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come and go. A new infusion will likely replace the last hot
infusion. Tequila drinkers are rapidly upgrading to anejos.
The Mojito craze wilts annually with the season and the
Negroni is the new Dark ‘n Stormy, say some trend trackers.
Maybe Pulitzer Prize winning poet Robert Frost put it best
when he mused that “Nothing gold can stay.” Needless to say,
opening a theme bar is a tricky venture. You have to draw
the line between trend and transcendent, between excessive
and impressive. RumBa, the rum and champagne bar that opened
in November in the spanking-new InterContinental Boston on
the Fort Point Channel, is not about capitalizing on The
Latest Thing. The place strikes a balance: While it
showcases a product that’s experiencing rapid growth in the
luxury sector of the spirits market, RumBa – which launched
with a list featuring 85 rums – is a lively and stylish
shrine to a cornerstone of our American heritage, or, to be
more specific, New England heritage.

These days, rum
is commonly known as the native spirit of the Caribbean and
a staple of Latin American nightlife, but countless
historians have documented how rum actually instigated the
American Revolution that led to our independence from
England. For a good part of the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, “Medford Rum” was as implicit a term as Kentucky
Bourbon is today. Between 1817 and 1893, the stretch of
Riverside Avenue between Medford Square and Route 93 was
known as “Distill House Lane”. The Medford Historical
Society’s website (
chronicles the rise and fall of the prominent Hall and
Lawrence families’ distilleries. Medford, though, was only
one of New England’s rum producing hubs. In A History of the
World in Six Glasses, Tom Standage writes that rum
distilleries in Boston grew from eight in 1738 to 63 in
175O. But we’ll get more into the history lesson a bit

George Wright,
the Boston nightlife impresario who opened Whiskey Park and
whose most recent venture was opening Foundation Lounge in
Kenmore Square, was poached by the InterContinental to be
Director of Outlets. One of RumBa’s highlights is a
champagne lounge – a private room with extravagant
chandeliers made of Prague crystal, tufted leather walls and
plush couches. Although the pleasure principal and luxurious
aesthetic draw you in, you inevitably end up learning a
thing or two about the ole’ “kill-divil” (a little pet name
island natives had for rum) when you belly up to the shiny
pewter bar.

barstools start filling up at 4pm and, says Wright, the spot
“rocks until 2am”. The staff is knowledgeable and able to
recommend an aged rum that could astonish even those who
wouldn’t typically call themselves rum drinkers. RumBa’s rum
menu and cocktail list is printed on paper with faded images
of antique nautical maps. Yes, you may see a shadow of a
pirate ship or two, but it only takes a quick scan of the
scores of rums and the elaborate flavor notes that accompany
each to realize the very modern sophistication of the stuff.
RumBa’s rum collection is one of the largest in the country,
if not the world. The list features the usual suspects, like
Myers, Pyrat, Moet Hennessy’s recently introduced 1O Cane
(from Trinidad), a wide range of Puerto Rican Bacardi rums,
and Mount Gay products spanning from the amber-colored
Eclipse ($9) to the Tricentennial ($75), which is made with
three of Mount Gay’s finest vintages. The company only
produced 3OOO bottles in honor of its 3OOth anniversary. But
the menu goes on for pages and is divided up by producing
countries – Guatemala, Haiti, Martinique, St. Croix,
Nicaragua, Grenada, Mexico and Brazil. While most rums are
listed at $9 to $15, RumBa stocks some vintage bottles,
mostly collectors’ items, that fetch in the quadruple
digits. One afternoon in December when I met with Wright, a
bottle of British Royal Navy Imperial Rum had just arrived
in elaborate packaging. Within a wicker container was a
wax-sealed bottle and intricately detailed instructions on
how to open. The bottle was covered in hyperbolic
proclamations, like “Rum without equal”, “A coelacanth among
spirits”, “A style thought lost forever”. The single bottle
will run a customer $2OOO retail.

“People like to
be in-the-know,” says Rene van Camp, Corporate Beverage
Director for InterContinental Hotels in America. He helped
launch RumBa once Jean Pierre Etcheberrigaray, Vice
President of Food and Beverage for the Americas, developed
the concept. The hotel group has made a mark on the
hospitality industry by developing theme bars for its
hotels. They go all out to find the most elite items when
stocking the bar and each establishment is designed to
accent its specialty. Van Camp estimates that about 65
percent of the hotel bars’ guests are travelers and are
accustomed to seeing the same thing again and again. “People
want to sit at the bar and broaden their knowledge,” he
says, pointing to the success of XO, the cognac bar in the
IC Buckhead in Atlanta. A grappa bar is in the works for an
Italian-style restaurant planned for the IC Mascone Center,
slated to open in San Francisco 2OO8. When they were
considering something authentic for the Boston market, rum
made the most sense, said van Camp.

“in-the-know” implies understanding what makes a certain
product or bottling so pricey, which in a broader sense
means understanding an industry – how a product is made, its
heritage. “If you’re going to sell high end products, it’s a
good thing to tell a story,” says van Camp. RumBa’s design
illustrates the story of the rum industry as it flourished
in the tropics and Latin America. The space is flecked with
stylishly antique accents, many of which are a nod to
characteristic elements of rum-producing hubs. The dramatic
lighting evokes a seaside sunset, the elaborately brocaded
couch cushions have wavelike designs that suggest the ocean,
and a mockup of an old rum still is on display above the
beer taps. Wright says they’re awaiting the arrival of an
antique sugar press. Helen Douglas, the hotel’s director of
food and beverage director who grew up in Grenada, says
she’s struck by the reams of chicken wire encasing display
shelves above the bar. The wiry material was ubiquitous on
property in St. David’s Island, where she lived as a child.
Since she came to Boston from InterContinental Aphrodite
Hills Hotel and Resort in Cypress to open the new outlet,
she’s been pushing the cocktails, which were developed with
help from Francesco LaFranconi, director of mixology for
Southern Wine and Spirits, the country’s largest
distributor. The signature drink is the Rumbullion, a
tribute to the spirit’s early and now obsolete moniker. The
word is also defined as “a great tumult or uprising”, so it
also serves as an allusion to the colonialists’ measures to
achieve independence. The cocktail list favors smaller
boutique crafted rums. The Avenida, for instance, is made
with St. Clement Rhum from Martinique. And the Appleton
Reserve goes into their Mai Tai. Douglas, though, is partial
to the Tangerine Mojito, which is mixed with Matusalem
Classico. But she also likes to brandish some hometown pride
and recommend Westerhall, which is produced on St. David’s.
“It’s fun for me to experiment – and to recommend rum from
my homeland. It’s fun to be in the New England area and have
bottles exported from an island with a population of

With vodka bars
in so many cities and beer gardens easy to come by, some
players in the global rum industry see this kind of place a
long time in coming. “By having such a quality
establishment, it’s a test that rum is a spirit that should
be taken seriously. It also provides wonderful atmosphere at
which to experiment with different rums – specifically aged
rums,” said Malcolm Gosling, a seventh-generation rum maker
and CEP of Gosling-Castle Partners, Inc. He has offices in
Boston and New York as well as Bermuda, where Gosling’s is
produced. He says with rum being the second largest-selling
spirit in the US, aged rums are attracting attention from
critics and consumers. “For many years, rum was the spirit
of the pirates and sailors and because a lot of rums came
from countries that maybe aren’t sophisticated with
marketing and packaging, [rum] may not have not been
conceived as the quality spirit it is,” he said. “But that’s
changing with global companies taking over distilleries and
taking over brands and putting their special touch to
brands’ images. It’s not as though rum has gotten better.
It’s gotten better packaged, in many cases. The consumer who
thinks he has distinctive taste and discerning palate is
realizing rums deliver a tremendous tasting

For those who
don’t already claim connoisseurship, a specialty bar is just
the place to develop it. Any rum will at least draw people
to the category. If consumers are younger, the hope, says
Gosling, is that as their palate gets more sophisticated,
they’ll stay loyal to the category and experience finer aged
products. “Talking about aged rums has become a focus, so it
makes perfect sense to have a bar themed about. And rum fits
right into [Boston’s] history,” says Gosling. His
company is, of course, always looking forward, as well. He
says they’re presently in discussion with the
InterContinental to use Gosling’s in recipes in the

story starts with the its physical location, a
stone’s throw from where the Boston Tea Party
happened in 1773. While the Tea Party may have been
the final straw that led to the colonies’
independence from Britain, the protest movement
actually started to stir in 1733, when the British
passed the Molasses Act that imposed an excessive
duty on molasses that North Americans imported from
foreign (read: French) islands. The colonists were
forced to get molasses from British islands, since
their exports were duty-free. That would grant
Brits a cut of the profitable Triangular Trade that
fueled rum production – and slavery. In simplified
terms, slaves were taken from the West Indies to
work in the sugar cane fields and produce sugar,
the byproduct of which is molasses. Molasses was
transported to New England to produce rum, which
was then used as currency in Africa to acquire more
slaves who were brought to the West Indies to start
the vicious cycle again.

to say, the colonists railed against the new
restrictions, especially since the French molasses
was more plentiful and better in quality than that
from the British Isles. Smuggling became de rigueur
and gave the colonists a sense that they could get
away with rebellion. Forty years later when tea was
taxed, the colonists took immediate action. Once
Beverage Director Rene van Camp and company had
conceived the idea for a rum bar, they consulted
with historian Evan Diamond, a high school history
teacher and PhD candidate at Harvard. He lives in
Boston and specializes in the history of the rum
trade. They commissioned him to write a paper
summarizing how rum became a cornerstone of
economic prosperity in Colonial New England. His
findings flout New England’s puritanical
underpinnings and explain the growth of the
spirit’s popularity. Citing Charles Taussig’s 1928
history, Rum, Romance, and Rebellion, he writes:
“The thirst for rum grew quickly in New England. It
rapidly replaced applejack and beer as the drink of
choice by the end of the seventeenth century. ‘One
may assume, and with considerable authority, that
rum drinking in the northern colonies was an
important supplement to the general activities of
the people. It provided a pleasant and convenient
means of escape from the harsh realities of their
existence.’ Northern colonists in general lived a
hard, pious and austere lifestyle although the
consuming of alcohol was readily accepted by