The piña colada is a cocktail synonymous with the beach. But have you ever wondered which beach?
The Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the birthplace of the famous mixed drink. And 2019 is proving to be an auspicious year at the property.
After being damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, the Caribe Hilton is back open for business, with a sleek new look and a renewed sense of vitality.
The timing couldn’t be better, as the Hilton Hotels brand celebrates its centennial in 2019. What better way to commemorate the occasion than with the island’s official beverage?
From concept to drink
Ramon “Monchito” Marrero, who was the Caribe Hilton’s bartender, is often credited with being the inventor of the piña colada, although several other bartenders in the San Juan area have also said it was their idea.
In 1954, Marrero was reportedly asked by the Hilton team to come up with a signature drink for the hotel’s Beachcombers Bar – and come up with it he did.
“At the beginning it was only the mix of coconut cream and pineapple juice,” Pablo Torres, the Caribe Hilton’s General Manager, tells CNN Travel.
“He didn’t have rum, and it was called a refresher. Back then there were no blenders [on the island], so he would prepare the piña colada in a shaker, and then when the blenders came we started adding rum and crushed ice and it became very popular.”
After the storm
Following the double-punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, many people across Puerto Rico were left without water and power.
The Caribe initially planned to close but agreed to stay open in order to host people being evacuated from other Hilton properties throughout the Caribbean.
After that, they took in first responders who had come to the island to help with relief efforts.
Instead of simply rebuilding everything as it had been, the Caribe team opted to take some time to rethink the hotel’s concept.
“That is the hidden blessing out of this journey,” says Torres. “At the end of the day we are going to have a much better hotel for the guest.”
The on-site food and drink offerings are getting an update too, although there’s no way the island’s official drink – it landed the designation in 1978 – will ever disappear from the menu.
Now, the Caribe’s hotel bars and restaurants will offer a classic piña colada, as well as a healthier, more modern version with coconut water swapped for the cream.
There will also be a small exhibition with vintage photos, menus and some information about “Manchito” on display in the lobby.