From the first day Anvil Bar & Refuge opened in Houston
in 2009, its talented bartenders have been known for making pretty much every style of cocktail known to humankind. “The cocktail menu is practically a Bible,” read an admiring review. Every type of libation, that is, save for one: a blender drink. If you wanted a cocktail rendered into a slushie—the sort of frothy, overly sweet concoction more associated with spring break—you would have better luck at a chain restaurant out by the strip mall.
Then Anvil’s owner Bobby Heugel traveled to Cuba for the first time last summer. There, he toured some of Havana’s fabled bars, including El Floridita, where Ernest Hemingway regularly perched, and met a cast of Havana’s longtime bartenders, resplendent in their impeccable dinner jackets. He admired their commitment to their livelihood—when Castro came to power in 1959, bartenders were forced to replicate ingredients no longer available in order to keep their beloved classics alive.
More to the point, Heugel sipped their perfectly balanced daiquiris. This forced him to face an uncomfortable truth: They were made with electric blenders.
Blender drinks have long been considered the prom dresses of the cocktail world—full of mirth and slyly outrageous, prompting many to correlate them with the callow and unrefined. As such, they were too froufrou for bars such as Anvil, which treated the cocktail with churchly reverence. What’s more, they produced unwelcome noise—a grating clamor of steel pulverizing ice that could stop animated conversations twenty paces away.
But times changed. “When some of the first cocktail bars started the modern cocktail movement, it was more important for them to be iconoclastic than it is today,” Heugel says. This meant banning blenders to demonstrate that cocktails were being taken seriously again. But “that era is over,” he says: Classic cocktails won, and bartenders are less fearful of being misinterpreted.
As it happens, Anvil was renovated top to bottom shortly after Heugel discovered Cuba’s blended daiquiri. He ordered Vitamix blenders with noise-dampening enclosures built into the revamped bar, so bartenders could still talk to customers while making drinks. He and bartender Tommy Ho set out to re-create the daiquiris he had had in Cuba, which involved devising a samizdat blend of imported rums that could mimic the taste of three-year-old Havana Club rum, the liquor typically used in daiquiris throughout Cuba but largely unavailable in the United States owing to the long-standing trade embargo. Anvil’s blend is “about ninety-five percent accurate,” Heugel says.
Any blender will do if making one at home, but “use crushed ice so it blends more evenly,” Heugel advises, adding that “you want that ice to be dry.” He recommends taking ice from your ice maker, pulverizing it, then putting it back in the freezer for a while before blending. Your reward? Better consistency.
After the Blended La Floridita Daiquiri appeared on Anvil’s menu, it was swiftly promoted to the bar’s list of one hundred classic cocktails, which are offered at all times. This made sense. “It’s hot here seven months out of the year,” Heugel says.
It also makes sense because this is an extraordinarily sophisticated drink—less tacky prom dress, more elegant wedding gown. Something Heugel will want to hang on to for a long, long time.