The sun hasn’t been cooperating for the last couple of days. As soon as I leave my house, the unpredictable rain forces me to change my plans. Today, the sun is shining bright, so it’s the perfect opportunity for me to walk around and breathe in some fresh air. The Condado area is always nice, so I might as well wear my bathing suit underneath. In Puerto Rico, you never know when you’ll end up in the water. As I reach the Playita de Condado, a small, quiet beach near the hotels, there’s an empty parking space. A dream. I hurriedly park my car. Don’t wanna miss out on this opportunity.
The breeze in the Condado is favorable. My hair falls in the direction of the wind as I walk down the street. By the Playita, there’s a woman in her mid-30s, sitting on her towel with her sunglasses on and a big white pamela hat. She’s sipping on a piña colada. Unbothered by the kids running around her and building sandcastles, she manages to keep her composure. I’m sure it’s the cocktail. I try my best to not stare, but I really want to be her.
As I reach the Dos Hermanos Bridge, there are some kids jumping from the ledge into the water. Some do flips and crazy stunts, while others just jump into it a little scared, but pushed by the adrenaline. Between waves of laughters and screams, I get closer to them in order to capture the moment. Apparently, they’ve persuaded a passerby into jumping too! A tourist, nonetheless. Carefully trying not to get lost in translation, one of the kids explains to him how he should jump and to push himself off the bridge once he’s ready. Hesitantly, the man jumps off and, as he dives in, the kids rejoice. A new friend has been made.
It was in 1954…
To get in tune with my surroundings, I head straight to the pool. Bordering the water is the iconic bar where Ramón “Monchito” Marrero first served the cocktail back in 1954. “No rum, please”, as I order my piña colada. I’m sorry, but I fell in love with the cocktail when I was a kid and I enjoy it more without alcohol. It’s telling how I’ve never ordered this drink at a bar. Ever. However, stick to the frozen piña coladas. Although, La Factoría in Old San Juan serves a rendition of the notorious drink, without a blender. Give it a try!
The bartender’s maneuver of the ingredients captivates me. A little bit of Coco López, or coconut cream, to make it smooth, some heavy cream, the pineapple juice for the piña flavor, some ice, and into the blender. The hurricane glass is where the cocktail is commonly served. However, there are variations everywhere you go. From plastic cups in street carts to whole pineapples, the cocktail’s glass of choice has varied over the years. The bartender places a wedge of fresh pineapple and a maraschino cherry for garnish. “¡Salud!” For me, it tastes like childhood. It’s sweet, creamy, and refreshing. If you add the rum, well… goodbye, childhood.
“What’s the real story behind the piña colada?” to my surprise, the bartender laughs. “Depends on who you ask,” he says as he hands me the tab.
The curiosity takes a hold of me, so I have to ask someone else on this topic.
Then, I remember. In Old San Juan, there’s a restaurant who also attests to creating the signature cocktail. There’s even a huge plaque right outside the establishment marking the date in which it was created, along with the bartender’s name. It’s a long walk from the hotel to Barrachina, but the sun is hidden by a suspicious cloud, making the temperature pleasant. As I walk through the Luis Muñoz Rivera Park, the breeze ruffles my hair and I quit all my attempts to tame it. The panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean makes the walk through the park and the new Paseo Puerta De Tierra all the more pleasurable. At a distance, there’s a cruise ship leaving the harbor. The crashing of the waves is music to my ears, as I pass by the Capitol building, which is nearing its 90 year anniversary.
Maybe walking wasn’t a good idea, but I have to pull through. I’m slowly on my way to Fortaleza Street, passing through the Colón Plaza, savoring the second piña colada I’m about to gulf down once I reach the restaurant. The colorful forefronts lining the road combine greatly with the blue cobblestones. My feet are tired, but there’s not much left. Nonetheless, the picturesque umbrellas hanging at the end of the Fortaleza are striking. I push myself more to reach them. Snap a picture for Instagram, of course.
Just as I’m drifting my attention to someplace else, I focus back on Barrachina. I must’ve passed it when I was gauping at the umbrellas. Once I reach the plaque commemorating the creation of the piña colada, I know I’m in the right place. I take a step inside Barrachina, and the interior patio is stimulating. The plants inside play a contrast to the cars, the heat, and the street noise. By the bar, four slushy machines are placed on top. One of the servers sees my tired face and quickly offers me a seat by the bar.
But in 1963…
“What can I help you with?”
“A piña colada, no less.”
He laughs. I must be the 100th client with the same request. “I’m on a quest,” I say as I take a sip. Knowingly, he claims: “No heavy cream or ice in here.” The texture of this piña colada is creamier. The bartender says they use frozen pineapple juice in the recipe to avoid watering down the drink. That’s how they perfected Don Ramón Portas Mingot recipe. He’s the one credited with the birth of the piña colada back in 1963 when a contest in which bartenders had to create a new drink was held in the restaurant. They keep it churning in a machine, but the cocktail feels fresh. Adorned with a miniature umbrella, Barrachina has contested to be the rightful creator of the piña colada.
The conversation is cut short by a sudden drizzle. The suspicious cloud had this intention all along. After paying the tab and taking my frozen drink to go, the drizzle turns into rain
(#tropicalisland). Maybe Rupert Holmes was onto something when he said he liked piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. Anyways, I’m taking an Uber back to my car.
What’s the real story, though? Take on this quest and find out for yourself!