While the bar exudes mid-century vibes of the Mediterranean, the cocktail selection is decidedly local.
Tucked away inside Eden Roc Cap Cana, a secluded beachfront resort in Dominican Republic’s exclusive Cap Cana enclave is a surprise: the Riva Bar, not the usual Caribbean-themed watering hole, but a tribute to the sleek, sexy speedboat Riva Aquamara. Known as the Ferrari of the boating world, the Riva Aquamara was the epitome of glamour (“sun, sea, joie de vivre” was its irresistible ad slogan when it launched in 1962.) Sophia Loren, naturally, owned one; James Bond smoothly piloted the iconic pleasure boat in GoldenEye.
Mahogany panels on the Riva Bar’s walls mimic the boat’s glossy wooden hull, while the leather bar stools are the precise zingy turquoise of the Aquamara’s seats and padded sundeck. A gleaming two-foot replica of a Riva Aquamara perches jauntily on the counter; a bossa nova version of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” pulses in the background.
While the bar evokes the golden age of the Cote d’Azur and Portofino, its offerings are decidedly local. All produce in the drinks — passionfruit, lemon, pineapple, coconut, and herbs — is sourced right from the island. Along with signature cocktails such as Rivas & Med (gin with a ruby blend of Luxardo maraschino liqueur, raspberry and strawberry syrup, and a splash of balsamic vinegar), bar manager Ezequiel Huerta says that no one can leave the island without trying Mama Juana, as ubiquitous in the DR as Presidente beer.
Mama Juana’s history dates to pre-colonial times. Originally made as a medicinal elixir for aches and pains by the Tainos, the indigenous people of the Dominican Republic, it’s a blend of bark from local trees, herbs, dark rum, honey, red wine, fruits, herbs, and spices. “Mama Juana is also known to be…” Huerta pauses delicately. “..a bit of an aphrodisiac.”
Early Spanish explorers are said to have mixed European alcohol with the Tainos’ herbal tea. During the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, the sale of Mama Juana was prohibited, except by those with a medical license.
It has since come roaring back. The ingredients vary from region to region and might include Maguey leaves, Anamu, an herb common in Central and South America, cloves, molasses, cinnamon, or Star Anise.
“When you go to Mexico, you have tequila,” says Cedano, topping up the glass. “When you come here, you have Mama Juana.” Hummingbirds flit above a nearby turquoise pool that looks lifted from a Slim Aarons photo as the music is turned up for cocktail hour — a bit of La Dolce Vita right here in the DR.