The Gaslamp’s newest Cuban eatery, Havana 1920, seeks to capture the heyday of America’s Playground and its pre-communist jazz-and-limelight nightlife. The restaurant’s beverage director Ryan Andrews says that its owners were inspired to open the restaurant after taking a trip to Havana a few years ago, after the travel embargo against Cuba was temporarily lifted under the Obama administration.
548 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
“We had no idea at the time,” Andrews says, “that we would come back to open up a Cuban rum bar.”
While Cuban cuisine is its forte, Havana 1920 offers 150 kinds of rum, Andrews says — including Havana Club Anejo Blanco, the mojo in Havana 1920’s mojito.
In reimagining the famous Cuban highball, Andrews says, the Havana 1920 recipe returns to the mojito’s sugar-cane roots with a one-of-a-kind (for San Diego, anyway) electric sugar-cane juicer.
“It’s a metal box about half the size of a college refrigerator with a hole in top to feed the cane through,” he explains. “It has three rotating crushers, like big rolling pins with teeth, which suck the cane right in, crush it flat, and extract every bit of fluid.”
Why so much trouble to make sugar water? For a mojito, Andrews says with pride, like no other on the West Coast.
“What’s unique about our mojito,” he says, “is that cane juice has a naturally grassy flavor with nice herbal notes that back up the aged rum.”
The rum, too, has a story, Andrews says, noting that Havana Club’s Puerto Rico distillery uses a secret family recipe, smuggled cloak-and-machete-like, out of Cuba as Castro came to power.
The aging process used to produce Havana Club, Andrews says, besides adding notes of caramel, vanilla and oak, mellows the mojito’s sweetness. “Typically a mojito is made with an unaged rum, which is going to be a little harsh, a little acrid, not as refined,” he says. “But Havana Club’s aged rum distinguishes the cocktail. It’s something you’d get at, well, a hotel casino in old Havana.”
- 2 oz. Havana Club Anejo Blanco
- 1 oz. fresh lime juice
- 1 oz. cane juice
- ¾ oz. Demerara syrup
- 2 oz. soda
- 8–10 mint leaves
In highball glass, bruise mint with syrup, cane, and lime. Add rum and soda, fill with crushed ice, stir. Top with ice and lime-wheel garnish.