No one knows a bar better than those who work behind it. For “My Bar in 3 Drinks,” the people running the best bars around make and discuss three of their bar’s most representative cocktails.
New Orleans’ latest craft cocktail bar—a 600-square-foot spot that opened last April in the heart of the French Quarter—evolved from barmen Chris Hannah’s and Nick Detrich’s shared experiences in Cuba. Manolito has just 24 seats, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in authenticity.
The first time he went to Havana and Santiago a few years ago, Detrich recalls the culture shock of being off the grid. It had been a long time since he’d been someplace where he didn’t have a phone signal or access to reliable Wi-Fi. But he was struck by the local hospitality, especially from bartenders, which he says was never really lost despite the country’s isolationism.
“Most people years ago looked at cantineros the way they look at Japanese bartenders today,” says Detrich. “Guest experience, composure, seeing blended drinks made the way they are—there’s a definitive style that’s more focused on texture.” At Manolito, photos of Detrich’s and Hannah’s Cuban counterparts and scenes captured by fellow bartender and photographer Danny Valdez flank the walls.
(image: Randy Schmidt)
But there’s an even more poignant and touching element to the bar, named for their friend Manuel Carbajo Aguiar. One of the principal bartenders at Havana’s legendary Floridita for nearly two decades, he passed away suddenly in early 2017. The first time he met Aguiar, Detrich says he was welcomed behind the bar and invited to mix some drinks. At the end of the trip, Aguiar bestowed El Floridita aprons to Detrich’s group, each one embroidered and personalized.
“He gave me a crash course in becoming a cantinero,” says Detrich. “So when we had the opportunity to open our own Cuban-inspired bar, we wanted to honor his memory.”
Manolito’s menu has a selection of Cuban blended drinks augmented with a textural element. The Daiquiri Menta, for example, blends whole mint leaves, while the Jazz Daiquiri gets the bitter crunch of coffee beans pulverized by the blender. It also features classic Cuban drinks like the Hotel Nacional and El Presidente. The first iteration of the menu is based on their personal Cuban experiences. Over the next year, the co-owners hope to take staff on a field trip to Cuba to discover just what the country and its locals stir in them.
“This is a rich and refreshing drink that was popular among musicians in Cuba in the 1930s,” says Detrich. “We used whole coffee beans in the blender to add a bit of crunchy texture to the drink. The elements such as the coffee beans and granulated sugar are all selected because of the way that they blend together to make a drink that carries a great deal of textures that interact with each other in great ways.
“A frozen drink that’s uniform in texture will not always deliver the best cocktail experience, though it’s great for soft-serve. This cocktail is sometimes called the Daiquiri Mulata, but that’s a culturally sensitive word, and we didn’t want to have to explain its history to guests over and over again, so we went with the name Jazz Daiquiri instead.”
“We use a blend of rums to have more funk to play with,” says Detrich. “We also use whole grapefruit segments instead of juice. In Cuba, they use young green grapefruits that they drop right into the blender, which adds a layer of texture while the segments add a burst of flavor. We usually use ruby red grapefruit or white when we can get them, though they tend to be very seasonal. We combine all the ingredients except the rums in a blender and run it on low, then slowly add the rum until the mixture moves as a smooth inverted cone. We pour it into a chilled 16-ounce Hurricane glass and garnish with a cherry and swath of grapefruit.”
“It’s interesting,” says Detrich. “We do shake and stir a few drinks, but most are blended or thrown. It’s the blender that gives the space a vibrant tone, and people are accustomed to that. But throwing catches people’s eyes. We even do it tableside, and guests are happy with the result. Learning how to do it is like playing catch; once you get the coordination, you have to learn how to control the flow. We have staff practice with one ounce of simple syrup and two ounces of water. And since they have to clean up whatever they spill, they learn pretty quickly how to do it, because they don’t want to clean up a sticky mess.
In throwing the drink, you end up with some aeration, though not as much as when shaking a cocktail. The bubbles are larger, and therefore the drink has a much silkier texture. This technique is excellent for any drink with aromatized wine. We use a split vermouth base: Dolin blanc is sweeter, while Alessio bianco adds grassy notes.”