Tiki Ohana – Cocktails

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The Tiki craze of the 1950s was preceded by the Tiki cocktail movement started in the 1930s by Don The BeachcomberErnest 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…

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

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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!

Aloha Spirit: Chicago

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As I mentioned before, I believe karma introduced me to Tiki, and it continues to swim in my bloodstream. I’ve seen many signs in my travels that have confirmed this for me. Here is the last example of what I’m talking about.

Chicago IL, August 2013. Last summer, the company I work for was acquired by another company, which is headquartered in Green Bay, WI. In order to get to know some of my new co-workers better, I wanted to visit our offices in Chicago and Green Bay, so we could all put faces to names and do a little bonding. It turns out I had already planned to visit my old friend Bruce to catch a Phillies vs. Cubs game at Wrigley Field at the end of August, so I decided to mix business and pleasure with a Wednesday to Sunday trip, starting in Green Bay and ending with a weekend in Chicago.

The Green Bay part of the trip went well, with time spent in the office meeting many of my new coworkers. I was shown around by the managing director of sales, Craig Avery, my boss’s boss and a fellow Tiki fan. I gave him a copy of my Oceanic Arts catalog so he could check out some new decor for his backyard Tiki bar. Craig was good enough to introduce me around the office, and we spent time after hours knocking back some beers and talking Tiki. I finished my stay in Green Bay with a visit to the hallowed ground of Lambeau Field.

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On Friday I flew down to our Chicago office, where I met the directors of our credit and marketing teams, who introduced me to their people. Another great group of coworkers! I joined some of the marketing folks for lunch at Heaven on Seven, one of my favorite Cajun restaurants right downtown in The Loop. What a tasty way to wrap up the business portion of my trip.

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Friday night I headed for my buddy Bruce’s place, where we started the weekend with a beer on his rooftop deck, admiring the Chicago skyline. What an amazing view of a great city! We had reservations for dinner at David Burke’s, which was voted the city’s best steakhouse by Chicago magazine for 2013, but before that, Bruce had a surprise for me. He wouldn’t tell me where we were headed as we boarded the red line el heading downtown.

We arrived at our destination at 435 West Clark, and it wasn’t until we walked down a flight of steps and turned a corner that I discovered my surprise: a Tiki bar, right in downtown Chicago! Bruce had brought me to Three Dots and a Dash, a new Tiki bar only open for 1 month prior to our visit. What a nice surprise! This was a serious Tiki bar, with authentic drinks, tasty appetizers, wonderful Polynesian decor, and beautiful wahines serving us.

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I enjoyed many great meals with wonderful people during my 5 days in Green Bay and Chicago, but none as memorable as my time spent at Three Dots and a Dash. Isn’t it ironic that the original reason for this trip, the baseball game at Wrigley, ended up being the lowlight (the Phils lost to the Cubs in one of the worst games ever played), while the highlight was a happy hour Tiki stop I never saw coming? Or, maybe it’s karma. Either way, mahalo to Craig Avery for championing the business part of this trip and sharing your love of Tiki with me. And a big mahalo to Bruce Philipson, who surprised an old friend with a new Chicago hotspot and added a new, special memory to a friendship already full of them.

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