For destinations that are economically dependent on tourism, the aftermath of a natural disaster can stretch far beyond physical destruction. It’s been more than a year since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, and while the full extent of the damages and recovery needs are still being realized, the island’s vibrancy is returning due in large part to the dedication of its hospitality industry. It’s this local industry, creating a distinctive drinks culture, that made Puerto Rico one of our Destinations to Visit in the 2019 Imbibe 75 issue.
Roberto Berdecia, co-owner of La Factoría, witnessed firsthand the impact that a disaster has on the service industry. “A lot of hard-working Puerto Ricans in the service industry left the island,” says Berdecia. “The majority came back, but a lot of them didn’t. Hotels, restaurants and bars all closed down. It was a tough year.”
La Factoría was fortunate to avoid having to close, and Berdecia says the most important reason they stayed open during the recovery was their staff. “It was very important for us that no more restaurants, hotels and bars closed their doors.” For those not as lucky, fellow hospitality workers pitched in to help in any way they could.
“I have friends in the service industry who went out looking for donations to help the ones that didn’t have many resources,” adds Berdecia. “I met groups of people who would get up very early every morning to cook so they could send food to the places that needed it. People would go out and help others clean, paint and re-establish themselves. It was amazing to see how the community and the service industry helped each other.”
And now, the service industry will gather together as Tales of the Cocktail brings their annual Tales on Tour to Puerto Rico in March. “What struck us when we were visiting Puerto Rico is that there is probably no amount of money we could generate, given our size, that would really have a great amount of impact,” says Gary Solomon Jr., co-chair of the Tales board. “But what we could do was help in the mission of letting the world know that Puerto Rico is back open for business. Who better a conduit for sharing that message than people who truly understand hospitality?”
The three-day event will bring bartenders and industry leaders from all over the world to participate in the conference, educational events, and a day of service in the community. “The word ‘global’ is in our mission for a reason because we feel like we have an obligation and a responsibility to everyone in the spirits and hospitality community,” says Solomon. “Being New Orleanians ourselves who went through a disaster in a city built on hospitality, we felt a real calling to do this. It was visitors from all over the world that helped rebuild New Orleans.”
Those visiting for the event and beyond will find a flourishing drinks scene once again taking root. “There new places open now, places that redesigned for a new presentation, and places with new menus,” says Berdecia. Spots include the new mobile coctelería Caneca, restaurant and bar Almaviva, and a growing craft beer scene with popular spots like microbrewery Ocean Lab and beer bar El Tap. “Even the agriculture is normal again, so we can finally use ingredients in season!” says Berdecia, who will host the opening-night party at La Factoría. “I wanted to see the island full again, to see friends that I missed. I want to let the service industry, from around the world, know that we are ready to roll again. Tales on Tour is an incredible opportunity for us.”
Solomon even hopes the event might have another, longer-lasting impact as well. “A lot of times you talk to people who live in New Orleans and they say, ‘I came down here to help after Katrina, and I fell in love with it and I stayed.’ Maybe one day, 10 years from now, we’ll go to Puerto Rico and someone behind a bar will serve us a drink and they’re gonna say, ‘You know, I came down here for Tales and I never left!’ That would be an amazing story.”
Did you enjoy this article? Get more of the best of liquid culture when you sign up for a print or digital subscription to Imbibe Magazine. Click here for special savings!