A Research Mission
The piña colada, sweet with coconut cream, tart with pineapple juice, and garnished with a red maraschino cherry and hopefully a small colorful umbrella is a true staple of any tropical vacation (real or imagined). The piña colada represents palm trees, balmy nights, and not a worry in the world. The ultimate umbrella drink, it feels like it’s always been a part of our getaway dreams. But somebody had to have made the first one at some point, right? Who was it? For a change, nobody says it was Hemingway who invented or inspired it.
Barrachina, located in the historical section of San Juan, Puerto Rico known as Old San Juan, claims to be the founder of the piña colada. (Although, nearby resort the Caribe Hilton also boasts the same claim, so take your pick—you’re in good hands either way). Located in a historical building on Calle Fortalezza, Barrachina is situated in an outdoor courtyard with merlot-colored walls and rustic decor.
When Barrachina opened their doors in the late 1950s it was known for their paella. But in 1963, head bartender and mixologist Ramon Portas Mingot is said to have concocted the first piña colada behind the bar, and the frothy drink became the star of Barrachina. It went onto become the official National Drink of Puerto Rico in 1978.
In Old San Juan to do some serious “research” into the topic, I settled onto a stool at the bar and ordered up a piña colada. Served frozen in a tall glass complete with a cherry, pineapple wedge and tiny umbrella. I was stoked to try one of my favorite tropical drinks in its supposed birthplace.
Served frozen in a tall glass complete with a cherry, pineapple wedge and tiny umbrella.
OK. So it might not have been the best piña colada I’ve ever had, but it definitely hit the spot. Barrachina is a lively bar and restaurant filled by tourists and locals every night. Come, sidle up to the bar or a table, order a piña colada and discover the place that made this drink famous.
During my one-night stay in Old San Juan I made it my mission to find some of the best bars in this part of the city. We can’t take these things lightly. Research is important. After trying the piña colada at Barrachina, I drank craft beer at La Taberna Lúpulo, ate empanadas at Birra & Empanadas, danced with the locals at La Factoría and enjoyed cuba libres at a dive bar called El Batey.
If you are keeping score at home:
- Birra & Empanadas: small bar serving up Argentinian style empanadas and good vibes.
- El Batey: who doesn’t love a good dive bar with graffiti covered walls and cheap rum drinks?
- La Taberna Lúpulo: a hip beer hall serving up over 50 different beers on tap.
- La Factoría: a veritable Russian doll of bar. The most famous bar in Old San Juan, visiting La Facortía is a must. Don’t be fooled. There’s more than what you may spy when you first enter. You must walk through the doors to the right of the bar to get to the three other bars, each one different from the next.
And if while you are keeping score at home, you want to make a frosty Piña Colada, have at it:
FROZEN PIÑA COLADA RECIPE
3 parts pineapple juice
1 part coconut cream
1 part dark rum
Blend all ingredients with ice. Whip it good.
Top off with a rum floater and garnish with maraschino cherry, pineapple wedge, coconut flakes, and, of course, an umbrella