Bacardi Triangle – The Experience

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A few weeks ago in Puerto Rico Bacardi threw an almighty party, with some help from other lucky attendees we take a look at what it was all about.

Since our return from the island paradise of Puerto Rico people seem to have been confused about the nature of the whole Bacardi Triangle trip. The same question or variation thereof seems to keep cropping up – ‘Why?’Bacardi

I must admit it was a question that had occurred to me before jumping on the plane out of Heathrow. For those unfamiliar with the Bacardi Triangle concept here are the top line details we received beforehand.

1,862 guests (cunningly the date of the brands birth) from around the world fly to Puerto Rico for 3 nights in a 5 star hotel. There would be a huge Halloween party one night followed by 3 world renowned artists (Ellie Goulding, Calvin Harris and Kendrick Lamar) performing on a private island, in the middle of the Caribbean, on another.

Sounds pretty damn amazing right? But there was still that question.

Why?

This was a brand trip to a whole new level. A brand trip for consumers and the trade. This was, let’s not beat around the bush, not going to be cheap. What were Bacardi getting out of it?

It is that question that is at the heart of the ‘Why?’ issue. It is also the wrong question. What if Bacardi weren’t looking at this as an exercise of exposure? What if they just wanted to have a huge fucking party?

Cue the skeptics and naysayers, and yes of course they got something out of it (this is not the only article written about it after all) but at it’s heart Bacardi Triangle was one hell of a knees up.

It also makes sense for Bacardi as a brand. They were, after all, at the heart of some of the biggest shindigs in the last century, in Havana during Prohibition. The rich and well connected in the US jumped planes and jetted off to an exotic island to party, dance and drink rum. Sound familiar?

Bacardi, by its own admission, had stepped back from this image in recent years. Bacardi Triangle was about recapturing some of that excitement and party reputation.

As a result the answer to the ‘Why?’ is actually very simple. They can and they wanted to. For all you still shaking your head. All we can say is ‘You don’t know man…. You weren’t there’.

Dandelyan’s Iain Griffiths has certainly been on his fair share of brand trips and even a seasoned pro like him was surprised:

‘Bacardi Triangle was without exception the largest consumer or industry brand activation I’ve ever seen. Ignoring the glaringly obvious statement of money spent, the sheer volume of people willing and wanting to go to the other side of the world party with Bacardi was pretty spectacular to see.’

On With The Show

Right now we have that sorted let’s get on with the show, and holy gorilla testicles what a show it was. By the time we arrived at 10:30pm on the Thursday night the party was in full swing and standing on the balcony looking out over the main pools the magnitude became apparent.

There were 2 main stages with DJ’s playing some of the latest tunes from the hit parade surrounding 3 pools full of bodies bouncing in such unison I was worried a pool tsunami would ensue. All illuminated by a light show that the international space station was presumably enjoying as much as the bouncing crowd.

Despite all this visual viagra our eyes, and soon after bodies, were drawn to the bars. So many bars. It may have been 10:30 at night, but it was suitably hot and humid and there was only one drink to order to kick off the weekend….. a Pina Colada.

It looked just a spectacular during the day.

It looked just a spectacular during the day.

The bars were dotted around the whole hotel (which was so vast it had a funicular railway to take guests from the main buildings to the rooms) and although they all knocked out classic Bacardi cocktails they each had their own unique character.

However as we all know a bar can look as fancy and have as many amazing sounding drinks as it wants but even in the Caribbean it also needs gun bartenders. It was quickly becoming apparent that Bacardi hadn’t done anything by halves and the bar staff were no exception.

Every bar had top names from around the globe shaking, stirring, blending and dancing. Just some of the names included Zdenek Kastanek, Daniele Dalla Pola, Jamie Mac, Celia Schoonraad all working with Bacardi Brand Ambassadors from across the world.

Another one of the bar team, Steve Schneider, had this to say about the crew he was working with:

‘Bacardi did a great job of gathering a group of bartenders from all over the world and who are completely different, but come together as a family.’

One of the most popular bars was, unsurprisingly, the home of the after parties, The Edge. Who do you hand pick to work the after party bar? Mr After Party himself Steve:

‘Once it was set up, it was a lot of fun and easy to work.  Everyone on the island was happy, even when it rained. From a party standpoint, I couldn’t have thought of a better setting for such a great event.  It was very surreal to see 1,862 people so relaxed, happy and carefree.  They were easy to serve, as people having fun are always easiest to serve — give them a drink, a smile and a nod and their on their way.’

Steve may be underselling himself and fellow bartenders a little there. They all worked with very little sleep for several days yet didn’t miss a beat. Always smiling, always serving and always seemingly enjoying themselves as much as those partying despite having to serve the likes of Dub Dub at midnight.

They certainly kept Kevin Griffin happy:

‘A Scotsman (Adam Douglas, Merivale Group, Sydney) and an Irishman (Kevin Griffin, 1806, Melbourne) fly from Sydney, Australia to The Caribbean and walk into a bar … A Bacardi bar … in Peurto Rico ….at The Bacardi Triangle ….
There is no joke … just rum … lots of rum! Amazing people, partying in Paradise!
Thanks Bacardi, truly untameable!’

Day Time = More Playtime

Well at least it did at least for most people on the island. For the gang of merry journalists we got a couple of bonus experiences. Rosie Paterson’s way of spending the days certainly has it’s appeals however:

‘Lying in the pool with a Pina Colada in the sun thinking “this is my job!” I sent a picture of the pool to the guys working the saturday shift at Voodoo which was a bit cruel! It was an amazing hangover cure to get you ready for the night ahead.’  

Whilst Rosie was relaxing we were off to visit the Bacardi Distillery and what a vast and impressive distillery it is. Due to the size of the group and the various levels of knowledge on the distilling processes of our group it wasn’t the most immersive distillery tour BarLifeUK has ever been involved in, however what they did convey exceptionally well was the history of the brand.

Joaquin's bike. He road it to the party.... lad.

Joaquin’s bike. He road it to the party…. lad.

A highlight of the trip was the opportunity to meet a 5th generation Bacardi family member Joaquin Bacardi. He spoke very passionately about the company and also took questions including the one on everyone’s lips, asked by Olly Wehring of Just-Drinks, concerning Bacardi’s potential return to Cuba if/when the embargo is lifted.

‘Rest assured, when the embargo lifts, Bacardi is going to have a presence in Cuba again some day. There is absolutely no question of that.’ was his firm and honest reply. For his full answer to the question check out Olly’s piece on Just-Drinks here

As well as the distillery tour we were also privy to a cocktail masterclass by the one and only David Cordoba. This was particularly special as Bacardi Triangle was to be David’s swansong with the company as he announced his decision to move on just days later. It has been great getting to know David over the past few years and BarLifeUK wishes him all the best in his new ventures.

Make-up, Sweat and Ice

As fun as those side adventures were, it was the two big parties that everyone was really there for.

Halloween kicked it off and everyone really got into the swing of things with more make-up applied than a Loose Women screening and more dodgy outfits than a Madonna retrospective show. All taking place around yet another giant pool with more huge triangular DJ stages and bars, this was the Halloween party to end all others.

There were actors wandering around in full macabre garb, at one point pulling 3 of us into a tent to perform some sort of voodoo ritual which must have done something as I could have sworn I saw Rob Libecans dressed as a slice of bacon not half an hour later.

This pool was made for dancing... badly.

This pool was made for dancing… badly.

As the night went on we somehow found ourselves waist deep in the main pool dancing (if that is possible in a swimming pool – in retrospect it may have been hard distinguishing the ‘dance moves’ from an over 70’s aqua aerobics session) away until the early hours with a steady supply of Bacardi cocktails and the rather delicious Hatuey beer from Cuba.

The night ended in the jacuzzi close to our room (next to yet another pool) with a bottle of Bacardi 8 and Ellie Goulding…. okay so Ellie only walked by and didn’t actually get in, but she did say hello. Let a creepy uncle dream.

On any other trip that would have been the party highlight but as I stood on the sun-drenched balcony of our room the next morning an island glinted a couple of miles out to sea. The island was owned by the hotel and was to be the home for the closing party, a tingle went through my body, it could have been excitement, dread or reflux but whatever it was I was ready for it.

I always say it’s good to stretch before running a marathon so we popped along to one of the bars in the afternoon to have a Pina Colada or two courtesy of Zdenek and Daniele. Unsurprisingly these two weren’t doing things by half and after spraying the crowd with champagne the Pina’s came out in full tiki pineapple garb.

Fueled by the ‘power of the pina’ we headed for the boats which were to transport us to the island. The sun had set and huge coloured spotlights shone from the hotel into the darkness leading to the island. The atmosphere from the island could be felt even before it could be heard.

The dock was surrounded by flotilla of yachts moored to enjoy the show and inadvertently putting one on themselves as we arrived. The eyes and camera flashes were quickly drawn to the giant triangle shaped stage erected for the nights acts, it wouldn’t have looked out of place at Glastonbury.

It was at the main bar a few minutes after getting off the boat that the last few days came together. The bar was packed, it was three or four deep, everyone wanted a drink, the bartenders were going as quickly as they could but the sheer numbers coming off the boats was overwhelming. It was ripe for elbows, pushing in, scowls, frowns and annoyance.

Ellie bathed in purple

Ellie bathed in purple

There was none. Not a hint. In fact the opposite was happening. People were laughing, chatting to one another, politely pointing out someone had been waiting longer, joking with the bartenders. It was a microcosm of the trip.

They didn’t know each other, there was too many people for that, but Bacardi had managed to create an atmosphere in which that didn’t matter. I, possibly naively, would like to think that it would have been just like that in Havana all those years ago.

There was no time for nostalgic nonsense however as Ellie was about to hit the stage and we had to get involved. It is probably now that I should come clean, I called these acts ‘world renowned’ earlier. Truth be told I couldn’t pick them or their songs out of a line-up. It’s really not my thing but live music is always worth a go so I went in with open ears.

Ellie Goulding had participated in a Q&A on day one of the trip and had come across exceptionally well, that combined with our jacuzzi time together meant I was looking forward to her show the most. I still couldn’t tell you any of her songs but I could now definitely pick her out of a line-up, especially if she was slightly sweaty and jumping around a lot. She was full of energy and had the crowd in her palm.

Would you like ice with that?

By the time she finished we were exhausted and in need of more liquid. To the bar, where we unsurprisingly found Dub Dub, Gaz Evans and Rob Wood but missing were the Lyan boys. It appeared they had got bored drinking and had decided to pull a shift behind the bar.

Mocking was given, drinks were received and then it happened. We were in the Bermuda Triangle and for the first time its effects seemed to take hold. An unknown force rose and before the startled guests could adjust their position they were in the middle of a huge ice storm (fight).

Cubes were raining in from all angles (well from behind the bar at least) and bodies were diving for cover. Through the storm two grinning faces could be seen, Iain and Rob were having a ball.

getting Iced took on another meaning that night

getting Iced took on another meaning that night

The rest of the night was full of laughter, dancing, drinking and general merry making. I am no music reviewer but for the record my take on Kendrick Lamar was an angry man who swore a lot and Clavin Harris a man who stood on a very high platform and looked at his hands a lot. Luckily I wasn’t typical of the opinions of the crowd. Rosie loved it:

‘The acts were amazing, but Calvin Harris just made the night. The build up was great though, but when he started playing everyone went wild!!! I kept saying to the guys that I kept forgetting where i was, on a private island in the bermuda triangle listening to a world class DJ. How lucky are we?!?!’

Before we even knew what was happening the final boats were leaving the island and the trip was drawing to a close. It was so much more than I could have imagined.

A huge thanks to Jenny Choules for looking after our bunch of degenerates so well and to Olly, Jane and Hayley for adding to the whole experience. The bartenders were fantastic but the ultimate thanks need to go to Shervene Shahbazkhani, Metinee Kongsrivilai, Jacob Briars, David Cordoba, Lisa Jazwinski and the rest of the Bacardi team for putting on a trip I will never forget with an attention to detail never seen before.

The final words I will leave for Rosie:

‘All my hard work as a bartender has paid off for sure, it can take you anywhere! I will never ever forget it!’

 

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