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Rum Journal: At New York’s Cienfuegos, the Spirit of Cuba

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - December 18, 2012

Above: Cienfuegos in New York City

Cienfuegos, Cuba was once dubbed the “pearl of the south.” The Cuban port town was a centre for sugar cane and tobacco production — and a haven for rum, particularly in the early 19th century.

But for the last few years, in a town whose namesake cocktail is made with whiskey, a bar honoring the city has been bringing Cuban spirit (and spirits) to New York’s Avenue A.

At Cienfuegos, which was started by restaurateur Ravi DeRossi (of Desnuda and the Bourgeois Pig fame, among others) about three years ago, rum is the driving force, according to Cienfuegos’ Beverage Director, Tom Chadwick.

“We have rums that represent each style and each region,” he tells Rum Journal. “We have a tasting menu, so people can order flights of rum which contain different styles, like Martinique rhums, Jamaican rums or Guyana rums.”

The bar has about 196 bottles of rum, by the most recent count.

The bar also has a classic cocktail menu, offering everything from a classic Ti’ Punch (made with Rhum Favorite) to an “Old Cuban,” a combination of El Dorado , El Dorado 15, Demerara, Mint, Lime and Champagne.

But its signature might be its selection of punches, designed to evoke the exotic punches of old Cienfuegos.

There are about 12 punches on the menu, from classic “very boozy” styles, to seasonal varieties like hot buttered rum punch.

The most popular is the “Intro to Awesome,” which includes Aperol, cucumber, Flor de Cana white and a little bit of sea salt.

“It’s very light, it’s easy to drink and it’s delicious — and that’s very, very popular,” says Chadwick, whose personal favourite rum is the Diplomatico Exclusivo from Venezuela.

New York has seen a rapid growth of its cocktail culture in recent years, and Cienfuegos is developing a niche for rum enthusiasts in a sea of other spirits.

But the crowd at Cienfuegos hasn’t come from the so-called “cocktail nerds,” he says — it’s from those who are serious about rum.

“We get a lot of rum aficionados to come in and order the flights and some really top-shelf rums,” he says.

—CJ

Cienfuegos is located at 95 Avenue A in New York.

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