Ernst Hemingway’s bars in Pamplona

Have passed 63 years since the last time the American writer Ernest Hemingway visited Pamplona. 63 years in which his image has only increased his presence in the Navarrese territory and has caused the myth to surpass reality. “The opinion of today’s people from Pamplona about Hemingway is ambiguous”, writes Miguel Izu in his book ‘Hemingway en los sanfermines’. In it, the Navarrese writer traces the life of Hemingway during his stay in Navarra, dismantling the myth and illuminating the man. Today, July 3, I walk through some of the bars where the writer spent long hours to see what remains of the Pamplona he lived in and of himself.

A grayish and homogeneous sky surrounds Pamplona that swallows the city towards a faded tunnel, only overcome by the iridescence of the pink, blue and yellow outfits of three women who sell bracelets, pendants and other trinkets at a table supported by a box plastic for fruit placed vertically. They talk to each other in a language I can’t understand, but there seems to be a consensus and they nod. The color of the kiosk is reminiscent of wet sand. It raises a sultry wind that shakes the trees slightly and drags a few leaves into Chapitela street. People come and go haphazardly, absorbed in their chores. However, several people are headed in the same direction. That is where the part of the square is that I think Hemingway would enjoy, which is the reason why I am here today writing to you, reader, to take you, on this occasion, to drink with him. An animated shout comes out of the Txoko bar. Several dozen people, most of them standing, gather around the Brotherhood of San Saturnino, which plays ‘A San Fermín ask’. Drink and dance spread. Many give free rein to their gifts for rhythmic movement and others, on the contrary, to drink, although some are prodigies in both and at the same time. The musicians, dressed in white and a green scarf, delight the place and several take the opportunity to join the drink between breaks and song breaks.

“The formal ones are leaving,” an old woman jokes to a young man from the Brotherhood who makes a gesture of saying goodbye.

“That’s right,” he articulates half a smile.

The “non-formal” remain, the party does not slow down. After the mythical song that begins the running of the bulls, the people refuse to close the musical corral as soon as possible. They want the party to continue and the Brotherhood, as happy or more than them, grants their request. Couples are formed, the vast majority man and woman. One of these escapes from the center, crosses the mass of dancers and leaves a few meters. The skirt of the dress rises and takes the shape of those parasols they put at cocktail parties and turns as if someone were rubbing those smooth, pale pair of sticks on her legs. The long, thin man is a cross between a bullfighter and a prankster. Both converge in that fine and stretched body that nails its feet rigidly on the plain and brings its legs closer to each other and its forward and haughty pelvis, showing itself completely to the view of whoever is in front of it, where it fixes its mischievous, burlesque eyes and holds a sketch of amusement. weather. The enjoyment is such that they are Camillie and Georges Fouque from the novel ‘Waiting for Mister Bojangles’ in its entirety. It makes me want to applaud them and, if I could, carry them out of the square on my shoulders. I think that this corner represents more than any other, no matter how many posters or statues it has -which by the way I like a lot-, the true corner of Hemingway, which is nothing more than that cheerful and happy Pamplona that infected the writer. Every corner can be Hemingway’s corner. I keep the cup. I look at the watch on my wrist: it’s time to continue. I’m going elsewhere to find Hemingway with music, laughter and applause as my compass.


The next place gives me a whiplash of modesty at the fame it represents. If the Christians, Jews and Muslims have their Jerusalem, it does not seem an exaggeration to me to say that the Hemingwayians – allow me the invention -, at least from Navarra, have the Cafe Iruna. The waiters dress in a priestly shirt of fine fabric and black. My gaze stops at one of them: a guy with broad shoulders, a firm torso and slicked-back black hair, who has been eyeing me for a few seconds from behind the bar. He enjoys that poise that experienced people harbor, tanned in the heat of gin and the cold of ice cubes.

-A glass of wine, please.

The waiter nods. With a wave of his hand, he uncorks a bottle of wine and pours the reddish liquid into a small glass. I ask him about the Hemingway corner. He sticks out his finger and points to a door at the back of the room.

-If you want to get in, you better do it now. Then I have to put some things.

I pay the drink to the good lord and obey. I walk as fast as one can walk and without spilling the glass. The entrance to the corner resembles that of the tombs carved in stone.

I flip through the framed photographs along the wall. In them, the North American writer appears, Nobel Prize for Literature, surrounded by friends and colleagues during his time at the Sanfermines. An old man appears, probably younger than he appeared -barely 60 years old or less depending on the year of the visit-, with dandruff hair, scruffy beard, unruly and with a relaxed gesture, but who, in his calm, seemed to shelter a deep tiredness. We forget that this was not the face that was seen the most in Pamplona, ​​but rather that of a young man, equipped with a bushy mustache and a good mop of hair thrown back, who walked the strip between twenty and thirty years. But there are no or hardly any photographs of that boy, surely due to lack of intention. It seems – sadly it seems – one must gain notoriety before interest. In those years of the twenties, Hemingway did not attract the attention of the press and the public that, over the years, would come to yearn to photographically capture the new Nobel Prize winner. Perhaps Pamplona only loved Ernest Hemingway while he was “Don Ernest Hemingway Nobel Prize”. The slap on the wrist is in our hands, as always, reader. I go back to the bar and ask the bartender from earlier if he knows of any other Hemingway-related places.

-He was at La Perla. He spent a lot of time there,” she says.

Well, I’ve read that not really.

The waiter arches his lips down and frowns.

“No, no, no,” he affirms with a light in his eyes of security.

He insists that he was there and tells me the address of the hotel, which is in this same square on the corner before going down Chapitela street. I have the feeling that there is something sobering about her words, as if she is teaching me the most well-known thing or an open secret.

-And do you know of any other bar where he could be?

He shakes his head at me and says he doesn’t know of anyone else.

-This was his bar -sentence.

It is here that one becomes aware of the extent to which the “Hemingway myth” that Izu talks about in the book is real. Writers such as Iribarren and Izu himself have explained that Hemingway stayed at the hotel once, but no more. In the same way that he was also at the Café Iruña, but of course it was not “his bar” and much less the only one. I thank him, I leave the Café Iruña and walk a few meters until I reach my next destination.

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Ernst Hemingway’s bars in Pamplona