Writte by JIM MEEHAN
Illustrations by JAKOB SMEDHAGEN
In 1934, just one year after the repeal of Prohibition, a quirky Polynesian-themed bar called Don’s Beachcombers Café, run by a former World War II serviceman named Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, opened on Mc-Cadden Place in Hollywood. Three years later, he moved it across the street under the name Don the Beachcomber, and became the toast of the town among the Hollywood A-list.
Tropical décor, exotic cuisine and potent rum cocktails were the core of the concept, which was widely-imitated all over the world by other operators including Don’s famed rival, Victor Bergeron, who went by the nickname Trader Vic.
The Polynesian themed bars, eventually referred to as Tiki bars after the hand-carved wood and stone totems placed throughout the venues, helped usher in an entire subculture. Devotees donned tropical shirts and fragrant leis before noshing on pu pu platters and sipping from scorpion bowls under artificial water falls as far from the beach as you could imagine.
Elaborate cocktails such as the QB Cooler, Navy Grog, and Zombie were prepared away from the guest’s eye using numbered bottles containing secret formulas mixed by each bar’s operator.
Trader Vic was the first to create a signature vessel for his famed Fog Cutter, a haze-inducing combination of gin, brandy and rum, with a host of assorted juices; and soon, most Tiki bars had a sig-nature glass or mug to serve their house cocktails.
By the 1970’s the luau was all but over, as various franchises homogenized the concept’s unique charm. But history tends to repeat itself, and following the reappearance of fresh ingre-dients behind the bar and the classic cocktail renaissance, bartenders are starting to shed their suspenders and rev up their blenders. Although, in this case, the revival has been driven by the décor instead of the drinks.
Tiki historian Jeff Berry, author of Sippin’ Safari, Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log and Beach-bum Berry Remixed, put me in touch with Bosko Hrnjak, a wood sculptor and ceramicist who’s been working within the medium since the 80’s. In 2000 he designed and outfitted Taboo Cove at the Venetian in Las Vegas: the first new Tiki bar to be built since the movement’s downfall. The bar included a museum of mid century ephemera including hundreds of ceramic mugs behind one section of the bar to reinforce the idea that these vessels were an integral part of the movement.
Take a gander on Ebay and you’ll find boundless quantities of ephemera including swizzles, matches, books, bowls, mugs, exotic records, and clothing of all types. Most of it helps explain why exotica fell out of favor, but certain pieces, such as the bespoke mugs created by artists such as Hrnjak, Squid, Gecko, and Crazy Al, deftly tow the line between art and craft. Following in the footsteps of Trader Vic, Neo-tiki practitioners such as Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, and Rich Hunt of Trailer Happiness in London, have commissioned mugs for their bars.
- 1 oz. Cruzan Aged Gold Rum
- 1 oz. Cruzan Coconut Rum
- 1 oz. Grand Marnier
- 1 oz. Lime Juice
- 1 oz. Orange Juice
- 1 oz. Unsweetened Pineapple Juice
— Shake with ice and strain into a chilled Tiki mug filled with ice.
— Garnish with an orange wheel, pineapple stick, and orchid
Jeff Berry, Author and Tiki Historian
- 2 oz. Coruba Black Jamaican Rum
- 1 oz. Buffalo Trace Bourbon
- 1 oz. Lime Juice
- ½ oz. Cinnamon Syrup
- ½ oz. Honey Syrup
- ¼ oz. Vanilla Syrup
- ¼ oz. Bittermens New Orleans Coffee Liqueur
- 2 oz. Soda Water
— Build in a blender pitcher filled with 16 oz. crushed ice
— Pulse for 2 seconds then pour into a chilled Tiki mug
— Garnish with an orchid
Martin Cate, owner, Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco
- 1 oz. Brugal Añejo Rum
- 1 oz. Awamori Sochu
- ¾ oz. Lime Juice
- ¼ oz. Brizard White Crème de Cacao
- ¼ oz. Boiron Passion Fruit Purée
- ¼ oz. Okonomiyaki Sauce
- ¼ oz. Sugar Cane Syrup
— Shake with ice and strain into a chilled Tiki mug filled with crushed ice
— Garnish with half a passion fruit dusted with shaved dark chocolate
John deBary, bartender, PDT in New York City
In the most faithful facsimiles of classic Tiki bars you’ll find drinks that match the details of their mugs in composition. Rum still rules the roost, but many recipes employ up to three dif-ferent types, layered between a host of exotic liqueurs, complex syrups and fresh juice. Unlike the Tiki cocktail’s more buttoned-upped ances-tors, it’s hard to take yourself seriously when you’re sipping a Suffering Bastard. But make no mistake, the bespoke glassware being produced to make Martin Cate’s Expedition, Jeff Berry’s Miehana and John deBary’s Oki-Nomi embodies a synergy between two distinctive crafts.