Last year, Miami's own Julio Cabrera was named Bartender of the Year at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards. At the annual celebration dinner, Cabrera received his award in front of hundreds of peers who'd gathered in New Orleans to celebrate at the event.
This year, Cabrera and a few of his fellow cantineros at Café La Trova gathered around his computer to watch the awards announced via Zoom.
Cabrera tells New Times that Spirited Awards finalists received an email containing a special link that could only be used on one computer. "I couldn't even share the link with the partners, so we gathered a few people in my home," he says.
In the wee hours of Monday morning, when they learned that the Little Havana restaurant had been named Best American Bar Team, Cabrera and his small crew were elated.
"It's amazing. The cantineros at Café La Trova deserve this recognition. Most bartenders only work for about ten years, then they go on to become brand ambassadors or bar owners. Most of the cantineros at La Trova have 25 or more years of experience."
Cabrera notes that his team does far more than make Miami's most-loved daiquiri. "We do more than cocktails. We dance, we sing, we play instruments," he says. "Everything is thought out — the outfits, the grooming, and the technique. It's much more than a job. This is our passion."
The Café La Trova partner hopes the award is a bright moment for a local bartending community that has suffered tremendous financial and career upheaval during the coronavirus pandemic. "Winning this award is good for the entire Miami cocktail community," he says. "This isn't just for Cafe La Trova; it's for everyone."
Still, he says, it was "bittersweet" to recall previous years when the team headed to New Orleans for the festivities that culminated in the Spirited Awards. "Last year we had the possibility to hang out in New Orleans for the weeklong party," Cabrera recounts. "The entire cocktail world is there. Bartenders from around the globe come together to celebrate. If you win an award, you get to go onstage and address the people you admire most."
The experience this year was a stark contrast. "I was at home with a few friends and family," Cabrera notes. "I was in shorts and sandals."
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Cabrera says he'll receive his award by mail, ideally in time for him to to display it at Café La Trova when it reopens sometime in October.
Having closed, reopened, and closed again already this year, the Little Havana restaurant had been set to reopen October 1. The partners decided to push back the date to make sure COVID-19 cases in Miami continue to drop.
"We prefer to wait a little longer, to be on the side of safety," Cabrera says, adding that he can't wait to get behind the bar again with his team.
"I miss it a lot — all of us do. We are not just bartenders who make drinks part-time. This is part of our lives. We miss the music and the food and the whole La Trova experience."