Hotel Camagüey is owned and operated by the Cuba Railroad Company. It was founded by Sir William Van Horne in January, 1905, Sir William being a gentleman who liked bedrooms with baths and a French cuisine.
It is such a hotel as you would hardly expect to find in the middle of Cuba. It is, in fact, one of the fifty or sixty curious hotels of the world.
In 1905 Sir William Van Horne, who was then presiding over the destinies of the Cuban Railroad, decided to make Camagüey the center of his activities and to build the railroad's shops there. There was only one difficulty lack of a decent hotel for the Canadian builder and his executives.
In seeking about for a site for a hotel Sir William's eye fell on the old fort. He had his share of imagination, and shortly afterward the ancient building became the Camagüey Hotel. The stables, with their massive mahogany beams, formed the lobby, dining-room and bar. The barracks were altered and fifty or sixty suites of rooms built around the two patios. Each room had a private bath, something that was then unknown in Cuba and almost unknown in the United States.
The furniture was constructed on the spot from native woods, some of which are now so rare that certain chairs and tables in the hotel are worth hundreds of dollars each. In the bar each arm-chair weighs seventy-five pounds. This, it is alleged, is because Sir William Van Home had a son who much enjoyed the wild life of the Cuban frontier, and who was endowed with exceptional stature and strength. So that he could not playfully toss the chairs around, saith Rumor, Sir William had them made of the heaviest wood obtainable.
The Camagüey Bar in those days was a place where things happened. It was the custom for the surrounding ranchers, instead of hitching their ponies outside, to ride them into the bar, along which they would range, drinking from the saddle. Every so often the bartender would object and be shot, but this became such a frequent occurrence that Sir William Van Horne called a halt. "Boys," he said, "the next time my bartender is shot I'll close the bar!" The threat was enough. Later on the present bartender distinguished himself (with reason and excuse) as aforesaid.
Colonel Cushman Rice, who has a ranch east of town, tells of a horse he had that was trained to put his feet on the Camagüey Bar and drink a bottle of whiskey at a gulp, but this may be only another of the Colonel's stories.
The hotel is still owned and managed by the railroad company and, unlike most railroad hotels, is an excellent place. There is luxury sufficient to please the most exacting traveler the head waiter comes each winter from Paris and the place itself is less of a hotel than a home. The rooms are large, screened and comfortable, and a myriad of scarlet and magenta flowers climb about the porches. The two patios, which are two acres in extent, are planted with every known variety of tropical shrub and tree, a fascinating spot to loaf or dream. For the traveler desiring rest I recommend a few weeks at the Camagüey Hotel, providing he steers clear of the "gang."
Mario de la Cruz is the manager, George C. Morad is the head waiter, José B. Fernández is the bartender, and Pepe is the waiter in the bar. So now you are fully equipped for a visit to Camagüey.
(Basil Woon. "When It’s Cocktail Time in Cuba." 1928)
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Del Bar del Hotel Camagüey, en el año 1928
Un testimonio del Hotel Camagüey, de un visitante en el año 1905
Elisa Armstrong Bengough: norteamericana de paso por el Camagüey de 1905 (Por Carlos A. Peón-Casas)
Un viaje en tren a la ciudad camagüeyana de 1909 (por Carlos A. Peón-Casas)