Sean Muldoon on BlackTail’s revolutionary menu

26 July, 2018

The new menu of New York-based Cuban-American bar BlackTail launches in September. It is the bar’s most ambitious yet, telling the story of the Cuban Revolution.

Though this is not the history you've read about. It is told through the eyes of women and features essays from the daughters of Che Guevara and Raúl Castro along with Cuban author and archavist Lincoln Cushing. It's a history book but also a drinks list, each cocktail - created by head bartender Jesse Vida and his team - drawing inspiration and name from the story of the revolution.

Hamish Smith spoke with BlackTail’s co-owner and creative-mastermind, Sean Muldoon, about how this revolutionary menu came about.

HS: For those that haven't been to BlackTail, tell us about the menus.

SM: We're just about to launch the third and final BlackTail menu of the series about Cuba from 1922-1959. The first menu was about Cuba during Prohibition and the influx of American bartenders and celebrities who settled and hung out there. The second menu was about the Mafia, the dictator Fulgencio Batista and the exploitation and corruption that took place. The third menu, which we've just finished, is about the Revolution and it launches in September. 

HS: It's a comprehensive piece of work. How long was it in the making?

SM: Work began on this menu a year and a half ago, right as we were doing our second BlackTail menu. It is the most ambitious menu we’ve done in that I'm well aware some people were against the Cuban Revolution and anything to do with Castro. The truth is, it's a story that has to be told. You can't tell the story of the mafia, which we did in the second menu, without telling the story of the revolution.

HS: But you’ve approached the history of the Revolution through an alternative lens – what made you look at the role of women in the Cuban Revolution?

SM: To do it through Cuban women's eyes was the idea of our artist. He suggested this to us long before the recent gender issues and the #metoo movement really came under the spotlight. He genuinely felt the story of the women fighters hadn't been told and that was the best way of telling the story of the Revolution. It was also his idea to get the two daughters on board. 

HS: I’m not sure anyone has gone to the lengths you have to create a cocktail menu. How did you get Aleida Guevera March and Mariela Castro Espin to guest-write for a cocktail menu?

SM: Myself, the artist, our copy editor, and designers back in Belfast were involved in it. The artist reached out to Lincoln Cushing [a Cuban author] directly, and I made contact with Mariela [Castro Espin] and Aleida [Guevara March] through two contacts I have, one Cuban, one American. It was a very laborious process that involved meeting with Mariela in Cuba in May last year, plus countless emails and WhatsApp conversations. A translator was also involved in translating the two essays from the two women, and acted as an intermediary. We used models for the artwork, and obviously Jesse and the team did the drinks. 

To see the menu in full. Click here.

Digital Edition

Drinks International digital edition is available ahead of the printed magazine. Don’t miss out, make sure you subscribe today to access the digital edition and all archived editions of Drinks International as part of your subscription.


La'Mel Clarke

Service isn’t servitude: the skill of hosting

La’Mel Clarke, front of house at London’s Seed Library, looks at the forgotten art of hosting and why it deserves the same respect as bartending.