The definitive guide to the finest drinking experiences

The World Class 50: The Definitive Drinking Guide features 50 of the most innovative and talented bartenders from across the globe. Each bartender showcases the perfect location, the most inventive cocktail and the finest of ingredients and spirits that define the 'must have' fine drinking experience in their city.

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Mario Seijo’s Ketel One Vramble

Mario Seijo represented Puerto Rico at the World Class Bartender of the Year final, 2013

Santaella is the restaurant opened two years ago by well-established chef José Santaella, who produces international dishes with a touch of Puerto Rico (most of the ingredients come fresh from the market across the street). It is located in Santurce, a lively residential and commercial barrio on a peninsula of San Juan. The atmosphere itself is elegant and personable, but the space retains a raw urban feel with walls and floors left unpainted. Mario Seijo Rivera was coaxed to Santaella by Leslie Cofresí, World Class champion on the island in 2012, and hasn’t looked back. ‘What’s pretty special is that both the bar and kitchen are very good and work extremely well in tandem,’ says Mario, ‘so it’s a well balanced proposal.’

The Bartender

Behind the smile Mario, regional winner of World Class Latin America and the Caribbean, is a bartender who takes his craft and his research very seriously. ‘I learn the history behind cocktails, where they come from, why they were made,’ explains Mario, 31, ‘you can then take a formula and play with it.’ This could be with substituting a gin for tequila, or vodka for an aged whisky, or by incorporating fresh local fruits such as mango, guava and tamarind. It took Mario a while to move into the industry, despite having two elder brothers in the profession: ‘I wanted to be a DJ, but it turns out that I mix drinks a lot better than music. Now I want to do it for the rest of my life.’ Married to bartender Natasha Velez (La Factoria), Mario looks forward to them opening a place together in the future.

The Drink

Mario got the inspiration for the Ketel One Vramble on a trip to Miami. His host Julio Cabrera took him to his bar, the Regent Cocktail Club, where one of the bartenders, Danny Valdez, made him a Bramble cocktail. ‘It was amazing, I fell in love with it.’ explains Mario, ‘It’s simple, but so fresh, perfect for Puerto Rico where it’s basically summer all year.’ Mario uses local limes and a homemade cinnamon-infused syrup to add a Puerto Rican twist to Dick Bradsell’s original, London’s Fred’s Club classic from 1984.

The Technique

Ketel One Citroen • 45ml
Cinnamon-infused simple syrup • 15ml
Fresh lime juice • 15ml
Lemon soda • 15ml
Five blackberries
A cinnamon stick
Contains 15 grams of alcohol per serve

Muddle three blackberries in a tall glass. Add crushed ice, the cinnamon-infused simple syrup and citrus juice. Add the Ketel One. Top off with more crushed ice. Top with the citrus soda. Garnish with the remaining blackberries and the cinnamon stick.

Head to Santaella for an early supper, and order a Ketel One Vramble while you wait. ‘And choose a hot afternoon’, Mario advises, ‘with friends and when the heat is at its peak’.

If you feel like a quieter time head towards the back of the restaurant, if you want to see what’s going on sit in the saloon, which has a huge window overlooking the garden. If you are a true cocktail geek there’s a booth right opposite the bar where you can spy what the bartenders are making.

Images by Buena Mesa Magazine

Mario’s Insider’s Guide to San Juan

Place to stay
The Gallery Inn

Place to lounge
Factoria La Sance

Place to Dance
Monday evenings at La Respuesta

Place to visit
Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico

Place to see
Old San Juan