03 Sep Inside the Rise of Cuban-Inspired Craft Cocktail Bars
“There’s a saying in Cuba, ‘Vamos a resolver’—‘let’s figure it out.’ You gotta do what you can with what you got.” That’s bartender Ricky Gomez, who opened a Cuban-inspired cocktail bar called Palomar, in Portland, Oregon, less than a month ago. He’s one of a handful of bartenders across the U.S. paying homage to Cuba’s rich cocktail culture these days by opening bars from San Francisco to New Orleans.
As Nick Detrich, who opened a Cuban bar in NOLA this March, puts it, “There is certainly the allure of Cuba as a sort of forbidden fruit, and Cuban rums and drinks are the apple of that tree.” Sure, everyone loves a daiquiri, but there’s more to this resurgence than just the drinks.
The Cult of the Cantinero
To understand Cuban cocktail culture, you need to start with the cantinero, the term for a professionally trained bartender that has come to mean so much more. Cantineros were shaking drinks with citrus peels in the tin, using ice in novel ways, and combining an array of ingredients in mixed drinks long before mixology became the buzzword it is today. It’s a tradition that has been taken seriously since before the bartenders association Club de Cantineros de Cuba first formed in 1924, and, one that, in an unlikely turn of events, is seeing a resurgence in the U.S. today.