Will the real Cuba Libra please stand up?

By Patrick Barney

Dateline 1959: the New Castle, Delaware, Farmers Market. I am staring down at a slice of pepperoni pizza oozing cheese & oil. Cuddled next to it is a chocolate-covered, cream-filled doughnut. But there is something missing. I realized they needed a complement of a cold rum & coke. Genius! The experience was delightful and I promised myself to make this a weekly feast. Later that evening, however, this great feast, part of my small intestine, and the paint from a 1957 Chevy car door was left in a small pile on the side of Delaware Route 3. Rum & coke would not pass my lips again for more than 50 years!

Interior of The ColumbianFast forward to 2011, St. Augustine, Florida. I am seated in a great Cuban restaurant called The Columbia on St. George Street. We are enjoying its signature salad, the Original “1905” Salad, mixed tableside with gems of julienne of baked ham, olives, cheeses, and a special garlic recipe. Suddenly my wife says, “This is an authentic Cuban restaurant. We have to have a real Cuba Libra.” My inner voice says, “Remember 1959 & Route 3.” But it’s been more than 50 years, so why not?

We ordered & devoured one. Then immediately ordered another to complement our entree, the Paella Campesina, which is a luscious combination of Valencia rice with tender bits of beef, pork, chicken, and chorizo. The evening witnessed maybe four Cuba Libres pass my lips as they uncovered the 50-year-old mistake: “It was not the rum but the doughnut!”Libra vs Libre: Cuba Libra (Spanish), Cuba Libre (English)

The true Cuba Libra recipe is simple
: white rum, Coca Cola, and lime. The softness of the white rum coupled with a “real coke” and its sweetness, cut by a real lime, produces a drink that is smooth & goes down oh so easy. Beware not every rum & coke is a Cuba Libra!

Since its inception in 1901 in Cuba, many variations have been come & gone. Have you tried any of these versions?

  • The Cuba Pintada (“stained Cuba”) is one part rum with two parts club soda and just enough cola so that it tints the club soda.
  • Cuba Libra served with ice and a lemon sliceThe Cuba Light, made with rum and Diet Coke.
  • The Witch Doctor, made with dark rum and Dr. Pepper.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis. Compared to a normal Cuba Libra, it uses higher proof rum, such as Bacardi 151 (75.5%).
  • In Venezuela they use “golden” or “dark” rum as opposed to white rum.
  • “The Gringo” takes white rum (Captain Morgan White Rum) and cherry or vanilla Coke.
  • Puerto Rico has a variation called “Spicy cherry” or “Spicy vanilla” that is made of spiced rum, cherry coke or vanilla coke, and garnished with a lime
  • In Poland, when it is mixed using Burn and rum, it is called a Poland Libra. This is because Burn is a popular drink to mix in Poland and the drink turns red (the primary color of Poland’s flag).

Entrance to Cuba Cafe Tapas & BarBut, I am a purest and to me there is only one real Cuba Libra. Luckily, I found another great one in Las Vegas at the Cuba Cafe Restaurant2055 E Tropicana Ave.

We combined this memorable drink with a real “Cuba Sandwich”.

Patrick & Sam enjoying their Cuban sandwiches.Ingredients:
4 slices of ham
4 slices roast pork
3 slices of Swiss cheese
3 or 4 pickle slices
Yellow mustard (not spicy or Dijon)
1/3 cut Cuban bread hard crust
Grilled & flattened, not panni style

This restaurant is on our “must return” list and it should be on yours. Sleek out an authentic Cuban restaurant near you and learn what a real Cuba Libra is!


Patrick invites you to discover the tastiest culinary travel adventures in the United States and around the world through 4 Culinary Adventures’ Culinary PackagesCulinary CruisesFood & Wine Festivals, and Weekends 4 Foodies. And remember, your Weekend 4 Foodies can happen in the middle of the week. Any time is time to Travel, Eat, Learn.

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