James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

A Hard‑on Drink in Jacmel

A Hard‑on Drink in Jacmel

It’s July 2015, and I am on a reporting trip to Haiti with my friend Kim Wall. She writes; I take pictures. We share an admiration for a well-made drink.

Lime, tamarind juice, and grenadya (Creole for passionfruit). Fresh natural sugar cane and a few dashes of bitters. It’s simple to make: you mix it how you like it, in a tall glass with cracked ice.

“And add some rhum, definitely. You don’t have to miss our rhum, Barbancourt, it’s the best in the world!” bellows Jean Beleque St. Louis, the bartender of the Florita Hotel in Jacmel, Haiti.

As he starts mixing our cocktails, he adds: “It makes you feel strong and good. And it will help you to work.” Our reporting for the day isn’t quite finished yet, but we’re ready to start drinking. That nudge is just what we need.

Jacmel, Haiti’s cultural capital, is a vibrant and artsy seaside town reminiscent of Havana, with 19th century houses designed in France, ironwork and tiles from throughout Europe, and mahogany from Haiti. Tucked right in the heart of the city is Florita, which is both colonial hotel and bohemian dream, Haitian but with a little hint of Brooklyn.

Its facade is baby blue and white, with the name of the hotel hand-painted on it. Inside, everything reminds you of rhum: the smoky atmosphere, large leather sofas and raw wood beams in the ceiling. The exposed brick walls are full of paintings and gigantic carnival masks—leopards, lions, cows and birds—made by local artists. The courtyard is filled with tropical plants and white hibiscus flowers hanging from above, which give Florita its name. It was one of the only buildings left standing right after the 2010 earthquake.

This, Beleque insists, is the best bar in Haiti. I can testify that the cocktails he makes are also the best, far above the typical rum punch you’d be sipping as a tourist on a cruise through the Caribbean.

“We can call it ‘Florita’s Paradise drink’ or ‘Florita’s Special,’” he continues.

It seems like all the most popular drinks in Haiti have either no recipe or no name. But the special ingredient is usually the same—grenadya, passion fruit. The special effects are also no secret. Not one for subtlety, Beleque took the step of making it extra clear for us. “What we usually call this among ourselves is ‘the hard-on drink’. Everyone knows.”

Today—March 23, 2018—would have been Kim’s 31st birthday. Here’s one for you then, my friend. Happy birthday.

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