Monday, July 29, 2013

The Bum

We owe much of our current tiki resurrection to the important work done by none other than cocktail scholar (great work, if you can get it) Jeff "Beachbum" Berry. Besides owning a most impressive collection of tropical shirts, he also has the honor of being one of Imbibe magazine's "25 Most Influential Cocktail Personalities of the Past Century."

Perhaps Berry's biggest contribution to tiki cocktail culture: decoding many of the historically secret recipes that allow us to enjoy vintage tiki cocktails as they were in their heyday. Don the Beachcomber wasn’t dropping any hints when he gave his syrups names like “Don’s Mix #2.” The Bum has also authored five books on vintage tiki drinks and cuisine, including Intoxica! and Grog Log.

Whipping up a Navy Grog at home? You’ll have to have one of these (which he re-
invented) on hand: Cocktail Kingdom's Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mr. Lana Turner

Not all of our tiki forefathers have a colorful nickname. In comparison to the tiki’s other two heavy hitters, Stephen Crane was by far the most sophisticated and urbane of the bunch. While Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic established the tiki brand, Stephen Crane took tiki hospitality to a new level.

In 1939, Crane left Indiana for the hills of Hollywood and reinvented himself as an actor. He met and married Lana Turner in 1942, and realizing that was about as good as he was going to do in terms of the silver screen, he called it quits on his movie career. Even though Turner and Crane divorced two years later, he made the most of his red carpet status and went on to date other actresses, including Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner.

Though it seems he may have been relegated to trophy husband status, Crane did eventually find his true calling in the faux-Polynesian world of Southern California Tiki when he purchased The Tropics. Using Trader Vic’s as inspiration, Crane set about quickly remodeling and renaming the restaurant, and in 1953, he opened The Luau. Crane added a fair amount of glamour to the tiki movement, and because of his own social circles and la-di-da tastes, The Luau was known for its innovative tropical decor and high profile customers.

While Trader Vic teamed up with Conrad Hilton for his expansion, Crane struck a deal with Sheraton Hotels in 1958 to create a chain of Polynesian themed restaurants across North America. Through this partnership, his chain of Kon Tiki Ports began popping up in Portland, Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Boston, Montreal, and Honolulu.

Crane sold The Luau in 1979, and when it was immediately razed, many took it as a signal that the tiki era had ended. Feel like taking a Chicago tiki tour? There ain’t much left, but you can visit the former Chicago location of Kon-Tiki Ports, which is now a Michael Jordan Steakhouse.

More than just a pretty face surrounded by other pretty faces, Stephen Crane did end up making a major cocktail contribution to the tiki world (and one that you’ll find on our opening menu): the Jet Pilot.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Hinky Dink's and the Wooden Leg

Victor Bergeron, or Trader Vic, was more of a talented trend spotter than a true originator—he introduced Mexican cuisine to the American public and considered sushi to be a delicacy well before the 1990s. After a visit to the original Don the Beachcomber's in 1937 he was inspired to head back to Oakland and change the food and decor at his own establishment, Hinky Dink’s. It wasn’t much longer before he put his nickname to good use and the pub's name was changed to Trader Vic's.

Within a few years, Trader Vic opened a second Trader Vic’s location in Seattle and a third in Hawaii. The chain grew quickly and is now credited as one of the first successful themed restaurant chains. (You’re welcome, Joe’s Crab Shack!) Depending upon your perspective, one might consider Trader Vic to be "more successful" than tiki’s originator, Don the Beachcomber. He certainly made tiki an option to the general public, particularly after teaming up with the Hilton empire, and, at one point, operating over 25 restaurants in the US. But “What is success, really?” is a conversation that will have to wait for another day.

Trader Vic knew the power of a compelling narrative and contributed to his own mythology. After losing his leg to tuberculosis, Vic often told people his wooden leg was a result of an encounter with a shark. In reality, Trader Vic was no seafarer; on his only trip to the South Pacific he became so violently seasick that, between barfs, he vowed never to return. 

Fictions aside, Trader Vic’s contributions to the first wave of tiki are incomparable. He invented the Mai Tai (arguably the most popular—and bastardized (What’s up, Wrigley Field!)—tiki cocktail ever to exist) and authored Trader Vic's Bartenders Guide in 1947, which is currently going for $125 on eBay (which is $1,308.88 in 1947-dollars!)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Diplomat and Beachcomber, Prince and Pirate

Donn Beach left his native Texas in 1926 and embarked on a solo-trip around the world, island-hopping all over the Caribbean and Polynesia. His travels eventually lead him to Hollywood, California, where Beach opened a bar called 'Don's Beachcomber Cafe' in 1934, and it was then and there that tiki culture was born.

A Polynesian-themed bar and restaurant, Don’s Beachcomber Cafe was the birthplace of many tiki classics, like Zombie Punch, Navy Grog, Shark's Tooth, Missionary’s Downfall, Three Dots and a Dash and others. Moreover, many of our modern cocktail practices can be attributed to Donn Beach; he created over 70 original cocktails during the 1930s using fresh juices, syrups, liqueurs, extracts, fruits and brandies, while other bartenders were foregoing quality ingredients. But perhaps our favorite contribution made by Don the Beachcomber is the practice of fortifying his recipes with more than one type of rum, and the quote: "What one rum can't do, three rums can."

And yes, at first, we, too, thought ‘Don the Beachcomber’ was pretty long for a nickname, but he was born Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, so it turns out he was actually saving himself quite a few syllables.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Rum & Coca-Cola!

Three Dots and a Dash is a bar devoted to rum above any other spirit, and perhaps the handiest way to administer a little kill-devil is via a classic Rum & Coke.

Of course, the traditional name for a highball of rum and cola is a Cuba Libre. “Cuba Libre!” was the battle cry of the Cuban War of Independence, and though the years of the war are well documented, the Cuba Libre’s exact moment of existence is a mystery. The only certainty is that this cocktail was first sipped in Cuba in or around the year 1900—which is generally said to be the year that cola was first introduced to the island by American troops.

The cocktail gained popularity in the United States after The Andrews Sisters’ covered Lord Invador’s calypso song “Rum and Coca-Cola,” in 1945 and sent it straight to the top of the Billboard charts for ten weeks.

Here is how our own Paul McGee mixes himself a rum & coca-cola (without using Coke):
     Cuba Libre

     1.5 oz El Dorado 5 year
     3 oz Q Kola (lots of nutmeg flavor, and little bit dryer than Coca-Cola)
     2 dashes Angostura bitters
     0.25 oz fresh lime juice
     Fill glass with ice. Add rum, lime, bitters, top with cola. Garnish with lime wheel.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bali Hai!

The original signature cocktail at San Diego’s Bali Hai restaurant had its own iconic tiki mug known as the Mr. Bali Hai. He was born in 1955 and immediately filled to the brim with white Puerto Rican rum, Myers rum, coffee brandy, pineapple juice, and sweet n' sour mix. Our menu will feature Paul McGee's riff on the classic Bali Hai cocktail: A Lonely Island Lost in the Middle of a Foggy Sea (black strap rum, rhum agricole, cold press coffee, pineapple, and lime.)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tiki Bob!

Tiki Bob is the name used to refer to the tiki mug mascot/log of the old San Francisco restaurant Tiki Bob's. It was opened by Bob Bryant, a former Trader Vic's manager. It is thought that the Tiki Bob mug is possibly the first ever tiki mug — or mug to feature a tiki of some kind. (There were coconut and bamboo mugs prior). The place is long gone, but the support post out front that is carved in the shape of Bob is still there.