The Caribe Hilton is one of the most well established resorts in all of Puerto Rico. The hotel is set on the edge of San Juan on its own peninsula amid a lush tropical garden and private beach. It rose to prominence in the 1950s for its famous guests, including Gloria Swanson, Elizabeth Taylor and John Wayne. It even garnered a mention in Hunter S Thompson’s first novel, “The Rum Diaries.”
The holiday spot has also earned its spot in cocktail history as the birthplace of the piña colada. Before my visit to San Juan, I learned from my Frommer’s guidebook that the piña colada was created in 1954 by bartender Ramon “Monchito” Marrero at the Hilton’s Beachcomber bar. Marrero spent three months mixing, tasting and discarding hundreds of combinations until he felt he had the right blend. It’s been estimated that some 100 million piña coladas have been sipped around the world since then.
The resort boasts two watering holes — a casual outdoor grill with a swim-up bar and the sleek and stylish Oasis Bar, complete with a floor-to-ceiling glass view of the churning Atlantic sea. However, I thought the most fitting way to sample the piña colada would be to have one delivered by a handsome cabana boy on my beach chair at the Hilton’s exclusive lagoon.
The drink was frothy and sweet. It provided an ample antidote to the scorching Caribbean sun. For a girl who is accustomed to drinking martinis, the recipe was did not pack much of a punch, but its flavor was enhanced by the glamorous beauty surrounding me.
Later in the week, as I wandered through the streets of Old San Juan, I came across the Barrachina restaurant with a plaque mounted outside, boldly stating “The House where the Piña Colada was created in 1963.” Intrigued, I headed inside to a bar in the garden courtyard and ordered one.
According to the Barrachina, the piña colada was invented when the Barrachino’s owner met Spaniard Ramon Portas Mingot, who had worked in some of the finest bars in Buenos Aires, during a trip to South America. Mr. Barrachina hired Mingot as head bartender. While experimenting, Mingot mixed pineapple juice, coconut cream, condensed milk and ice in a blender, creating the drink known as the pina colada. I guess they’re always two sides to history.
The drink at Barrachina was thicker and creamier. The lovely courtyard lined with tropical plants and wrought iron exuded a graceful ambiance that fit in with the charm of Old San Juan. Barrachina’s cocktail had more of a rum kick and the price was bit easier on my wallet. Given a choice between the two, I preferred Barrachina’s version. Still, there’s something to be said for having your cocktails delivered by a suave young man on a private beach.
The Barrachina piña colada
48 ounces pineapple juice
15 ounces of coconut cream
10 ounces water
Blend ingredients, but do not mix with ice. Instead, freeze the mix, stirring occasionally until it reaches a slushy consistency, or by using an ice cream maker. Pour rum to taste in individual glasses and add frozen mix. Decorate with cherry and pineapple.
Ingredients to make a piña colada can be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M St. in Georgetown.