A teenager tending bar on a dusty corner may not sound like the makings of a world-famous cocktail program. But on a side street in La Habana Vieja (Old Havana), Cuba, that’s precisely what happened at El Florida.
Today, El Florida is widely recognized as the “cradle of the daiquiri,” an honor that is credited to a Catalan immigrant who began slinging drinks at the age of 16. Nearly 70 years after his death, Constantino Ribalaigua Vert is still arguably the most influential mixologist of the 20th century.
Born in the region of Catalonia, Spain, in 1888, Constantino and his family immigrated to Cuba when he was a young boy. His father began working at the famous Havana bar, Piña de Plata, which would later be named El Florida—or “El Floridita” to its most loyal patrons.
When he turned 16 years old, Constantino joined his father behind the bar. By the time he turned 30, Constantino had saved enough money to buy the bar. Throughout his nearly 40 years at El Florida, Constantino became the trusted bartender to countless celebrities including Ava Gardner, John Wayne, and Graham Greene. But none of his guests were more famous than Ernest Hemingway, whose eponymous daiquiri is still one of the best classic cocktails the world around.
Constantino earned the nickname “Constante,” or “Constant” from his regular patrons—perhaps because of his dedication. He was still working shifts at the bar in 1952, the year he died.
Hundreds of cocktail inventions are credited to him, and many of them have lasted the test of time, finding their way to bars around the world.
While Constantino’s most significant contribution to mixology is his influence on the daiquiri, he was incredibly versatile, working with a wide range of spirits. His drinks are balanced and approachable.
Our “Constantino” cocktail is based on his creation “El Floridita Especial #6.” (Admittedly, he was a little less creative with his naming than his mixology.) What makes this cocktail stand out is that it doesn’t have a single drop of rum in it, and yet, it feels quintessentially Cuban. It sits comfortably among the canon of bright, refreshing cocktails. It is a symbol of the depth and breadth of its creator’s influence across spirits, time, and borders.