There’s nothing more disappointing than opening the menu at that hot new spot to find a gorgeous international spread accompanied by dull, domestic drinks. Gustazo Cuban Restaurant & Cafe, which has just opened their second location in Cambridge, has sidestepped this snare by hiring a local mercenary mixologist to curate their cocktail list. Sam Treadway is the owner and head sorcerer at Somerville’s delightfully oddball cocktail speakeasy backbar. He’s taken the helm behind the stick at Gustazo, training the staff and designing drinks that reflect the restaurant’s dedication to authentic Cuban flavors and ingredients without sacrificing innovation for tradition.
Below, we grabbed a few minutes of his time to discuss the project and find out what you should get excited about [edited for clarity].
How did you get involved with Gustazo, and what drew you to take on this project specifically?
The owners, Adolfo and Patricia, had come into my bar a few times and they casually asked for some advice on opening and running a bar (because their Waltham location doesn’t have a physical bar). I jokingly said I could give them a little bit of friendly advice over the bar, or they could hire me as a consultant and I could help create their bar program. After trying the food at Gustazo Waltham, and hanging out a bit more with the husband/wife duo, I got really excited about the flavors I’d be playing with as well as utilizing the rich history of Cuban Cantineros history (that’s “bartender” for all you non Spanish-speakers).
It’s a Cuban joint, so everyone’s expecting daiquiris and Cuba Libres. Are you cleaving to the tried-and-true (and delicious) standards, or should patrons expect backbar-level experimentation?
A little bit of both. We’re definitely going to have Mojitos and refreshing drinks that will pair well with the food menu, but I’ll make sure there are some fun and interesting twists as well as training the staff to be creative on the fly with a strong background in the classics.
What’s the drink you’re most excited about on this menu?
Really tough to pick just one, but my favorite drinks are my Mango Mojito featuring Kleos, because the herbaceous mastiha (think pine resin) flavor pairs great with bright mango. On the other hand, I love the “Banana for Prez” with aged rum, Giffard Banana Liqueur, lime-infused dry vermouth, and a cumin and paprika tincture to spice up this variant on the classic El Presidente.
Are there any Cuban ingredients (spirituous or otherwise) you were looking forward to diving into for this project? Any new ones you discovered?
The rum list that Adolfo has picked out is truly amazing, so I’m very excited about the rums! We’ll have some pretty incredible private tastings to enjoy all that Cuba has to offer. But other flavors popular in the Caribbean like guanábana and tamarind are great to play around with.
What’s your favorite Cuban cuisine/cocktail pairing?
We have a mezcal, red pepper and papaya drink that will pair beautifully with the spicy pork dishes on the menu.