haven't had diplomatic relations since 1961, so the building about a mile and a half north (2.4 kilometers) of the White House isn't a traditional embassy. But the bar there, like the many monuments to Hemingway across the island, illustrates Cuba's ongoing fascination with the writer.

Those with invitations go through a metal fence at the street and up a grand staircase. Black-and-white photos of Hemingway line the walls. Ceiling fans twirl overhead as they did in in Hemingway's day at the Floridita. A 6-foot, bronze reproduction of Hemingway's signature hangs above the bar. The writer died in Idaho in 1961.

So far, the bar has been open just three times since its inauguration in November, when 150 guests celebrated by drinking Havana Club rum and smoking premium Cohiba cigars.

"I don't know where the cigars came from," joked Terry McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who visited Cuba on a trade mission in April 2010 and attended the party.

Cigars and most other goods from Cuba cannot be brought into the U.S. under the longtime trade restrictions. In 2009, the Obama administration made it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit the island and send money to relatives. But ties have frayed anew recently over the 2009 jailing in Havana of U.S government sub-contractor Alan Gross.

Chris Simmons, a retired Defense Department intelligence officer specializing in Cuban spy operations, said the bar was likely a thinly veiled attempt to introduce Cuba's intelligence-gathering unit to a new generation of government officials and media.

"Why open up a bar? So you can entertain the media and government and maybe recruit someone. It's a lot less of a drain on your resources to have potential spies come to you," Simmons said.

The head of Cuba's Washington operations, Jorge Bolanos, said only that the bar's opening was "not political at all."

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