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Crossing Borders 

Reinventing a Cuban classic at Seviche

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"My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita …" famed mojito enthusiast Ernest Hemingway once wrote. Although the legendary La Bodeguita bar is still open today in Havana, travel to Cuba can be difficult.  Luckily, Pittsburghers seeking a mojito have an easier alternative.

Downtown's Seviche boasts a deep list of South and Central American-themed cocktails. Some, like the caipirinha and pisco sour, are made in a traditional style. Seviche's mojito list, however, purposefully toys with tradition.

"We are a Nuevo Latino bistro, so we try to infuse classic ideas with new concepts," says bartender Evan Varrato. "Spicy, sweet stuff, savory … everything's represented."

The classic mojito is a relatively straightforward concoction. The International Bartenders Association instructs three sprigs of fresh mint are to be muddled with one ounce of lime juice and two teaspoons of sugar. Then, 1.25 ounces of white rum are added and the mix is topped with soda water.

But the mojito has always been about rewriting tradition.

According to rum-distilling company Bacardi -- which is credited with popularizing the mojito -- British pirate Richard Drake created a cocktail called The Draque, in Cuba in the late-1500s. The Draque was a simple mix of aquardiente ("the crude forerunner of rum"), sugar, lime and mint. Rum itself was a relatively new ingredient, first distilled in the mid-1600s and increasingly popular once sugar barons realized they could turn a profit by fermenting molasses. 

 "When aquardiente was replaced with rum," Cuban playwright and poet Federico Villoch declared in 1940, "the Draque was to be called a Mojito."

At Seviche, classic mojitos are served alongside mango mojitos ($9) and strawberry-mimosa mojitos ($9). The chipotle mojito ($10) eschews rum altogether, replacing it with a spicy Hangar One chipotle-infused vodka. 

Although the idea of messing with a classic might offend purists, it's a winning formula for Seviche. "It might not be something that you're accustomed to drinking," Varrato says. But, "it's been well received by virtue of being a good drink."

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