Legendary Sloppy Joe’s and a Video featuring Old Havana, Cuba – during the 1930s.

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A tour of the city of Havana, Cuba in the 1930s.  The travelogue was filmed by Andre de la Varre.  Wonderful shots of the capital and outlying visits to the island.  Including arrival and departure by cruise ship from New York. And scenes of Sloppy Joe’s.

Cruising The Past: Sloppy Joe’s and a Video featuring Old Havana, Cuba – during the 1930s.

Cuba is a country that sparks excitement in almost everyone. It’s a country of icons, revolution, mystique and contradictions with the warmest and friendliest of people.  Steeped in history since Christopher Columbus claimed the island for Spain in 1492, Cuba really hit its stride in the 1920’s and 30’s when Prohibition gripped the United States.

Despite the ludicrous dreams of the temperance movement, Americans were not about to give up drinking and began looking overseas for new, exotic watering holes. The wealthy went to Europe and the Caribbean, particularly the closest of the Caribbean islands, Cuba. As well as ‘discovering’ Cuba, Columbus was responsible for the introduction of sugarcane to the island, bringing about the making of a huge national industry, and the beginnings of a fine tradition in rum-making…

Sloppy Joe’s was the bar of the golden era of the Cuban cocktail era and was favored by the overseas visitors in search of liquid lubrication. It was once said that you hadn’t seen Havana unless you had been to Sloppy Joe’s.

LEGENDARY SLOPPY JOE’S – OLD HAVANA, CUBA

Jose Garcia, Sloppy Joe’s owner, began the bar in 1919 in an old grocery store.

Located on the central corner of Zulueta and Animas Streets, in Old Havana, the bar received this name because the place in principle was a mess and the sandwich served there was made of “ropa vieja”.

The sandwich was known as Sloppy Joe and was also served in many ways – in many parts of the world.

Some friends in Havana used to pay a visit to Garcia at his business, seeing the terrible conditions of the place asked him why it was so careless. Being him a Spanish and running such a careless place did not match. From that time on, the name of Sloppy Joe is worldwide known.

One of his usual clients was Ernest Hemingway. He visited Jose Garcia in several occasions with his pal, Joe Russell who was the owner of another Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Cayo Hueso, a name Hemingway had suggested in honour to Mr. Garcia. The tourists that visited Havana during that epoch, mostly North Americans, preferred two places: Sloppy Joe’s Bar, and the beautiful race horse track of Havana controlled by Meyer Lansky’s mafia.

U.S. Sailors – with lady friends – in Sloppy Joe’s Bar – Early 1940s.

People who visited Havana during those decades of great splendour had to go to three different places when it was about food and enjoyment: “El Floridita” , “Sloppy Joe’s Bar”, and “La Bodeguita del Medio”, otherwise, they wouldn’t have visited Havana city.

Sloppy Joe’s Bar was at its time a very popular place, not only appreciated for its fine drinks and liquors but also for its connotation of preferential atmosphere of attractive appointments, as well as for having the longest mahogany drinks cabinet of Cuba, and perhaps of the whole world.

This bar had a great splendor in the 30’s and 40’s, and it was visited frequently by many Hollywood celebrities and international bohemian characters.

Four Year Old Bartender, Sloppy Joe, Jr. – Original caption: 12/29/31-Havana, Cuba: Sloppy Joe, Jr., just four years of age and having two years behind the bar, is celebrating his graduation from apprenticeship by mixing his real champagne cocktail behind his father’s world-famed bar. Sloppy Joe Jr., is quite proficient at mixing the more common varieties. Here, customers toast the little guy.

Among the most illustrious Sloppy Joe’s Bar visitors were Ramon Jacinto Herrera “Ray Tico”, John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Ignacio Jacinto Villa y Fernandez “Bola de Nieves”, Mario Moreno “Cantinflas”, Jose Antonio Mendez “The King”, and many other personalities of the time.

Our Man In Havana Movie Location – Actor/playwright Noel Coward (R) chatting w. Ernest Hemingway (L) & actor Alec Guinness on set location at the author’s favorite hangout, Sloppy Joe’s Bar, during a break in filming the movie “Our Man in Havana.”

Sloppy Joe’s was featured in the film OUR MAN IN HAVANA starring Alec Guiness, Ernie Kovacs and Noel Coward.

Actor Alec Guinness sitting in Sloppy Joe’s bar while filming “Our Man in Havana.”

Playwright Noel Coward (rear) talking with actor Alec Guinness (front) in Sloppy Joe’s bar during filming of “Our Man in Havana.”

(Left) Sloppy Joe’s abandoned. In 1959, after the triumph the Cuban revolution, the mythical Sloppy Joe’ s Bar was closed and abandoned together with its history.

Thankfully the current Cuban Government has seen the light and with help from EU funding is restoring Sloppy Joe’s. Whether or not it will open again as a bar has yet to be seen, but we can but hold out hope that one day we will all be able to drink at the legend that was Sloppy Joe’s.

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About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…