Is it Hemingway? Or is it Cuba? More than likely it's the combination of the two that makes naming places after the author's favorite mojito bar so appealing. Perhaps it's just that the original bar in Havana is famous, but that is reason enough to celebrate if you are a cigar smoker and find yourself in Budapest.
There, at the corner of Dob and Kertesz Streets (give that as the destination since going to the actual address will leave you half a block away and wondering), you will find your sanctuary, La Bodeguita del Medio, housed in a former social club for artists, in the heart of the Hungarian capital.
It's important to note that Budapest's Bodeguita del Medio resembles the original in Havana in name only and in that it uses the quotation from Hemingway about favoring the bar for his mojitos. There is no real Cuban food at this Bodeguita, but by comparison with the original, the Hungarian one is a luxurious spot with a restaurant, patio, large bar, and a disco. The really nice things about this Hungarian Bodeguita are that you can smoke cigars in the open-air courtyard and that the hospitality is extraordinary. Plus, the list of rums and whiskies is extensive.
The first choice on a warm Saturday afternoon was the Havana Club Cohiba Atmosphere Unión, part of Havana Club's Icónica collection. The rum was made to pair with a Cohiba, but that cigar is not available at this Bodeguita, nor is any other cigar for sale. Hungary does not allow the sale of cigars outside of tobacco shops. Still, there is a humidor along the wall at the end of the long, polished bar just off the courtyard. The humidor belongs to the owners and is fairly well-stocked. Zoltan, our server, went above and beyond and, along with the Havana Club, brought a Cohiba to the table.
"With our compliments," Zoltan explains. It's not just a Cohiba, but a Siglo II and there are no complaints whatsoever. The cigar smokes nicely. Zoltan said that this Bodeguita attracts more cigarette smokers than cigar lovers, but in the middle of the afternoon, sitting in the courtyard, there is little competition and no complaints.
The cigar scene in Budapest is a challenge. First, smoking in enclosed public places has pretty much been banned since 2012. Smoking outdoors, though, seems ubiquitous, and there is an ample number of cafés offering sidewalk tables with ashtrays on them.
Second, the cigar stores tend to have a small number of Cuban brands and some non-Cuban brands, but they are held in humidors that may or may not be well maintained. Better to take your own cigars to Bodeguita. There you will be welcomed and a proper cigar ashtray provided. Latin music will play all day and night.
The soul of La Bodeguita del Medio in Budapest is anything but dark. Sitting on the deck of the courtyard, one's eye is taken from the potted palm trees to the iron street lamps you might see in New Orleans. Tiki torches are present, though not lit. Are they for insects, or for nighttime ambience? The waterless fountain sitting in a back corner begs explanation. Is it Sagittarius? He's got the bow and arrows. What does it mean?
Hard to say and it doesn't matter once the large tropical drinks arrive at different tables accompanied by oohs and aahs. There are bright blue ones (Blue Hawaiian) and some that are kind of orange. They are all very tall. Only mojitos and another Havana Club, this one a Selección de Maestros to help finish the Cohiba, arrive at our table. The Hot Daiquiri cocktail, made with chili, does look interesting, but that's for another visit.
Given the restrictions on smoking in Budapest, La Bodeguita del Medio provides a comfortable and friendly bar and restaurant. Have another drink. Light up another cigar. Go ahead and try the not-so-Cuban cuisine. Later—much later—join the crowd and dance the night away to the reggaeton beat at the corner of Dob and Kertesz.
La Bodeguita del Medio
Corner of Dob & Kertesz Streets
Budapest, 1074 Hungary
+36 20 388 2738
Open Sunday through Thursday: noon to 1 a.m.
Friday through Saturday: noon to 3 a.m.
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