How the Mojito transformed the bar industry, a frivolous theory in mixology by Alberta Straub
I blame Josh Bleu for the Mojito. There is no documentation to confirm this but I remember sitting at the round bar of the Orbit Room Café (1900 Market St. San Francisco) in the mid-’90s gazing in amazement as he cut fresh limes and squeezed them into a tall glass, carefully chose leaves of mint, adding simple syrup and rum, and topped everything off with a squeeze of seltzer from a sky-blue glass siphon bottle like the kind you only see in movies. Back then, nearly twenty years ago, no other bar in the Bay Area served drinks like this, ones prepared with fresh ingredients and painstaking care and as for muddling- mint into Juleps and Mojitos–forget about it.
In January 2000 I returned to SF from grad school and somehow managed to land one shift behind this hallowed bar. I was so envois I was shaking, the skill, speed, professionalism exhibited by the bartenders who worked busy night shifts seemed impossible to achieve. Mojitos, the bane of my mixing existence back then, grew more and more popular, everybody, hipster, Marina Chicks, mothers, and unlike most drinks of this style, even men enjoyed it without the”girly drink” shame that often comes from ordering anything other than whiskey and beer. On warm summer evenings I would start getting worried hours before my shift, clement weather brought a barrage of Mojito orders and I still had not developed the skill of making them quickly and the worst thing you can do as a bartender is keep people waiting for their drinks. To combat this problem I began preparing early, setting out the tall glasses in evenly spaced around me. I added everything but the lime juice, which should always be squeezed fresh, and then I was ready for the onslaught. Regulars would tease me dubbing my prep the “Cuban Blockade” and when it was crazy busy I would fly around the circle, squeezing juice, muddling, adding ice and garnish as fast as I could, but I could never make enough.
A decade later the Mojito has become somewhat trite when compared with all the exotic and creative drinks found on menus today. The industry has transformed regaining its prestige and high standards of a century ago. It is now hard to find a bar without a muddler and fresh ingredients and I believe that in the Bay Area at least Josh Bleu and his introduction of the Mojito on the Orbit Room drink menu–way back in ’96 definitely had an unsung role. Bars that had no interest in making fresh drinks were almost required to do so because of customer demand for the Mojito and after this first step and the positive response from Bay Area drinkers we were well on our way a new Golden Age of Mixology.
Reviewing this episode for my new website I am reminded of what a great drink the Mojito is. Its simplicity is the key to its true greatness. Only 5 easy to find and relatively inexpensive ingredients and easy to follow steps make this the perfect drink for the home bartender to serve guests or to just enjoy a Saturday afternoon. The version I make here dubbed the Fly-ito doesn’t actually offer up anything new, but it is a great recipe, and hopefully easy to follow so gather your materials and get ready to muddle!