There are few cocktails that have their own theme song. But not only does the Piña Colada have one, but Rupert Holmes’ 1979 hit Escape (listen to it here), which immortalizes the creamy tropical concoction, is a guilty pleasure that is nearly impossible not to sing along with: “Yes, I like Piña Coladas, and getting caught in the rain./I’m not much into health foods,/I am into Champagne.”
No doubt at some point you’ll hear it today (July 10), since it is, after all, National Piña Colada Day.
But Holmes didn’t set out to be the Piña Colada’s international ambassador and, to be honest, wasn’t a huge fan of the drink. In fact, the song is barely a blip on his long and impressive resumé. He went on to write acclaimed and best-selling books, record a number of other albums and even won a Tony Award for the musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which he wrote.
Unbelievably, he had never even tried a Piña Colada before writing the song. He thinks the first time he encountered it was at the Montauk, Long Island, resort Gurney’s Inn, where it was listed on a drink specials card. “I wasn’t even sure what it was,” he admits and didn’t know how to pronounce it. “I didn’t order it but it just sort of planted itself in my mind.”
Even more amazing, originally Escape didn’t mention the drink. It was the final track for his Partners in Crime album and he needed it to be upbeat to balance the rest of the record.
“I wrote that song at 1 AM the night before I recorded it,” he remembers. The original lyrics were “If you liked Humphrey Bogart and getting caught in the rain."
The next day when Holmes was in the studio, he realized the album was a little Bogart-heavy, having already done a song, which gave a nod to the actor’s famous 1941 film noir masterpiece, The Maltese Falcon.
“I said this couple, they’re looking for an escape,” Holmes explains. “You know, when you go on vacation, the first day you’re out on the beach, you would never ever order a Budweiser. You want something in a hollowed-out pineapple or served in a coconut or in a tiki glass.”
Holmes finally tried a Piña Colada after his song was a hit at a party his record label threw.
As you can imagine, it wasn’t his last one—“Everybody thought that they were the first person on Earth to buy me a Piña Colada”—and he has consumed more of them than anybody should in a lifetime.
He has since become a devotee of the cocktail. “I actually happen to think that when they’re properly made and if the ingredients are very fresh, it’s a terrific drink,” he says. And “it makes you feel like you’re on a bit of a vacation.”
The secret to its preparation, he says, is using fresh pineapple juice. That makes sense, since Piña Colada literally means strained pineapple and, according to tiki expert Jeff Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean it was originally dreamed up at one of Conrad Hilton’s properties in the 1950s.
Holmes insists he remains more of a wine and craft beer drinker than a cocktail guy, and that he has moved past the Piña Colada as a muse. He’s working on several new projects, including a play about a meeting between Kennedy and Reagan, as well as a book series called The McMasters Guide to Homicide.
So today, put on Escape and fix Berry’s delicious take on the Piña Colada that he serves in his New Orleans bar Latitude 29. Getting caught in the rain is optional.
Latitude 29 Pina Colada (A.K.A. Luau Coconut)
Contributed by Jeff Beachbum Berry
1 Whole young coconut
2 oz Fresh coconut water, drained from the young coconut
.5 oz Fresh lime juice
.5 oz Unsweetened pineapple juice
1 oz Sugar syrup (1 part cane sugar, 1 part water)
1 oz Canned coconut milk (Thai Kitchen Organic preferred)
1 oz Light Virgin Islands rum
1 oz Gold Virgin Islands rum
Remove the top of the coconut. Drain the coconut water into a container and set aside. Save the empty coconut shell, too. Add the rest of the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake and pour unstrained into the coconut shell.