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Freeze Tang

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Dan Pulcrano

Papa Hemingway's Hangout: A daiquirí is served up at the Floridita in Old Havana.

The best daiquiri is the simplest one

By Dan Pulcrano

AN HONEST daiquirí is a paradox, a sweet romance with a sour ending, a chilly metaphor for life's bittersweetness. Its bastard, the strawberry daiquirí, lives in Slurpee machines and steps out in a slender, femmie glass topped with a whipped cream curl. Sweet and fruity, its seeds clog up cocktail straws. It can freeze your brain for nonscientific purposes. Bartender Daniel Rogers correctly calls it "a girlie drink."

In Old Havana's Monserrate district, Cohiba smoke and ghosts of marlin fishers put any gender confusion to rest. There, in the 1920s, the Cataluñan barkeep known as Constante set blades in motion that spawned the blender-drink scourge of the 1970s, when he ordered some American blending machines to frappé what had been, until then, a simple mix of Cuban rum, sugar and lemon juice, shaken with ice.

Constante also formulated the styptic, sugarless "Papa" daiquirí for Ernest Hemingway, made with grapefruit juice, crushed lime, extra rum and half a teaspoon of maraschino-cherry juice. Though Constante is long gone from the Floridita bar--a round room with striped awnings, gilded columns and Hemingway's roped-off barstool in the corner--a red-jacketed staff hits the blender switch as often as a thousand times a week for tourists who come to pay their respects at the shrine of the modern daiquirí. "Dos frappés y dos Papas," the manager instructs the barkeep on a recent visit, when four of us dropped by.

At downtown San Jose's A.P. Stump's, Rogers serves me a properly astringent daiquirí, and my mind turns to the fine tropical day when a jeepful of us blasted down a banana- and palm-lined highway on Cuba's southeastern coast to Playa Daiquirí. Under grass umbrellas we savored shaved-ice daiquirís made with plantation lemons and cane sugar from the nearby fields. The ice crystals melted like snowflakes on our tongues and the afternoon faded into a rum sunset. In a secret lover's cove on the white sands of Daiquirí Beach, an errant wave turned a couple's billowy clothes translucent in the reddening sunlight.

Ah, but Daiquirí Beach is but a memory now. A year later, there's a rope across the entrance. Tourists are no longer allowed. It's a military resort now.

The best daiquirís always have a sour finish.

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From the June 17-23, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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