Constantino Ribalaigua Vert came to be known as “el rey de los coteleros,” or the cocktail king of Cuba. His skills as a mixologist were so legendary that tourists and locals alike would flock to the El Floridita bar in Havana for a drink mixed by “Constante.” He invented over 200 drinks, but his variations on the daiquiri called exclusively for BACARDÍ rum.
Born in Spain in 1888, Ribalaigua immigrated with his family to Havana by 1900. His father began bartending at La Piña de Plata (The Silver Pineapple), a tavern that had opened in 1817. When the young man was 16, his father offered him the chance to learn bartending. By 1918, he had earned enough capital and renown to buy the bar, which had been renamed “El Florida” due to the large number of American tourists who frequented it. Over time, locals dubbed it “El Floridita.”
A man known for attention to detail and his use of fresh ingredients, Ribalaigua created his own daiquiri creations from the original invented by American mining engineer Jennings Cox in the early 1900s. A vintage recipe book from El Floridita includes four variations, each with a signature difference. Daiquiri No. 2 features orange juice and Curaçao. Variations for daiquiris Nos. 4 and 5 include Maraschino and grenadine, and No. 3, known as the “Floridita Special,” contains grapefruit juice. El Floridita is known as “la cuna del daiquiri” (the cradle of the daiquiri), due in large part to Ribalaigua’s genius as a mixologist.
Ribalaigua told American author Thomas Sugrue in 1935 that his “only hobby is his work.” Although he was an expert bartender, he wasn’t a drinker, and instead poured all of his energy into the quality of his cocktails. He worked shifts at El Floridita right up until his death in 1952, creating masterfully proportioned drinks over his lifetime. This dedication to excellence and hard work earned him the title of the cocktail king.