Bartending in Cuba is more than just a profession, it’s an entire way of life. A skilled and qualified person behind the stick is known as a cantinero – a professional and personal accolade that comes with it a sense of pride, status and responsibility. A Cuban knows a cantinero is a leader in their field with a level of service that runs deeper than mixing drinks and offering good service.
A cantinero cannot wear tattoos. There are certain standards of dress to uphold. They must carry themselves with a degree of dignity and respect when either on shift, or off. In Cuba, they have a level of status greater than that which is associated with bartending in other parts of the world – the cantinero is a pillar of the community and known to most people in town.
Although for Cabrera, despite the fact his family were in the hospitality business, he did not make an initial play for bartending. He studied business at college due to his parents’ desire for him to carve a different path for himself than they.
The siren call from the bar was too loud: the stories of late nights, engaging guests and hilarious shifts made him reconsider his career. He left business school and went to train as a bartender in 1989 – the height of Cuba’s tourism boom – and remained there perfecting his craft until 2006.
It was at this point Cabrera brought the cantinero style to the US and, arguably, the wider world. After leaving Havana, he moved to first work in Mexico and Italy, before finally settling in Miami to open the bar at Chef Michelle Bernstein’s restaurant, Michy’s. In 2008, he left Michy’s to launch another Bernstein project, Sra. Martinez. While at Sra. Martinez, Cabrera’s focus on classic drinks served in the cantinero style brough a new vibe to South Beach and with it, a new generation of bartenders and bars.
His proceeding project, the 2013-lauched The Regent Cocktail Club, made his name. It garnered countless awards for its style of drinks and quality of service and, in a first for a US bartender, landed him on the cover of GQ magazine.
Then brought his magnum opus – Café La Trova – the bar which channels perfectly the cantinero tradition and the spirit of Cuba. Miami has never been the same since, for the bar produces serious volume with unimpeachable quality with an atmosphere that defines what it means to be an iconic drinking destination.
It is for these reasons, the support he provides to fellow bartenders and the wider craft of cocktail making that has seen Cabrera anointed with the Roku Industry Icon Award as part of North America’s 50 Best Bars 2023.
Discover more about the previous award winners