Classic and Modern Tiki and Recipes from the Tacoma Cabana

Full-metal Tiki!

The Seattle area hasn’t had a true authentic full-time Tiki bar for several years, despite being the location of the first franchised Trader Vics in the 1940s. There was a Trader Vic’s in Bellevue a few years back but they shuttered after a few years. Hula Hula positions themselves as Polynesian, but they’re far from well-crafted Tiki. Rumba specializes in all sorts of rum drinks and does Tiki well, but Tiki isn’t their focus. Portland is known for its Tiki Kon gathering and the Hale Pele bar is well respected in the Tiki world. But if you’re looking for full time, hard core Tiki between Seattle and Portland, the Tacoma Cabana is your destination.

I first came across Jason Alexander, co-owner of the Tacoma Cabana, on Instagram, where he goes by @tikicommando. I could tell by his photos, posted nearly nightly from behind the bar, that the man is serious about authentic Tiki.
Like me, Jason got into serious Tiki less than five years ago. He’s studied the Beachbum Berry books and knows the classics – The 1944 Mai Tai, the Navy Grog, the Zombie, etc… And while Jason can certainly spin out a classic Tiki cocktail for you, his real strength is riffing on the classics, creating any number of modern creations with a nod to the past. One of the house specialties is cocktail flights – Taking a drink like the Navy Grog, then coming up with two other variations, and serving all three downsized cocktails.
My first flight at Tacoma Cabana
For a rum nerd like me, sitting at the bar underneath an actual cabana is the only place to be. Hundreds of different types of rum dominate the back bar, with just a smattering of non-rum spirits. In the Jamaican category alone there’s 16 different options. The Plantation line of rums is very highly regarded. Most bars would do well to have three, typically Plantation Barbados 5, Plantation 20th Anniversary, and Plantation Original Dark. Browsing through the Cabana’s Captain’s list I count at least 14 different Plantation expressions. If you’re looking for high end tasting rums, you’ll find them as well, including Zacapa XO, Clement XO, Mount Gay 1703, Plantation Guadeloupe 1998 and El Dorado 21.
One of the hundreds of rums at Tacoma Cabana
I enjoy scanning his collection and chatting him with about rums that our collections share as well as his recommendations on what I should consider for my next acquisition. Besides the Wall O’Rum, the other fun thing under the cabana is the television. Normally I don’t like TV’s in bars, but this one plays a never-ending loop of Gilligan’s Island episodes. What’s not to love?
The Tacoma Cabana’s cocktail menu is extensive – The Mai Tai section alone has six different variations, including the original 1944 version, as well as a $50 featuring Clement X0 and Appleton 21 rums. His Zombie follows the original 1934 Don the Beachcomber prescription. Other classics in his repertoire include the Fogg Cutter, Suffering Bastard and the Jet Pilot, a house favorite at Casa CocktailWonk. House originals include the Sea Grave, Drunken Helmsman, and Swizzle of the Damned.
Left-to-right: 1944 Mai Tai, Sea Grave, Drunken Helmsman, 3 Dots and a Dash
An armada of Captain’s Grog
Jason is a stickler for making his own falernum and syrups. As an authentic Tiki-tender, many drinks come garnished with fire. Not just a small blue flame from some burning 151 rum that quickly extinguishes, no. Tacoma Cabana’s flaming lime shells are full-on tiki torches that on some occasions become multiple levels of fiery tiki-awesomeness.
Leave this to the professionals!

The  Coconaut Re-entry

Noticing a theme yet?
Really, the man likes to set things on fire!
Tacoma Cabana is only open 4 days a week, Wed-Sat. While this eliminates my prime bar-going evenings, the upside is that Jason’s there every shift. If the Cabana is open, Jason and his ever-present fez are behind the stick, serving up Tiki righteousness.
Jason at the helm
Jason graciously has shared many of his original recipes with me, and given me the OK to print some here. First up is the Sea Grave, allegedly inspired by one of my own Tiki-improv drinks that I posted to Instagram:
Making the Sea Grave at home!
Sea Grave (Tacoma Cabana)
  • 1/2oz lime
  • 1/2oz Jamaican Punch Cordial (see below)
  • 1/2oz Allspice Dram
  • 1/2oz Cherry Heering
  • 2oz Smith and Cross
Shake with ice and pour into a double old fashioned glass. Sprig of mint and an orange twist
To make the Jamaican Punch Cordial:
  • 16oz white sugar
  • 16oz lime juice
  • 2oz Angostura bitters
  • 1 whole nutmeg, grated
Combine all ingredients in a jar or container. Let sugar and nutmeg dissolve in lime, and don’t strain. Give it a good shake every few minutes and let it brew for a few hours before use. This recipe makes a lot, so you might consider making a ¼ or ½ batch for home use.
The second recipe is the Drunken Helmsman:
Drunken Helmsman (Tacoma Cabana)
  • 1oz lime
  • 1/2oz maple syrup
  • 1/2oz falernum
  • 1/2oz Amaro Meletti
  • 1 1/2oz Plantation Dark Overproof
Shake with ice and pour unstrained into a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint and orange twist. For the falernum, a house-made, rum-based falernum is better in this drink than Velvet Falernum or Falernum syrup.
Finally, a bonus recipe, my twist on the Drunk Helmsman:
Lost Helmsman (Cocktail Wonk)
  • 1oz lime
  • 1/2oz maple syrup
  • 1/2oz falernum
  • 1/2oz Averna
  • 1 1/2oz Lost Spirits Navy Style rum (68%)
Much as I love Plantation Dark Overproof, the Lost Spirits Navy rum has a strong, dark molasses funk to it that cries out to be used in Tiki drinks. If you only have the 55% ABV version, bump it up to 2oz. If you don’t have Averna, Gran Classico or the Amaro Meletti like Jason uses work well too.
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8 thoughts on “Classic and Modern Tiki and Recipes from the Tacoma Cabana”

  1. "Much as I love Plantation Dark Overproof, the Lost Spirits Navy rum has a strong, dark molasses funk to it that cries out to be used in Tiki drinks." – I Agree!!

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