Interview with Julio Cabrera, owner and barman of Cafe La Trova
What was it like coming from the world of cocktails in Cuba and settling in Miami? To have the success you have with Café La Trova, which is one of the 21 best bars in the world. How did you take it? Did you imagine this achievement when you were young?
Not really, I didn't even dream of it. It was something I never imagined that all these things could have happened. My dream was always to be a bartender wherever I was but I became a good bartender and then in all the countries where I have been I have been lucky enough to work with people who have helped me and I have always wanted to surpass myself. Beyond that, I never imagined it would be like this, where all this has come to. And also having a bar like the one I have and an incredible team is part of the success.
I always wanted to have my own, a small café, I never imagined these dimensions! But well, things have been happening little by little and I'm very happy.
The bartending career is already a profession, at least in Europe, and also in the United States. What is missing in Latin American countries so that young people who aspire to and like bartending can dedicate themselves to it and make a living out of it?
Passion, when you have passion for something that makes you happy you can do it for the rest of your life, beyond a job for which you earn money, it is something that really fills you with happiness.
Particularly in Cuba, when you become a bartender at 18, you know that you can continue to be a bartender for the rest of your life. Over there it's called Cantinero, you have to study and pay for your studies and then you go to the bars.
When you have passion, you can do anything! I've been a bartender for 33 years, that doesn't matter.
¿Would you like Café La Trova to be a bartender school?
We are, in fact the school is here. We have two protectors and behind the bar is the school. I teach from time to time. We are a place that is dedicated to teaching the Miami Bartender community. This place was created as a school and then it became a bar.
¿Why Café La Trova?
Because the most important thing in La Trova is the music, everything revolves around the live music that we have 7 days a week. The music we play is La Trova, in Cuba the traditional Cuban music is called La Trova.
I always wanted to have a place that would promote the Cuban bartender, the cocktails and that all of this would revolve around the music. The show, the night and the whole trova tour is based on it.
If you came to trova what cocktail would you drink and what dish would you try?
That's hard to decide as all the drinks are very good. They all have a purpose depending on whether you come to eat or if you come afterwards, each cocktail has its different specifications and depends on the mood of the person at that moment. For example, if you come before lunch, I would recommend a citrus one, an aperitif. But if you come after eating, I might recommend a Martini, a negroni, a Presidente or a Cuban Manhattan.
In terms of dishes I think the same, all the dishes are very good and it depends on the mood of the person.
How did the idea for La Trova come about? What did you do before?
I am an agricultural engineer, specializing in coffee and citrus fruits in the mountains of Cuba. I wasn't very happy with my profession, I spent every day in the fields. I love music and interacting with people, which is why I decided to move to school. Then I became a teacher at the same school and years later, I studied Hotel Management in Europe.
I also worked as a bartender in several hotels and was a representative of a Cuban brand in Italy. I was always traveling until I decided to settle outside Cuba because I had already reached the limit of what I could achieve there, I wanted to be a bartender in another country. Then I went to Mexico and years later I settled in Miami.
I knew that the United States was the place where you can achieve many things and so, three years after arriving, I had already won international championships and as a bartender I managed to reach a certain level and begin to represent the United States. So many good things happened, all these accumulated good experiences and everything I was achieving in this country encouraged me to open my own bar, the way I wanted and envisioned. That is what led me to open Café La Trova.
¿Is your visualization as it is or maybe something is missing?
Absolutely nothing is missing. The way it opened nothing has changed, it is exactly as I envisioned it.
¿In the future will you see Café La Trova outside of Miami?
At the moment I don't think so, I think this concept is unique and can't be done again. I could do it in another country, I could do the same construction and I could do the same design, but the people would not be the same.
The musicians, the bartenders and the staff are unique here, you couldn't replicate the same feeling anywhere else.
Are you excited to know that the mojito is the best-selling drink in the world being completely Cuban?
Yes, I am very excited! It's the best seller here, it has a lot of refreshing elements; mint flavors, citrus flavors and it has a lot of things when it's done well. It's a good cocktail.
To conclude... tell us how you would invite people to come and experience your Café, why is the trova a place that every person who visits Miami should go to?
Miami is a cosmopolitan city, people from all over the world live there, mostly Cubans. Café La trova is everything that is important to Cuban culture, everything that matters to a Cuban. We are a place where we did things in an authentic, genuine way and respecting the tradition of the 40's and 50's in Cuba.
You should come to La Trova because it has very good live music, independent musicians playing 7 days a week. Also, the food is made by one of the best chefs in the world: Michelle Bernstein. The cocktails are mine, and they are very good. I have been doing this job for many years and the cocktails are great. Also, the coffee shop is very good, we make great coffee.
When you combine everything, all these elements are the most important for Cuban and Latin culture, it generates an incredible experience. Café la trova is a place to visit because you really live an experience. Beyond listening to music, having drinks, tasting a dish, you live a unique Cuban experience. An experience of the feeling and the vibe that you are able to feel in this bar, which is the energy.
Trova is not to measure, it is to feel, it is an energy!