Periodista Tales

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Periodista Tales: One City’s Homage, One Man’s Quest

I was back in Boston drinking a Periodista at Eastern Standard. A coworker of mine was crowding the next bar seat and drinking a 19th Century. That’s what Jackson Cannon calls the Old Fashioned on his menu. Saves the bartenders the trouble of having the “new” Old Fashioned, “old” Old Fashioned conversation every time. Cannon would never begrudge a guest his muddled cherry, so he renamed the original. Whatever you call it, it’s a lot of whiskey and not many distractions. Not my style. I need the distraction.

The bar was quiet. It was early and the Sox were away. Bob McCoy was making drinks. A hurricane threat had trapped him at Louis Armstrong International the night I’d been swilling Alicantes at the Bar Room Brawl. He looked the better for it.

I sipped my Periodista and thought about Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway drank daiquiris. Maybe he drank Periodistas. I still didn’t know. Either way, he drank a lot rum when he lived in Cuba. Mostly at a place called El Floridita, an old watering hole just a quick stagger from his apartment on Bishop Street. El Floridita was run by a man named Constantino Ribalaigua Vert. El Grand Constante to Papa and the other regulars. Constante also made the drinks. I’m told he was a whiz at it. Poets sang his praises. Drunks did too.

My iPhone buzzed. I had a message from Greg Boehm. Boehm runs CocktailKingdom.com and Mud Puddle Books. He reissues a lot of bar books long out of print. He also has one of the most extensive cocktail book collections in New York City. I’d emailed him about the Periodista back before Tales of the Cocktail.

His email was brief:

What is the earliest Periodista recipe that you know of?
Greg

Sure, Boehm, rub it in.

I’d gotten some leads down in New Orleans, but they were obscure enough that I hadn’t been able to track any of them down.

Angus Winchester had mentioned the Bartender’s Sixth Sense. El Sexto Sentido Del Barman might as well be mythological as far as Google is concerned. I had a hell of a time just dredging up the author. Turns out it was Héctor Zumbado, a well-known Cuban journalist. El Sexto Sentido was published in the early ‘80s. Zumbado was born in the ‘30s. Old enough to be a young man when Constante was frapping daiquiris. If Cannon and Wayne Curtis’s Sandanista theory was right and the Periodista didn’t emerge until the mid-‘80s, Zumbado might even be the Cuban periodista it was named for. I’d emailed Michael Menegos about it and hadn’t heard back.

Then there was Dale DeGroff’s mysterious textbook from the bartending school at the Hotel Sevilla. The Sevilla has a storied history. It was one of Havana’s first luxury hotels, built way back in 1908. In its prime it had 162 rooms and no vacancies. Josephine Baker and Al Capone stayed there. Separate rooms. Biltmore Hotels bought it in the ‘40s and a hospitality school opened up there in the ‘60s. Probably the era the textbook came from. I’d emailed DeGroff about it and hadn’t heard back.

Anistatia Miller had give me the title El Arte Del Cantinero. Google had given me the rest. El Arte was a bartender’s manual put out by the Club de Cantineros de Cuba. The Club was founded in 1924 to standardize bartending practices in the country and elevate the collective quality of Cuba’s drinks. Constante was an early member. El Arte was written by Hilario Alonso Sanchez and published in 1948. It was my oldest lead. I’d emailed Miller about it and hadn’t heard back.

I was so busy not hearing back from people I had my iPhone fetching inbox data every fifteen minutes. Batteries be damned.

I finger-typed back to Boehm that my oldest recipe was still Schumann’s, circa 1986.

At the other end of the bar, Naomi was elbow deep in a vat of simple syrup. Michael Bublé was crooning on the sound system. I thought about taking it up with the management.

I took another sip of my drink.

While I was mainlining Google I’d come across another name. If you spend a lot of time typing “Hemingway” and “Periodista” next to each other in search boxes, you’ll probably hit on the name Fernando G. Campoamor. Campoamor was a buddy of Hemingway’s. They drank together. They played pranks together. When Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Campoamor was the MC at the party. He also held the medal so Papa could drink with both hands. They were close. Campoamor even wrote a book about the guy. He also wrote a book on the history of rum in Cuba. He wrote a lot of things. He was a journalist.

“Hey, did you see this?”

My colleague had dispatched his 19th Century and was looking over the menu. He pointed at the Periodista.

Cannon had changed the description. Instead of the Hemingway blurb, now it read:

Periodista
rum for the intrepid reporter
one city’s homage
one man’s quest

My jaw swung back and forth for a minute. I jammed my cocktail in there to stop it.

Cannon cutting the Hemingway line from the menu made me a little sad. End of an era, and who’s fault? Hell, if I didn’t find out the real story on the Periodista I’d be staring at my own failed quest every time I ordered a drink. As it stood I couldn’t even prove the thing was Cuban.

My pocket buzzed.

I pulled out my iPhone. Boehm again.

I was able to trace the Periodista back to an odd book from 1974 published in Florida. That took me to a book from 1948 where the 1974 author took most of his info from. I rarely open this book since it is moldy and it makes my eyes burn and my nose close up. El Arte del Cantinero. The recipe is in there.

I’ll be damned.

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