The Story of Panama Red….
The Story of Panama Red was related to me via email by the Mr. Carlos E. Esquivel G., the Executive Director of PILSA (A rum distillery and production company, specializing in Aged Rums, and Rum related products in Panama and South America). With his permission, I have taking the liberty to reproduce the story here on my website:
The Story of Panama Red….
She was one of those rare beautiful babies born to the most interesting couple in Panama. Her father Juan Cansino, originally from Spain, was considered to be one of the finest Latin musicians and dancers in the Americas. Her mother, Rosa, was also a wonderful entertainer known for her Tango, and Flamenco. Rosa studied dance in Spain where she met Juan.
He then followed her back to Panama where they were married as the world came to Panama to complete the marvelous canal. Within a year the Cansinos became the proud parents of a baby girl they named Carolina.
The Cansinos would meet and become friends with an American couple, Tom and Elsie Ogelsby. The Ogelsbys had moved from Alabama to Panama to work on expanding infrastructure within the Panama Canal Zone. They gave lavish parties at their home and the Cansinos were frequent guests. Rosa and Elsie shared a passion for bridge and soon became partners playing several times a week. Elsie, who had no children of her own, would use these occasions to dote on Carolina. She would bring her children’s books written in English, French, German, and Spanish and by the time she was a teenager Carolina could converse in all four languages.
As Carolina matured, it was very apparent that she had inherited not only her mother’s physical beauty but her many musical talents as well. To the delight of her parents and their hosts, she would often perform at the Ogelsby’s parties. She was becoming a beautiful young woman, worldly and wise beyond her years.
Blossoming into womanhood, Carolina was seen on the arm of many of Panama’s most eligible bachelors. She was a beautiful woman with many talents, so it was no surprise when she began to see a well-known and extremely handsome gentleman who worked in the import/export business.
Juan Carlos Esquivel De la Rivera was an entrepreneur with a mysterious background. Like Carolina he spoke many languages and was considered a great visionary thinker. A man of international intrigue, Juan Carlos was the “pride of Panama”. At a time when the world was on the brink of war his international contacts served him well and Juan Carlos became more and more wealthy. Unfortunately he disappeared without a trace and left Carolina heartbroken She spent many months grieving over her lost love. Though they were not yet married, plans had been made and they were very ,very close.
Germany had just invaded Poland when Carolina was approached by a lawyer who informed her Juan Carlos had died from illness and had left her several properties including a magnificent old bar in the Casco Viejo. With the help of her parents she quickly remodeled the building into an intimate night spot with a stage on which she could perform. She named the place Cantina Roja’s. Referencing her beautiful auburn hair (and that Roja had been the pet name Juan Carlos had called Carolina).
Soon American sailors and soldiers from the Canal Zone became frequent customers and began calling the bar Red’s Place. They gave her the title “Panama Red” which she graciously accepted for the rest of her life. Red, though still quite young, was an excellent business woman. As her fame grew the bar was packed every night. Most came to gaze at her beauty and to hear her perform, but the rum was an attraction too. Red’s rum was magnificent. Smooth enough to sip by itself, it had a taste unique to Panama. She would also mix it with Panamanian oranges, guava nectar, and guava soda. That cocktail became a local favorite known as a “Panama Red Sky” and would later inspire a song titled “RED SKIES AT NIGHT”.
By now Red’s Place had become the ‘in’ place in Panama to see and be seen. You never knew who you might meet on any given night or who would emerge from the audience to give an impromptu performance. Ernest Hemingway at the bar with his third wife, the writer Martha Gelhorn, or John Wayne down from Hollywood to fish for black marlin. One night it was a musician from Nashville that captured the applause of the crowd and the heart of Red.
For the second time in her life Red was deeply in love. Within a year Red had followed her heart and Red’s Place was closed forever. Over time some interesting songs have evolved from the legend and it is said that if you hold your head just right while sipping a “RED SKY” you can still see the beautiful Panama Red behind her bar in the Casco or sitting on the beach watching a Panamanian sunset….
And that magnificent red rum that she used to serve, as a tribute to Carolina, PANAMONTE BRANDS has released PANAMA RED 108.
And if you are interested here is a link to the full Panama Red 108 Run Review: