History in a glass: How hotels sell drinks with a story
History in a glass: How hotels sell drinks with a story
05 JULY 2019 8:20 AM

Some hotel bars serve cocktails with a rich history or a unique story to tell. Here’s how F&B experts incorporate those stories into the overall bar experience for guests. 

GLOBAL REPORT—From the birthplace of the original Piña Colada to a hotel bar that celebrates NASCAR’s roots during the Prohibition era, hotel bars have found ways to enhance the guest experience by serving up drinks with an interesting history.

The Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is where the Piña Colada was created by bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero in 1954. Marrero served the drink during his 35-year tenure at the hotel, and in 1978, his cocktail made of white rum, coconut cream, heavy cream, fresh pineapple juice and crushed ice was declared the official drink of Puerto Rico.

Guests flock to the hotel to try out the original Piña Colada, Hugo Castro, director of food and beverage at the Caribe Hilton, said via email. The hotel sells an average of 57 Piña Coladas a day, which comes out to approximately 20,805 a year, he said.

“Our famous Piña Colada is one of our main attractions here at Caribe Hilton,” Castro said. “People want to come try out the original recipe; it gives them a sense of island history while enjoying the delicious ice cold beverage. This tropical drink is served worldwide, so to be able to try the original recipe in its birthplace is pretty neat.”

Since the hotel is the birthplace of the drink, it could possibly charge a premium for it, but Castro said he never would.

“We don’t want to take away from the experience by raising the price just because it originated here,” he said. “We want everyone to be able to enjoy it without second guessing the expense beyond that of any other drink on the menu.”

The bar staff at Caribe Hilton also makes sure it is well stocked with ingredients to make the cocktail, Castro said, adding that “the hotel that invented the Piña Colada can’t run out of the Piña Colada.”

Aside from allowing guests to taste the original Piña Colada, the hotel also has a wall dedicated to the history of the drink, which features a photo timeline and an explanation of how it was invented. Demonstration classes for making the drink are also offered to groups.

The Ritz Side Car
The most-recent version of the Ritz Side Car, sold at the Ritz Paris for €1,500 ($1,708), accidentally started a competition around the world to create the world’s most-expensive cocktail, according to Colin Field, head bartender at the Ritz Paris.

The Side Car was created at the Bucks club in London in 1921, but Frank Meier created his version of it at the Ritz Paris “for the ultra-rich Americans who thought everything was very cheap in France after (World War I),” Field said via email. At that time, the drink sold for $5, which was expensive at that time, he said.

Meier’s take on the drink featured pre-Phylloxera Cognac, “meaning anything before the Phylloxera was declared in France in 1872,” Field said, adding that Meier liked using the 1813 with lemon juice and Cointreau. The Ritz Side Car sold today was re-created by Field in 2000 using the same ingredients used by Meier.

“(The cocktail became) the world’s first ‘Most Expensive Cocktail,’ starting a competition (around the world) without really meaning to,” he said. “My objective at the time was just to be in the Guinness Book of Records. The cocktail cost at the time €400 ($455). I believe today that the world’s most expensive cocktail is in London these days at around £12,000 ($15,271) with the base being a similar Cognac to mine.”

The Ritz Side Car is pricey because of “rising costs and decreasing availability of Cognac,” Field said. He added that the hotel doesn’t sell a lot of Side Cars, but Field once sold six in one evening.

“But selling a lot was never the objective,” he said. “The creation and being the first was.”

Field said the drink “draws an immense interest from journalists worldwide and offers us an amazing amount of publicity.”

Moonshine at The Daytona
F&B outlets at The Daytona, a hotel located across from The Daytona International Speedway,* honor the roots of NASCAR during the Prohibition era by serving up cocktails that incorporate moonshine, Tejesh Patel, food and beverage director said via email.

The first NASCAR race was held in Daytona in 1948, and some of the participants were former moonshine bootleggers.

While the hotel serves moonshine cocktails, it also has a moonshine lighting ritual highlighting “the old folktale of making moonshine” for guests to experience, Patel said.

“In the past, moonshiners would burn the product to see if it was consumable, and if it burned blue, it was deemed to be safe. With our moonshine lighting ritual, we allow guests to experience a modern stimulating interpretation of moonshining during the Prohibition,” he said. “Our associates come and ignite moonshine on the tray, which then allows the visual of a blue flame to be present. While the moonshine is on fire, we have metal mule cups present in the back that also have moonshine ignited in them.

“We follow this by adding dashes of cinnamon into the ignited mule cups, which provide an aroma of toasted cinnamon in the air. As the flames in the cups die down, we utilize atomizers, filled with moonshine to create mini fireballs, providing a great optic of the moonshine burning. The moonshine is then chilled with ice, providing a cooling sound and filled with our No Speed Mocktail.”

Patel added that the history of moonshine is depicted at the hotel’s Blue Flame bar* and that the team is asked to tell guests about moonshine cocktails.

“This includes starting with the history of bootlegging, how moonshining started, and the modern evolution as we know it today,” he said. “Our stories, whether it's our cocktail names or increased knowledge about the era, provides the guests a chance to experience and learn while drinking their favorite moonshine-based beverage.”

W Washington D.C.’s “The Bi-Partisan”
At POV at the W Washington D.C., the hotel located close to the White House serves a cocktail called The Bi-Partisan, which features a “red recipe” and a “blue recipe” served on a functioning golden scale, Garth Welsh, director of beverage and food, said via email.

Here are the ingredients for the drinks on each side of the scale:

W D.C. is all about “crossing the party line,” which is what the drink speaks to, he said.

“We’re the hotel closest to the White House and have a long history of being at the center of the city’s political and social scene,” he said. “There’s nothing better than sipping on this cocktail while overlooking the National Monument and taking in the D.C. views.”

The hotel recently underwent a $50-million renovation, and the drink debuted on the new menu with the re-opening of the POV restaurant.

“We had so many people asking about the ‘new’ POV in anticipation of its re-opening,” Welsh said. “POV is one of the few places in the city where you can see visitors and locals rubbing elbows, celebrities and politicians chatting over a drink, be it a working lunch, happy hour, a night cap or for one of our regular events like POV Live, our live music series.”

*Correction, 8 July 2019: This story has been updated to clarify the location of The Daytona hotel and the name of its bar.

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