A presidential visit
In a few days, newspapers will be filled with eye-catching, attention-grabbing headlines on US President Barack Obama’s official visit to Cuba. It is a momentous event, one that didn’t seem remotely possible even a year ago. We’ll let commentators comment and analysts analyse. The real question we’re asking ourselves right now is: what will President Obama drink?
It so happens that the last – and to date only – official visit of a United States President to Cuba happened in 1928. Calvin Coolidge was the White House President and he visited Havana for the Pan-American Conference. Of course, those were prohibition years back home, but Coolidge was a small-government conservative and wasn’t really in favour of the Volstead Act. But the Constitution is the Constitution and he had to respect it. At home, at least. So American journalists basically had just one question on their mind: would President Coolidge do as every Yankee in town did? Would he drink?
Gerardo Machado, Cuba’s President at the time, didn’t much care about Coolidge’s dilemma. And no State event in Cuba could be allowed to go dry. This is how the American press described the State banquet held on the 16th of January 1928:
“Although the state dinner (…) was exceedingly wet, starting with a fiery ‘presidente cocktail’ (…) guests at the dinner insisted that Presidente Coolidge did not drink any of the wines or liquors.” Another journalist added: “President Coolidge answered in water to the toasts offered”. (In water! How barbaric!) Yes, cantineros, President Coolidge refused Presidente Machado’s Presidente Cocktail. Really.
He didn’t stop there, mind you: Beverly Smith Jr., who was covering the visit for the Saturday Evening Post, later recalled another cocktail moment, at Machado’s estate, when he was approached by a waiter with “a big tray of delicate, crystal cocktail glasses, each sparkling to the brim with a daiquiri — rum, fresh lime juice and sugar, well shaken. (…) As the tray approached from his left, he wheeled artfully to the right, seeming to admire a portrait on the wall. The tray came closer. Mr. Coolidge wheeled right another 90 degrees, pointing out to Machado the beauties of the tropical verdure. By the time he completed his 360-degree turn, the incriminating tray had passed safely beyond him. Apparently he had never seen it. His maneuver was a masterpiece of evasive action.”
Hopefully, 90 years later, the current President of the United States will get to enjoy what Coolidge couldn’t. A nice, perfectly made Presidente, with real Cuban rum, served by a first class cantinero. We like to think this would contribute to a faster thawing of the relationship between two great nations.
The cantineros of the 30’s made it something like this:
45ml Havana Club 3 Años
45ml Blanc vermouth (Chambéry)
1 teaspoon orange curaçao
Half a teaspoon homemade grenadine
Stirred in ice-filled mixing glass, strained in cocktail glass, garnished with orange peel.
Who could resist such a tantalizing offer, we wonder…