In 1979 a Brit-born crooner named Rupert Holmes released a little ditty called “Escape” that tells the story of two star-crossed lovers brought together by, of all things, a mutual affinity for piña coladas.
At best, it’s a harmless bit of eye-rolling kitsch, which in the decade that produced such chart-topping pap as “Disco Duck” and “Seasons in the Sun” meant it was fated to shoot straight to number one. In the process, the piña colada supplanted the Tequila Sunrise (The Eagles) and the Margarita (Jimmy Buffett) as the most popular cocktail among avid easy listening radio fans.
And though at the time I was but a wee lad who knew nothing of adult beverages, something about this exotic-sounding piña colada thing captivated me. I didn’t know what it was or how to go about finding one, yet I felt inextricably connected to it. Like it was my destiny.
Perhaps in my young mind’s eye I foresaw the moment some 20 years later when, while on spring break in Daytona Beach, a scantily clad coed from LSU would ask me to mind her frozen cocktail while she went to the ladies room. And after making sure no one was watching, I would sip from that garish, umbrella-adorned, tulip-shaped glass and — as all shame suddenly drained from my body — be completely transported to my happy place by the flavorful combination of rum, coconut cream and pineapple juice.
I have been an unabashed piña colada lover ever since. (Note: To those who paid close attention while reading my book, Living Loaded, and recall my referring to the piña colada therein as the “banana hammock of tropical drinks,” well, I was being disengenuous. It’s one of my many bad habits. Sorry.)
This Friday, during the Tales of the Cocktail festival in New Orleans, the piña colada will once again get its due at a competition presented by Bacardi and the United States Bartenders Guild.
Over 600 Tales attendees are expected to turn out for the event, in which 18 of the world’s best bartenders will offer up their takes on the classic Caribbean cocktail in the hopes of taking home the top prize — a check for $1,500 and a spot at the World Cocktail Competition taking place this fall in Warsaw, Poland.
And the host for this shindig is none other than Yours Truly. Again, destiny. (Well, that, and the fact that Rupert Holmes reportedly turned the gig down due to a scheduling conflict and/or having too much dignity.)
I’m hella-stoked for to be the emcee, too. Not only because I’ll get to sample 18 different variations of my favorite tropical drink, but also because I get to bust out a very funny joke I once heard regarding the number of Polish bartenders it takes to screw up a piña colada. (Hint: it’s an odd number. Very odd.)
The piña colada first appeared almost 60 years ago at the Caribe Hilton’s Beachcomber Bar in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This week it will be reborn in the Big Easy. As this liquor-nipping correspondent prepares to take part in the historic event, I’m reminded of words forever etched into the annals of this legendary libation:
Yes I like Piña Coladas
And getting caught in the rain
I’m not much into health food
I am into champagne
I’ve got to meet you by tomorrow noon
And cut through all this red-tape
At a bar called O’Malley’s
Where we’ll plan our escape.
Amen, Rupert. Amen.