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Granma at Los Sotano
Date Published : 23 Jul 2018

What do you get when you mix a grand old hotel, 82 Cuban revolutionaries in a sinking ship and a dash of tequila?

Under cover of darkness on the night of 25 December 1956, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and 80 of their comrades left the Mexican port of Tuxpan aboard the quaintly-named yacht Granma. They were on a mission that would change the course of history.

The yacht was originally built for the US Navy as a lightly armoured target practice boat. Coincidentally, the shipbuilders, Wheeler Shipbuilding, had previously built Pilar, the boat belonging to renowned booze-lover Ernest Hemingway. But that’s another story for another time. In October 1956, Granma, with its armour removed and converted into a pleasure cruiser was bought by Antonio “The Friend” del Conde. Del Conde was a Mexico City-based gun dealer and a secret supporter of Castro and his Communist revolutionary cause.

After leaving Tuxpan, the 82 expeditionaries spent a week at sea; their overladen and leaky boat taking on water, sea sickness and lack of supplies threatening to bring the whole revolution to an undignified end.

Exhausted and starved after a week at sea, the expedition landed on Cuba’s southeast coast. They now trekked for three days through saltwater swamps on blistered feet. Little did they know that they had already been betrayed. The guide that they had hired to bring them to safety led the expedition directly into an ambush by government forces. On the outskirts of the town of Niquero, the fledgling revolutionary army came close to being completely wiped-out.

The province in which Niquero is located has since been renamed Gramna Province, after the boat that brought the group so close to defeat. The boat itself is now a revered national monument and is on permanent display far from Niquero, in Havana.

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The grand Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana was built in 1930 with American money, the hotel and its casino was the playground of America’s rich and famous, hosting Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and John Wayne. The hotel was less popular with the likes of Castro and Guevara, who viewed the casino as a corrupting influence and disagreed with the hotel’s racist policies that saw performers including Nat King Cole and Josephine Baker barred from appearing on account of their skin colour. Despite their disastrous defeat in Niquero, Castro, Guevara and their remaining comrades moved quickly through the country, gaining support and and growing stronger, eventually defeating the larger and better armed American-backed government forces and capturing Havana in January 1959.

Almost 60 years later, Los Sotano’s head mixologist, Rob Kariakin was browsing a book of old cocktail recipes when he encountered a recipe for the house cocktail of Hotel Nacional de Cuba. It’s a light yet somehow also punchy rum drink. Los Sotano is a tequila specialist, so Kariakin has tweaked the drink a little and added tequila to the mix. Tequila being Mexican, he was looking for a name for the cocktail that reflected the Mexican influence on his take on the Cuban classic. So, he settled upon the name of the boat that brought the Cuban revolutionaries over from Mexico. When you get to the bar at Los Sotano, ask for a Granma.

Los Sotano, 21 D'Aguilar Street, Central

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