Monday, July 12, 2010

Uncle Jorge

A slushy machine?

Jorge, the bartender of the millennium, set the tall glasses in front of us, complete with the little umbrella and a cherry, and waited patiently for our reactions.

I did not have high expectations.

Had I not already seen Andrew Zimmern's shocked reaction, I would have been just as surprised that the "original" and supposed best Piña Colada, was a pre-made mixture from a slushy machine.

I tried it.

The sticky, humid temperature of the evening made that first cold sip quenching and almost heavenly. It really was the best Piña Colada I had ever tasted!

We told Jorge exactly this, to which he replied:

"Ah come on. You never had a Piña Colada in your life. This is your first."

I think he might have been right.

I had traveled up the uneven sidewalk lining Fortaleza Street to the Restaurant Barrachina, where the Piña Colada is said to have been born in 1963. Tucked into an old colonial building, the tropical and open courtyard greets you with an air of paradise. A young woman welcomed us in Spanish, and my amateur knowledge of the language was not enough to decode her greeting. The blank expression on my face as the wheels spun furiously in my mind must have given me away.

Considering that I have this unexplainable urge to be mistaken for a local wherever I travel to (which I know in some places just won't happen), I knew I had failed when she translated into English. Damn. Must. Learn. Spanish. And French, and Portuguese, and Italian, and...

Anyhow, delicious Piña Colada, and language frustrations aside, Jorge really was the highlight of the evening. He was awesome. He was funny, wise, comforting, and profound all at the same time. He was the kind of bartender that had something to offer to every person that took a seat at his bar. The kind that could look into your eyes and tell you things about yourself that you hadn't even realized yet. He could cooly help you reevaluate your entire life with one simple statement, and not even notice it.

Uncle Jorge, as he preferred we call him, told us of the Puerto Rico we should have been seeing. Not the over touristy, commercialized one we had seen instead. He told us about Liquid, a club where Puerto Rican music artists Daddy Yankee and Don Omar drop in unannounced from time to time and perform surprise concerts for their fans.

He said that La Placita is the best place to find local food, drinks, and people enjoying local music and dancing in the streets. He told us to have a Medalla, a local (and my new favorite) beer at El Batey, where Benicio del Toro is even said to stop for drinks when he is at home.

He could have filled an entire itinerary for our stay in his country; if only we had found him sooner. I suppose I have no choice but to come back.

It was hard to leave La Barrachina. We were there until they turned the chairs over on the tables. By the end of the night, I really did want to hug Jorge and call him tío. 

Uncle Jorge is definitely a man to meet.

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