ginebra howard: a failed experiment

I bought and drank Colombia-made gin.

Why did I do it? It was available, and it was affordable. Compared to the imported gins at our neighborhood Carulla, the Colombian bottle cost about COP$30,000 (US$15.00) less. That, coupled with my tendency to experiment, pushed my sense of reason over the edge.

What did it taste like? It tasted like vodka that had been flavored with a thick and sweet imitation juniper berry extract.

What did I do with it? When Seth and I first brought home our find, we made basil gimlets heavy on the lime. The acidic concoction adequately masked the syrupy texture of the so-called gin. In future trials, we mixed the “gin” with fresh passionfruit juice. That proved to be too sweet of a combination for me to stomach.

I must be exaggerating, right? Absolutely not. All things considered, Ginebra Howard is probably the single most unpleasant spirit I have ever consumed. Seth insists that it is no worse than Taaka, but I humbly disagree.

So, what now? After a particularly stressful Wednesday at the office, I came home to a surprise bottle of contraband rum. The first sip was oh-so-smooth and oh-so-delicious, I think it will prevent me from ever again purchasing Colombian spirits. (And yes, that does include the domestic brandy, which, I am ashamed to say, has tempted my wallet on more than one occasion.)



On Friday night my coworker Katalina invited Seth and me out for our first rumba. Nine months into my stay in Colombia, I am still not exactly sure what the word “rumba” means—outside of its Afro-Cuban and ballroom origins, that is. I think it signifies the total dance-party experience: the dance, the music, the lights, the performance, the cocktails, and the shots.

Seth and I met Kata and her friends at the Bar Club, a multi-story bar-slash-club (Imagine that!) in the heart of La T. We started the night with a couple of cocktails—a cosmopolitan for Kata, a caipirinha for Seth, and a dirty martini for me. Seth then decided to order a shot of tequila, Blue Curacao, and gin (Yeah, I know…), and I was still sipping my first drink when Kata approached us, frantically waving her arms and rushing us to finish. She had ordered a round of shots for the group, except she hadn’t only ordered one shot for each person; she had ordered three mini shots! The bartender lined each set of three in its proper order and gave us the following instructions: drink shot one, spin around once; drink shot two, spin around twice; drink shot three, spin around thrice. Then, just as we swallowed our last shot, the bartender hit each of us on the head with a giant foam hammer. Aaand… that was our initiation to the party scene in Colombia! We danced for a while, and before we knew it Kata had ordered everyone another shot. The bartender lit the whole bar on fire, waited for the flames to subside, then popped straws into each glass. “Sigan!” he yelled. And so we did.

From what I can tell, cocktails and shots seem to be a way of life in upscale Colombian bars. Whereas Americans tend to order basic combinations of liquor and mixer—e.g., a gin and tonic, a vodka soda, or a whiskey and coke—Colombians prefer the sweet stuff. They like martinis, especially tropical fruit variations. When Seth and I went to Pravda with Juancho and his friend Alexandra a few months back, they insisted on ordering lulo martinis. Kata’s crowd was no different. Men and women alike, everyone appreciates the art of a well-crafted COP$20,000 (US$10) cocktail.

On nights when Colombians cannot afford to hit the bar-slash-clubs, they typically prefer to drink beer at their local cigarrerías (convenience stores). But Colombians do not drink just any beer; they drink Cerveza Poker. The cheapest of the cheap (COP$900), the lightest of the light, the worst of the worst, Poker is more or less the Natural or Natty Light of the Colombian beer world. Colombians will occasionally “splurge” on a Club Colombia or an Aguila for a higher premium. I often do, and besides the color of my skin it’s my deadest gringa giveaway. That said, the cigarrería drinking experience is not really about the quality of beer; it’s about the quantity of beer. Groups of Colombians gather at a single table under harsh lighting to chat and accumulate empty bottles like trophies.

I prefer something in between, namely the pub or the wine bar. I prefer a quiet place with good conversation and good drink. While there are a couple of pubs in Bogotá with a decent atmosphere, I have yet to find one with an impressive selection of beer. And, while I assume that wine bars do exist, I know I cannot afford them. Did I mention I’m looking forward to the holidays?

[The Bar Club: Carrera 14 # 83-57 Piso 2, Bogotá-Colombia]

[first two photos courtesy of The Bar Club; third photo courtesy of Mundo Anuncio]

el libertador grand bar

I apologize for the lack of updates, but honestly, I have not had much to say. Seth and I have spent the past few weekends holed up in our apartment working on a design competition, and we have not made time to explore the city.

Yesterday we decided we needed a change of pace. After scouring the internet for stylish lounges, we settled on El Libertador Grand Bar. An homage to 1950’s New York, the cozy space is furbished with sleek brown couches, high modernist lamps, and polished swivel tables. Meanwhile, their menu boasts a slew of classic cocktails, including a dry martini, a Manhattan, and an Old Fashioned. Vodka-based drinks take a back seat to the bar’s whiskey offerings, which are appropriately listed by country of origin. Those who prefer gin can order a bottle of Hendrick’s, complete with a round of rose petal-adorned glasses. As Seth and I sipped our impeccably crafted cocktails, we admired their soft, cloudy reflections in the dim lighting. While a part of us felt as if we had been transported to a simpler time, the music—which consisted of everything from Will Smith to Hot Chip—kept us firmly placed in the present day.

El Libertador is located in La Macarena, a bohemian neighborhood in Santa Fe. Unlike the Zona Rosa or Parque 93, which are both in Chapinero, La Macarena feels less commercial; it feels a little grittier, a little more authentic, maybe even a little bit European. The people who frequent El Libertador and the surrounding establishments are not the type who want to dance; they are the type who want to talk (and awkwardly bop along to the music).

Tonight we plan to return to the neighborhood for a celebratory dinner of Spanish tapas and wine. Stay tuned!

[El Libertador Gran Bar: Calle 29 BIS # 5-90 (Segundo Piso), Bogotá-Colombia]

[photos courtesy of El Libertador]