Following Hemingway

“There was a man whose name and work is known all around the world. He was an American journalist and writer named Ernest Hemingway, who in the year 1953 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and who died in a tragic way in 1961. This man published a novel called “Fiesta” in 1926 whose second part takes place in Sanfermines of the year before. This novel , read by millions, resulted in making the capital of Navarra and its fiestas of San Fermín acquire world fame.”

Thus begins the book written by José María Iribarren of Navarra titled “Hemingway and Sanfermines” in 1970. In it Iribarren conducts a well-researched study of Hemingway whom he met one day, thanks to Juanito Quintana, in the restaurant, “Las Pocolas” (Hostal del Rey Noble).


Julio Ubiña – Ayto. Pamplona

It was not the first time that Hemingway had traveled to Spain, but 1923 was the first of nine times the great writer could be found in Sanfermines, encouraged to go by the famous art collector and writer, Gertrude Stein. He and Hadley, his pregnant wife, had planned on staying at Hotel La Perla, but his biographers are not clear on whether the hotel was too expensive for this far from weathly newspaper correspondent or whether his reservations were lost. In any case, in 1923, the couple slept at a pension in Eslava street near the Plaza de San Francisco.

The following year in 1924, Ernest Hemingway stayed at the Hotel Quintana where a bullfighing critic from Madrid had told him was run by an extraordinary man, knowledgeable in all aspects of the bullfight and friends with many famous matadors who also stayed there. His name was Juanito Quintana, and, according to Hemingway, became Juanito Montoya, owner of Hotel Montoya in “Fiesta” along with his beloved hotel in the central plaza. “Aficion means passion. Aficionado is one who is passionate about the bullfights. All the good bullfighters stayed at Montoy´s hotel; that is, those with aficion stayed there….those who were aficionados could always get rooms even when the hotel was full.” (“Fiesta”).

After the Sanfermines of 1925, Juanito Quintana introduced Hemingway to the father of the matador who would become his idol in the ring – Antonio Ordoñez and, along with Juanito Quintana, his best and most faithful friends in Spain. One month later, “Fiesta” was on its way, based on the turbulent fiesta of 1924. In 1925 and in 1931, Hemingway and a new wife were once again at the Hotel Quintana during an extremely hot Sanfermines. In 1931 after unpacking in the Hotel Quintana, Hemingway enjoyed his last fiesta before the Spanish Civil War.

In 1953, Hemingway was a famous writer, and he and his last wife, Mary, decided to avoid the crowds that gathered around him and stay at Hotel Ayestarán in the town of Lecumberri. Even so Hemingway and his group of friends were always in Pamplona for the running of the bulls and to sit outside the cafés he loved. By this time there were several Hemingway look-alikes who dressed like the writer and signed autographs in his name.

The Hotel Quintana had been closed during the Civil War, and Juanito had moved to San Sebastián, but he and the Hemingways remained always in contact and met that year for bullfights and meals and drinks or visits to see Antonio Ordoñez. Hemingway asked Quintana in 1959 to find him a place to stay that was near, but not in the middle of the fiesta. Quintana rented the upper floor of a small chalet at 7, San Fermín street for him that remains exactly as Hemingway left it.

From the Gas to the cathedral to the Taconera Park, Hemingway strolled and enjoyed his last Sanfermines in 1959. The following are but a few of the places he loved.

  • Hotel Quintana. Only the façade remains at number 18, Plaza del Castillo.  Take a minute or two and stand in front of what is left of Hemingway´s hotel.
  • Bar Txoko – then known as Bar Choko.  Located beside the site of the Hotel Quintana on the corner of Espoz y Mina . This bar was where Hemingway and his friends gathered to drink and watch dancers in the square.  Many of the photographs taken of him are sitting outside the Txoko.
  • Café Kutz used to be located between the Café Iruña and the Pasaje de la Jacoba.  Hemingway and his friends, whom he called the chusma, also frequented its outside tables for drinks and a meeting place.
  • Café Iruña in the Plaza del Castillo.  The café has been renovated several times, but it still conserves a “belle epoque” atmosphere with its marble , decorated columns and large mirrors.  Pablo Sarasate, Víctor Eusa, Manolete, Belmonte, Cayetano Ordónez – the father of Antonio -, Orson Welles or Sabino Arana also sat at its tables.  
  • El Suizo.  This bar closed its doors in 1952 after more than 100 years of life.  It was located at 37, Plaza del Castillo, today the headquarters of the Orfeón Pamplonés, very near the Paseo de la Jacoba.
  • Bar Torino.  Hemingway called this bar, Milano in his book, “Fiesta”. Situated at 3, Plaza del Castillo, it closed in 1973.
  • Las Pocholas (Hostal del Rey Noble).  This was a famous restaurant where Hemingway first ate with the matador, Antonio Ordoñez.  The writer always reserved table number 1,  and was located at 6, Paseo Sarasate until the year 2000 until it closed.
  • Casa Marceliano.  This bar-restaurant was located behind the Town Hall, beside the church of the Padres Dominicos.  Hemingway wrote in 1953: ” In Pamplona we have our secret places like Casa Marceliano, where we would eat, drink and sing after the running of the bulls;  Casa Marceliano, where the wooden tables and stairs are always as clean and washed down as the deck of a yacht with the difference that the tables are horribly  stained with wine.”  The Town Hall bought this emblematic place when it closed in 1993 with the idea of tearing it down. Luckily it is still there, but the bar will never again serve another glass of beer as it is now the home for municipal offices.
  • Five, Eslava street.  Hemingway and his first wife spent their first night on the fourth floor of this building during Sanfermines of 1923.

At the entrance to the bull ring, there is a monument to Hemingway in the way of a bust. Mary Hemingway, Ernest´s last wife attended its inauguration on July 6, 1968 with the inscription, “Paseo of Hemingway“.  In 1999, conciding with the 100th anniversary of the death of the writer, the Town Hall substituted the inscription with one which reads,  “Ernest Hemingway, Nobel Prize winner of Literature, friend of this town and admirer of its fiesta who knew how to describe and promote the city of Pamplona.  San Fermín 1968“.

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