The Magazine

A Moveable Thirst

The importance of being Ernest Hemingway’s cocktail shaker.

Mar 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 26 • By MARTIN MORSE WOOSTER
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Bars, for Hemingway, had all sorts of uses. Once, in 1940, at the Stork Club in New York, Hemingway successfully got the club’s owner, Sherman Billingsley, to cash a $100,000 check he had just received for the film rights to For Whom the Bell Tolls. Billingsley said he could cash the check if Hemingway could wait until closing time. Hemingway dutifully waited, and the Stork Club paid him. Hemingway even met at least one of his future wives in a bar: One day in 1936, he was drinking daiquiris at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West when Martha Gellhorn and her mother came in. Gellhorn’s youth, beauty, and intelligence entranced him. Gellhorn fondly remembered Hemingway’s “odiferous Basque shorts,” and the two spent the afternoon drinking frozen daiquiris. They kept seeing each other, and Gellhorn ultimately became Hemingway’s third wife.

Hemingway was familiar with all sorts of mixed drinks, but his two favorites were daiquiris and martinis. If you want to drink martinis like Hemingway did, you must serve them ice-cold. In 1947, he told his publisher Charles Scribner that he had “found a way of making ice in the deep-freeze in tennis ball tubes that comes out 15 degrees below zero and with the glasses frozen too makes the coldest martinis in the world.” 

But even without his freezer, Hemingway’s martinis made him many friends. One afternoon in 1948, Hemingway was invited to a black-tie party featuring the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Hemingway ignored the rule that jackets were required and showed up with his personal assistant, René, and some sliced onions, olives, Gordon’s gin, and dry vermouth. He set up a table, got some ice and a mixer, and made many very dry martinis. The Windsors enjoyed them so much that they ended up drinking with Hemingway both at his Cuban farm and at El Floridita. (According to the gossip columnist Leonard Lyons, Hemingway solved the problem of whether to call the Duchess “Your Highness” or “Your Royal Highness” by calling her “Wallie.”)

When, in the 1920s, Gertrude Stein warned Hemingway and his friends that they were a Lost Generation, she was specifically warning about excessive alcohol consumption: “You are a lost generation,” Stein declared. “You have no respect for anything. You will drink yourselves to death.”


Indeed, alcohol was a two-edged sword for Hemingway: It shortened his life, and it made him more of a character. Had Hemingway been a moderate drinker, he would have lived longer—but he would not have been Ernest Hemingway. Drink was Hemingway’s weakness, but the people he met and the time he spent drinking in bars in Key West, Manhattan, Paris, Venice, New Orleans, and elsewhere informed some of the greatest fiction in American literature. 

Martin Morse Wooster is the book reviewer for American Brewer and Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.