Are mojitos really passé, or are bartenders just lazy?

August 24, 2012 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment

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Some New York bartenders say they trick customer into ordering something else, because mojitos are too much work.

If they understood the meaning of the name itself—mojito—testy New York City bartenders might think twice about removing the popular Cuban cocktail from their menus, as some have recently done. The word mojito is derived from the African mojo, which means “to cast a little spell.” As in the kind of Cuban voodoo incantation known to unleash copious amounts of bad luck on otherwise successful establishments. Or people. Or testy bartenders.

Caribbean sorcery aside, various Manhattan mixologists nevertheless declared war this summer on the hand-muddled concoction, refusing to make the famously refreshing cocktail because, they claim, it’s too time-consuming, too labor-intensive. They’ve even suggested the mojito is passé, breathlessly pronouncing this week to the New York Post that it’s the city’s “most reviled drink” and confessing they trick customers into ordering something—anything!—else.

Certainly, the mojito is unlike, say, a margarita where a pre-packaged mix can help a bartender out of tight spot. And it requires more elbow grease than a rocks drink, where a pour is just a pour. With its simple list of ingredients—sugar, fresh spearmint, lime, rum, a splash of club soda—there’s no hiding if one is missing or mass produced. The drink also demands precision: the spearmint should be gently muddled right at its stem, where the herb’s flavor lives. Do this incorrectly and you’ll wind up with a flavorless, bruised, leafy mess. Do it right and you’ll have yourself a tall glass of perfect freshness.    

Bartenders outside of the big apple, not surprisingly, say their New York counterparts are either lazy, ignorant or disrespectful of the consummate artisan drink that dates back to 1930s Cuba. “That’s just crazy,” said Armando Castro Jr., who owns Los Angeles’ El Floridita, a Cuban restaurant and salsa club where some 150 mojitos a night are served up, when he heard about the flap. “The bottom line is the mojito may not be the simplest drink to make but it’s iconic, it’s a favorite and you can’t just decide to not make it if a customer wants it.” 

Get El Floridita’s famous mojito recipe

In Miami, home to the largest Cuban community anywhere outside of Cuba, news of the Yankee bartender boycott was bewildering. “The mojito is one of Cuba’s most famous creations,” said Alex Bayerre, chief mixologist for Bongos Cuban Cafe, the restaurant and nightclub group owned by entertainment power couple Gloria and Emilio Estefan. “I’ve seen it served in Italy, in France, in Japan, everywhere. And now New York is saying they don’t want to make it?”

Between the company’s three restaurants, some 2,500 mojitos a day are muddled and stirred and “the truth is, if you do it right, a mojito can be made faster than a martini or a rocks drink,” Bayerre said.

Perhaps what the frustrated Gotham drink-makers need is a little mixology lesson from their Latino doppelgangers. Mojito 101, if you will. Bayerre, who trained in Havana under master mojito makers from the legendary Bodeguita del Medio, where author Ernest Hemingway famously downed many in his day, may be the best professor this side of the Florida straights. First, he said, “You need to do your prep work. I leave 200 glasses set with sugar, 1/2 of a lime and a sprig of spearmint. So when the order comes in all I do is muddle, add rum, club soda and stir. I’ve been known to make 40 mojitos in just a couple of minutes.”

More refreshing Latino cocktails

Next, “Make sure you’re using the freshest spearmint possible. You can substitute with regular mint, but it’s not the same. And muddle the mint gently at its stem. Don’t beat up the leaves. It’ll look ugly and will be unpleasant to drink.”

Finally, the bartenders need to get over their turn-and-burn mentality. “Yes, the mojito is about the right ingredients and the right technique, but above all it’s about what I call ‘el feeling.’ You need to want to make this drink, to really feel your way through it. If you don’t, I can tell.”

And as for the notion that the mojito is passé? “Ridiculous,” says El Floridita’s Castro. “I’ve seen a bunch of variations on it—mango mojitos, strawberry mojitos, you-name-it mojitos—but the simple, original one is still my top selling cocktail. And it’s not slowing down. People want the real thing.” For good reason: few cocktails are as perfectly balanced, refreshing and thirst-quenching, exactly what you crave when you’re sitting by a pool under the hot sun or working up a sweat as you dance the night away.    

Get more Latin recipes from NBC

David Naranjo, who heads communications for Bongos, says it comes down to something far simpler. “It’s five simple ingredients,” he said. “If that’s too complicated for you as a bartender, maybe you should just go make drinks at TGI Fridays.” 

For New Yorkers whose local watering holes have misguidedly cast off the mojito, Bayerre shared his recipe so you can make it at home yourself. And tell us, are you a fan of the mojito?

Bongos Cuban Cafe

Pictured here is a mojito from Bongos Cuban Cafe in Miami.

Bongos Cuban Cafe mojito

  • ½ lime, halved
  • 1 fresh spearmint sprig
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 oz light rum
  • 1 oz club soda
  • Ice
  • 1 fresh spearmint sprig (garnish)
  • 1 sugar cane stick (optional, garnish)

 In a 12-ounce highball glass place limes, mint sprig and sugar on top.

 Using a muddle stick or wooden pestle, muddle them together for about 5 seconds.

 Add ice, rum and shake well. Top off with club soda.

 Garnish with sugarcane stick and spearmint sprig, serve, and enjoy!

Betty Cortina, senior consulting web producer for, believes salsa (the condiment as well as the music) makes the world a more delicious place.

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