A History of Mojitos and Paris: The Life, Love, and Death of a Recipe

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We all know the mojito as a light, crisp, beachside kind of a rum cocktail. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s the recipe:

Mojito via Wikipedia

{1.5 oz Light Rum, 6 leaves of mint, 1 oz of fresh lime juice, 2 teaspoons of sugar, and top with soda water}

And I have a hunch that when thinking of Paris, most Americans imagine cobblestone roads, a moonlit riverwalk, and beautiful stone architecture with the Eiffel tower peeking out over the horizon.

When I was a child, the city had a mythic aura. It was the city of love, fabled, as it was the starting point and ending of my parent’s 2-month long European honeymoon.

27 years later, remorsefully, I’ve been disillusioned.

 

1. What’s A La Mode?

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Like a jockey over a grassy bank, Paris bounds over trends.

It’s most notable in sneakers, a relatively new phenomenon in the city, which, sourced by my girlfriend, did not exist prior to 2013—it wasn’t the Parisian way.

By the time I’d arrived in W15, Nike Air Max 93’s and New Balance were at large. I spent November, December, and January in Paris, and as the new year swung around we saw a brusque rebirth of the classic, Stan Smiths. We saw them with such frequency that we dubbed the term Stan Smith couple, two chic lovebirds who wear matching white sneaks.

Following that trend, in 2016, Adidas had a big year. The Sambas, Gazelles and any throwbacks that resembled the prototypes took off—I’m guilty of buying a pair. The ‘baskets’ as the French call them, became acceptable footwear for upscale restaurants and even clubs, as long as they were properly kept. Three stripes had a clinch on this lux-leisure category, that is, until the CS came out, which while an interesting, minimalist concept, they were easily mimicked by higher end brands—Balenciaga most notably—and Adidas’ consumer attention was siphoned.

My return to Paris S17 marked the end of this sleek era, and the rebirth of bulky, 90’s styled shoes. Bulky + Retro kicks opened the door wide for Nike. Over summer the Air Max 95’s and 97’s have proliferated throughout the city again.

Paris went full circle, in a handful of years.

Now, I’m trying to make a point about trends in Paris. They live and they die. They run rampant, uncontrollable throughout this city.  A city that’s small enough to stroll through by foot, yet large enough to have significant global influence.

So why in a city of movement, and turbulent trends, is the mojito the lone beacon of stability?

2. The Origin of the Mojito

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Cocktail culture is a relatively new transplant in France. Since 2015, to my knowledge, one thing has remained stable—the most common cocktail in Paris is the Mojito. Along with a wine list and three beers on draught, across the city, the drink makes an appearance as a house cocktail.

To me, it’s a silly, late-college-years of a drink. A drink that, for a time, was the only reason I’d buy mint.

My first memory of a mojito, however, doesn’t stem from a story of a sophisticated college roommate. It originates with my father taking me to a hair salon with a pint of silver rum and a bag of mint. He had the type of charisma and warmth where only he could get away with that. At the age of 12, I’d sit, and get my haircut, while he’d prepare mojitos for the hairdresser and himself.

Ice clanks at the bottom of the glass. Pressure releases from the Diet Sprite bottle. Mixed with the humming of the razor, he’d sit with a second glass while his hair was trimmed.

The hairdresser was a tall, thin, dark-skinned woman of Vietnamese descent. She’d been a go-go dancer before immigrating and spoke with a thick accent and the elastic thwap that you hear in native Vietnamese. As a kid just entering my teen years, I remember my skin crawl when her forearm brushed my forehead and cheek. And I’d feel a bit sad when I looked at my finished appearance in the mirror. I never told my father.

Years of bad haircuts pass at the shop. They’d talk and laugh, and drink mojitos while I waited. Eventually, she’d set my father up with one of her girlfriends. This happened almost a decade later.

To clarify, my father isn’t the antagonist of the story, he’s just the origin.

3. I’ve learned over the course of life that my goals exist in duality; towards the acceptance of myself and against obedience to society. I cannot do either alone. I must accomplish both in cohesion.

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On a severely cold night in W14, under a typical red and white striped awning in St. Germain Des-Pres, we’d sat for drinks. Parisians with cigarettes fill straw chairs. Smoke, laughter, and light rain spills into the dark, cobblestone streets.

The servers wear suspenders. One has memorably Gaulish looks, short, impish with a strong nose and naturally tanned skin. He handed us the menu; mojitos were the drink of the moment as if Bacardi was having a sample sale in France.

I order a Mint Julep.

Pas Mal. At least the bar has crushed ice.

I returned to this bar on several occasions, and each time, I strayed from my Mojito scarred past with a French 75, a Dark & Stormy, even a Negroni. 

How do we deal with the past?

The iconic writer’s of Paris loved drinking; Cafe de Flore in St. Germain is Sartre, as Montparnasse is F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I find these parallels uninteresting and useless.  Signs stand in their place like tombstones. You can and will be able to read about the history of these cafes for years to come. Nowadays, you pass these haunts and people take selfies, talk about dogs and the new bags they’ve bought down the street. Why do you want to sit where the writers were? The seats aren’t imbued. Find your own sunny terrace to smoke and please, ponder anything other than existentialism.

Historically speaking, Mojito’s more often than not, are associated with Hemmingway and his friend Sir Baker. In the Gentleman’s Companion by Charles H. Baker, he lists the Sloppy Joe Mojito—as a ‘far superior Rum Collins.’ One of the holy trinity of Cuban cocktails.

His measurements are:

{In a collins glass add several lumps of ice, 1 tsp of Sugar, green lime peel, 1.5 jiggers of Gold Rum (2.25 oz), juice of 1 small lime (1.25 oz), top with a good club soda, & bunches of mint.}

Compared with the recipe now:

{Ice, 1.5 oz Light (Silver) Rum, 6 leaves of mint, 1 oz of fresh lime juice, 2 tsp of sugar, and top with soda water}

Mr. Baker liked his mojitos strong! In the current recipe, there is twice as much sugar and about .75  of the rum. And I dare you to find a bar in Ils-de-France that makes it without silver rum.

Why you might ask? Because taste buds are watered down. We strive for the past, but we simply cannot deal with the reality of it. With drinks such as the mojito, we’ve forgotten that the goal of a cocktail is not to mask the alcohol, but to enhance it.

The mojito is at its most popular, yet most decadent state.

One night in S18, I joined my girlfriend and a couple of her friends for drinks. La Colonie, located between Gare De L’est and Gare Du Nord, is a hollowed passage where you can drink, and after a certain hour, dance. The top drink: Mojitos.  They looked good–Mint sprigs popping out everywhere and shit. I caved and ordered one. Sweet, carbonated and just as I’d known it. Just as I’d known it three years ago, and just as I’d known it 15 years ago. Frustrated, I flicked the straw. Droplets fly from the tip and hit a French girl across from me. As I sat there, something sank within me. There was nothing I could do or say to make a difference. My decision landed me here, and for the moment with this mojito, and all this baggage in Paris.

4. Mojito’s are Refreshing

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When I was 18, I visited Paris for the first time with my family. How fresh that felt! To be off of the American continent for the first time, and to realize that I could drink legally! I drank a couple of Heinekens one night and wobbled back to our hotel. I sipped some champagne a different night and felt sleepy. This was the extent. I was too young to savor, to embrace. I was at the age where nights like these seem infinite in number.

I didn’t realize that these surroundings, the small streets, dark windows and red brasseries, the ancient churches, winding metro tunnels and manicured parks, Paris, just as it was the birth, it would be the coffin to my parent’s marriage.

I’d start university in the fall and only a few months afterward, they sat me at a table and told me they’d be divorced. In private, my father told me that he’d hoped Paris would reignite a spark. That revisiting would bring them back to how great it once was. 

Now, I look upon this city and I see clothing shops and a milieu of castles strewn about the Seine. Blurry faces of tourists from all over the world take pictures of the most well-known, oversaturated attractions, and sit at a cafe when they tire and drink mojitos. I know there are hidden passages, I know there are secret societies, caché pockets of life that I can’t yet find.

But I wonder, is my relationship with you dying, Paris? Can we revive it? Obviously, we can’t trash or ignore the mojito. The mojito is everywhere and all-encompassing, a cocktail, like a Cuban diety.  So, can we remake the mojito in a new way? 

Or will I be stuck on the sofa, rewinding the memory of my father’s haircuts?

 

With Love,

Alexander

 

 

Published by AlexanderGittleman

Alexander Gittleman aka Mr. Cohiba is the writer, editor, and creator of the cocktail blog African Bowtie. He has lived in Seattle, New York, and currently lives in Paris where he covers the burgeoning cocktail scene.

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