The Tiki craze of the 1950s was preceded by the Tiki cocktail movement started in the 1930s by Don The Beachcomber. Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt grew up in New Orleans, traveled the Caribbean where he collected rum-based drink recipes, settled in Los Angeles, dressed up his drinks with flowers and umbrellas and fancy tropical names, and changed his name to Don The Beachcomber (and eventually just Donn Beach). He opened his first restaurant and bar in Hollywood in 1933 and was a huge success, thanks in large part to his celebrity clientele.
The success of Don The Beachcomber led to a string of Tiki-themed restaurants. While Donn Beach opened new locations, imitators like Victor Bergeron with his Trader Vic’s and Stephen Crane with his Kon Tiki chain helped popularize the Tiki bar/restaurant across the country. This popularity peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, and like the rest of the Tiki movement, started to decline in the 1970s and 1980s. Most of these Tiki establishments are gone today, and their wonderful drink recipes might have been lost forever, were it not for the efforts of…
Jeff Beachbum Berry. This guy, along with Sven Kirsten, is the most important figure in the current Tiki revival. Bum has been researching Tiki drink recipes for over 30 years, and his Potions of The Caribbean is the Bible for Tiki drink recipes and their history (get it here: beachbumberry.com/bum-books/). Like Donn Beach before him, Bum now calls New Orleans home, and he just opened his first Tiki bar there last fall, Latitude 29. It is a must-do Tiki temple! I was fortunate to visit Latitude 29 earlier this year, and Beachbum Berry himself welcomed me and even gave me an interview while I was there. You can hear it on my podcast: apandatikipod.podbean.com/e/pandas-tasty-jambalaya. Mahalo, Bum!
Martin Cate. Few people, if anybody, have had a bigger influence on elevating the profile of rum than Martin Cate. He opened his Smuggler’s Cove bar in San Francisco in 2009 to much acclaim, both locally and nationally. Smuggler’s Cove is the physical embodiment of Beachbum Berry’s Potions of The Caribbean, focusing on “Traditional drinks of the Caribbean islands, classic libations of Prohibition-era Havana, and exotic cocktails from legendary Tiki bars.” All of this is served up in a bar with the most authentic Tiki decor you’ll find anywhere. You can find more about the story of Smuggler’s Cove here: smugglerscovesf.com/about/. Okole maluna, Martin!
Suzanne Long. Across the bay in Oakland, Suzanne Long opened her new Tiki bar, Longitude, in 2014. Along with a mix of traditional and modern rum-based cocktails, Longitude features a stunning interior that evokes a spirit of adventure. Ms. Long didn’t limit herself to a strictly Polynesian theme, instead incorporating a whole world of tropical decor including artwork from east Africa. You can read a great review of Longitude here: insidescoopsf.sfgate.com. Full disclosure: I haven’t been to any of the Bay Area Tiki bars, but when I do visit, I’ll make sure to start with Smuggler’s Cove and Longitude. Aloha Suzanne, I hope to see you soon!
Paul McGee. Another Tiki bar I have been fortunate enough to visit is Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago, created by Paul McGee in 2013. I wrote about my first visit here in my blog post Aloha Spirit: Chicago (Jan 2014). Creating a Tiki mecca in the Midwest isn’t without precedent (think The Kahiki in Columbus OH), but Mr. McGee managed to create a Polynesian paradise in a speakeasy-like atmosphere, right in The Loop in downtown Chicago. Not to rest on his laurels, Paul left his baby earlier this year to open a new Tiki bar, Lost Lake, in the western Chicagoland neighborhood of Logan Square. You can read about how McGee partnered with Martin Cate on Lost Lake here: www.chicagotribune.com. Well done, Tiki titans!