By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
"You have to understand, this whole business of naming drinks really only came about because there were Americans with money around," Presilla stresses. "It was a gimmick, a way to market drinks."
Nowhere is this truth more glaring than in the polished headquarters of Bacardi Imports, which looms over Biscayne Boulevard like a giant blue-
and-white-tile cereal box. Since its inception 130 years ago in Santiago, Cuba, Bacardi has become the corporate embodiment of the tropical cocktail and, owing to a predilection for self-mythologizing, a revered font of alcohol arcana.
Indeed, visiting the rum company's U.S. base of operations is more like enrolling in a seminar on the virtues of Bacardism. Learn how Bacardi's master blenders civilized rum, how a U.S. engineer working in the Daiquiri copper mines mixed Bacardi with lime juice and ice to invent the daiquiri, how founder Facundo Bacardi's shrewd progeny went multinational in 1910 and later escaped Castro's regime with assets intact, all the while being waltzed through plush offices where brightly packaged Bacardi Breezers front sepia photographs of the old days. And above all, discover again and again that Bacardi is the world's top-selling spirit (a fact employees are required to announce at least once every hour).
As for hard data about the mojito...well, who needs hard data anyway, when you've got enough rum at your disposal to kill a fraternity? "We're not really sure on this one," reports Jose "Tito" Argamasilla Bacardi, Bacardi Imports' special-events director and, not coincidentally, Facundo's great-great-grandson. A jolly, paunch-intensive man, Tito attended the same Havana private school as Castro before fleeing the country at fourteen. "But I still remember the mojito," he says gamely.
Upstairs in the executive dining room, Tito sidles up to the bar and orders two. "Usually I drink my liquor straight," he murmurs. "When you've worked with the stuff as long as I have, you don't mess around with mixed drinks." The tense gaiety of executive schmoozing fills the room, which is dominated by a mural depicting happy campesinos lugging sugar cane from the fields. The carpet, a washed-out brown, is emblazoned with Bacardi emblems. Biscayne Bay is seven stories down.
Joining the party late is Bob Hunter, a sandy-haired fellow who wears the perpetually solicitous mask of a public relations man. Hunter's chief concern seems to be establishing whether the mojito, like the daiquiri, can be sucked into the Bacardi marketing vacuum. "Let's say the mojito was invented sometime around 1920. Now, if Bacardi was by far the most popular brand in Cuba at that time - and we're clear that it was, right Tito? - then it's fair to assume that the mojito was invented with Bacardi," Hunter says helpfully. "I mean, it would add to the authenticity of the story to note that, right? I'm just looking at it from a journalistic point of view." (The issue seems trifling until you consider the legal drubbing inflicted upon those who attach the hallowed Bacardi name to an inferior product. In 1936 the New York State Supreme Court ruled that only a cocktail made with Bacardi rum could be called a "Bacardi cocktail." A later trademark dispute went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.)
Over soup, a delicate clam chowder, Tito laments that for all Bacardi's efforts mojitos are still being made with other brands. "But Tito," Hunter interrupts, "some people do think it's the same. Not the older bartenders, they know Bacardi quality. But the young kids, they just don't know any better." His tone is the maudlin vibrato of a man eulogizing a toddler who has wandered into oncoming traffic.
Buoyed by a new round of food, Tito and Hunter next set about trying to nail down an etymology for the word mojito. "What could it possibly mean?" ponders Hunter, no doubt hopeful that some idiom exists in which "mojito" can be transmuted into "that which is made exclusively with Bacardi." Tito furrows his brow. He offers a few halfhearted conjectures - "It could be from mojar, which means to make wet" - before trundling off for another drink. Hunter spears at a piece of baked red snapper and pauses for a moment. "This is the most compassionate company I have ever worked for. We eat like this every day," he says. "Did I tell you that Bacardi is the number-one-selling spirit in the world?"
Before bidding adieu, Tito hands over a satchel of pamphlets in which the Bacardi history has been buffed to a high gloss, the fruits of his archival research. A few hours after lunch, he calls with a news flash. "I just talked to my father," Tito reports. "He's pretty sure they used Bacardi to make the first mojito."
Unless you're looking, you're not going to find Miami's own Floridita. Tucked beneath one of Flagler Street's flashing, disco-afflicted bazaars most weekdays, the hoary restaurant/bar is as listless as a tomb. During the Sixties the Floridita and the now-defunct local incarnation of La Bodeguita del Medio were Miami's closest links to Havana's clubland, places for the glitterati-in-exile to kick up their heels or drown their sorrows, depending on the mood. The Floridita even recruited legendary daiquiri maestro Ricardo Valdivia from the original bar. He died sometime back, though no one is quite sure when.