We called it. Last December we declared that 2013 would be the year of the rum bar. And while Los Barbudos’ bar manager Tom Ambroz isn’t wearing the white linen suit we’d hoped (yet), he is tending over a rum den that’s as Havana as things get. It’s all peeling walls, flickering candles and a soundtrack of Bolero and salsa Cubana.
This is the latest bar from the team behind Lily Blacks and Mr Wow’s Emporium – the Smith Street bar pushing bocce, cocktails and free popcorn, which is connected to Los Barbudos through a warehouse out the back. It’s here that the Chingon Taco Truck boys will shortly be serving chicken and rice, and empanadas from a Cuban food truck. Huzzah!
Unlike Matt Bax’s new rum bar, Bar Economico, which has more of an illegal Latino brothel vibe, Los Barbudos is more your typical Cuban local. A tiny black and white TV screens old baseball games, and the sturdy wooden bar has been custom built to Havana specs, replete with a sloping front for a comfortable lean and a raised lip for containing spilt drinks.
The drinks you’ll be spilling are authentico too. They’re doing tall Cuba Libres – a fancy rum and Coke with a big squeeze of lime – and an ultra limey blended Hemingway Daiquiri. Take yours with a Cristal chaser – it’s Cuba’s Corona and the spoonful of savoury you’ll need to make that medicine go down.
Or how about a Dark and Stormy Old Fashioned? Ambroz has reimagined the tall dark rum, fresh lime and ginger beer classic as a short, sharp stir-down of ginger and lime zest syrup, spiced rum and citrus bitters on the rocks. He’s also shaking up mint and coriander with white rum, Lillet Blanc and lime, which gets served straight up in a whisky-rinsed coupette. Flowery, savoury, smoky – it’s a really good drink.
The back bar isn’t huge – the focus is on keeping it Cuban rather than making it enormous – and a bunch of the bottles have found their way through customs in bartenders’ hand luggage and/or pants. Our advice? Get your hands around a glass of syrupy and spicy Ron Caney while stocks last.
The Smith Street crowd is unpredictable, so on any night the joint could be either jumping or dead. We’re happy either way. The bartenders know their chat, and those 3/4 beats and dark spirits make good company. Viva la rum revolution.