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Tampa bar Mojito shakes up Latin cocktails with caipirinhas, pisco sours

It's common for countries to have a national spirit — Russia has vodka; France, cognac; Korea, soju; Greece, ouzo — but many Latin and South American countries identify more strongly with a particular cocktail than with base ingredients.

There often tends to be some contention over who originally created a cocktail, and where. While Cuba's association with the mojito is only rarely disputed, and Brazil can claim the cachaça-based caipirinha as its own, there is a war between Peru and Chile over pisco.

I'll summarize as briefly as possible: Chile and Peru both claim to have invented pisco, a brandy made from regional grapes; both claim the most famous pisco-based cocktail, the pisco sour, as their own and have lobbied for exclusive rights to call it their national cocktail. Peruvian pisco is undiluted and produced in small batches, while Chilean pisco is diluted to bottle-strength and produced on a much larger scale.

As interesting as this whole pisco business is, it's even more interesting to find a bar that actually stocks it. That's where Mojito comes in. This South Tampa restaurant and lounge is connected to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and it's one heck of a hotel bar. The focus here is on the national cocktails of various Latin and South American countries.

From the outside, Mojito is as fresh as the cocktail it's named after — white walls, frosted lime-green glass and a breezy lounge area. Inside, a sprawling lounge filled with young professionals wraps around a brushed-copper top horseshoe bar. Occasionally, live musicians perform; at other times, upbeat salsa music plays in the background.

Two versions of the pisco sour are on the menu here, one more traditional and one with an infusion of fruit. Unsurprisingly, Peru and Chile also disagree on the recipe — the main difference between the two is that Peruvians use lime juice, while Chileans use lemon juice. The rest is generally made up of pisco, a sweetener, and egg whites, with an optional addition of Angostura bitters on top.

I don't eat (or drink!) eggs, so I ordered mine without — a legitimate option, as Chilean pisco sours are often served without egg, and the original recipe didn't call for any to begin with. The Mojito version is closer to the Peruvian recipe, but it uses Capel Pisco, which comes from Chile, so perhaps it's the best of both worlds. The result is a very tart and refreshing drink, like a South American Tom Collins — just the kind of thing I want to be consuming in this weather.

Some truly creative signature drinks also grace the menu, many pulling from the bar's impressive selection of rums, tequilas and even mezcal. Many high-end and uncommon spirits are stocked here; the variety of rum alone makes Mojito worth a look.

But if you happen to order a pisco sour while you're there, try to do so diplomatically — nearby Peruvians or Chileans may be listening.

Mojito Restaurant and Lounge

5303 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa; (813)405-1155;

The vibe: A Latin-themed restaurant and lounge with a unique drink list and live music.

Food: Sides and appetizers, $3-$13; entrées, $12-$24; desserts, $6-$7.

Booze: Beer, $4-$6; wine, $6-$15 by the glass, $26-$80 by the bottle; liquor, $7-$10 for most drinks, with top-shelf items such as Pyrat Cask 1623 going for as much as $55. Happy hour is 4 to 8 p.m. daily, featuring $3 and $4 beers and $5 house wines and cocktails.

Specialty: Latin cocktails are the specialty here, from the pisco sours of Peru and Chile to Cuba's mojito and Brazil's caipirinha. These are a good starting point, but make sure to also check out the signature house cocktails, such as the Ybor-inspired Hav-A-Tampa — a blend of Cruzan's spiced and black-strap molasses rums with vanilla-spice liqueur and tobacco bitters — or the Sunday Tampa Bay, which infuses Cigar City's Jai Alai IPA with Avión Silver tequila and fresh lime juice.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday, noon to 3 a.m. Saturday, noon to 1 a.m. Sunday.

Tampa bar Mojito shakes up Latin cocktails with caipirinhas, pisco sours 03/29/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 29, 2012 12:56pm]
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