Photo by Doug van Dyke
The making of a beloved classic
Built at the end of the 20's, inaugurated in 1930, the Hotel Nacional, one of the most iconic buildings in Havana's skyline, towers over the Malecon and features in almost every event of significance in the island's recent history. In 1933, for instance, when Batista deposed president Machado, where did the officers loyal to the government sought refuge? In the Hotel Nacional, of course. The proud and magnificent building was bombed and sieged for a few days. In 1946, under Batista, the Hotel Nacional once again made the news when it hosted infamous gangsters Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky's mob conference, where they divided between themselves and their guests the city's casinos and entertainment spots. The Nacional subsequently became one of Lansky's main assets. No wonder then that when the revolution finally put an end to Batista's regime, one of the first decisions was to close down the hotel's casino. Throughout all those years, troubled and untroubled, the Hotel Nacional maintained its reputation for fine drinking. This, they say, was down to one man: American bartender Will P. Taylor. Before prohibition hit the United States, Taylor had been the (old) Waldorf Astoria's bar manager (the hotel was later demolished to make way for the Empire State Building). Like many of his colleagues, he found employment abroad and was hired to bring his expertise at the Nacional, presumably for its opening. It is assumed he created the house cocktail, the Hotel Nacional Special. Cocktail detectives Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown have noted the cocktail's resemblance to the drinks created by another expat: British bartender Fred Kaufman. Kaufman, the inventor of the Mary Pickford, is rumoured to have plied his trade at the Nacional too, but at least two contemporary sources claim the Nacional Special as Taylor's. The first printed recipe we've been able to find comes in A.S. Crockett's The Old-Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book (1935), in which, after listing the cocktails made at said bar before 1920, an entire chapter is devoted to Cuban drinks, with recipes provided by Taylor himself. The second reference comes from everyone's favourite imbiber, Charles H. Baker Jr., great traveller, not always discerning drinker and close friend of a certain Mr. Hemingway. In 1939's Gentleman's Companion, he described the Hotel Nacional Special as one of the three finest Cuban rum drinks around. He too attributes it to Taylor. The original recipe, if Crockett is to be believed, calls for white rum. Baker suggests a switch to gold rum our beloved Havana Especial bottling, for instance. We do however have a preference for the richer notes of the Havana Club 7 and for a stronger drink than the original equal parts rum and pineapple juice formula. With this in mind, we wholeheartedly agree with the proportions used at first class watering hole PDT. If you can't make it to the Hotel Nacional, mix yourself the Hotel Nacional Special as per the below recipe, and we're sure you'll be as impressed as if you found yourself on the hotel's magnificent premises. 60 ml Havana Club Añejo 7 años 30 ml pineapple juice (fresh, if possible) 15 ml lime juice15 ml simple syrup 7,5 ml Apricot brandy Shake all ingredients with ice, strain in a cocktail coupe and garnish with a lime wheel.
The Hotel Nacional