It’s no surprise to long time Cocktail Wonk readers that Tiki is a central pillar of what I do here. While most nights find me laboring over an elaborate concoction at my home bar, I never miss the chance to sit at the bar of a full-blown Tiki master. Last night, after many tortuous months of waiting, I slipped into a seat at the soft opening of Devil’s Reef, in Tacoma, Washington.
Spain: land of history, culture, majestic architecture. Complemented by a gastronomic feast — tapas, olives, sherry, and vermouth — best consumed over ice with an orange twist, in the shadow of a cathedral. During our two week trip through Andalucia and parts beyond, from Madrid to Seville to Jerez to Granada to Cordoba to Barcelona and back to Madrid, Mrs. Wonk and I reveled in the best Spain has to offer, including copious amounts of sherry, the genesis of our odyssey. Yet accompanying us at every step along the way was our good friend, Ron.
Ron, in case you hadn’t heard, is the Spanish term for rum. You might ask “What on earth does Spain have to do with rum?” The answer is, “More than you possibly know!” It was Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage in 1493, who brought sugar cane to the Caribbean from Spain’s Canary Islands. A few short decades ago, sugar cane still grew and rum was still being produced in the south of Spain, as we learned firsthand at our visit to a Madrid Tiki bar. Even today, the Arehucas distillery in the Canary Islands distills rum.
In any city worth its cocktails, there’s at least one or more person who cuts a wide swath of influence across the local bar scene and rises to national prominence – a person whose name becomes linked with the city and its drinking culture. Seattle has many, including Andrew Friedman, Jamie Boudreau, and Anu Apte. In Portland, Jeffrey Morgenthaler fills that role, while Huston has Bobby Heugel. In Indianapolis, Crossroads of America, Ed Rudisell is on track to join that club.
A recent trend in the cocktail world is for high-end, world class “destination” bars and celebrity bartenders to further extend their brand and cement their reputation via authoring a book. Some hotly anticipated tomes of note recently include The PDT Cocktail Book (PDT, NYC), Speakeasy (Employees Only, NYC), Death & Co. (Death & Co., NYC), and The Bar Book (Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Portland, OR). All have been eagerly anticipated and well received. In that light, the only surprise is that Martin and Rebecca Cate’s new book, Smuggler’s Cove – Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki, took so long to appear on the cocktail book scene. In fairness, they’ve been a little busy with other things, like oh…opening Whitechapel, a shrine to gin akin to what San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove is to rum.
Even among the cocktail enthusiast population, the Tiki crowd is particularly passionate and eager for fresh material. I’ve witnessed firsthand the insane demand and interest for the Smuggler’s Cove book, scheduled to be generally available in early June 2016. As the fortunate recipient of one of the first books off the press, I’ve taken on the task of reading the entire opus–which clocks in at a solid 350 pages from cover to cover. As a teaser before jumping into my thoughts about the volume overall, here are ten of my favorite factoids you’ll encounter:
The Tiki revival movement is clearly having its moment these days, having been heralded in dozens of articles to that effect. Even an old standby like The Washington Post has gotten into the act, running stories about Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and how to make your own orgeat. This is indisputably a good thing for people like yours truly who enjoy a balanced, expertly crafted tropical libation rather than a quart of fruit punch with cheap white rum thrown in. The elaborately constructed rum rhapsodies of the 1940 and 1950s took a serious dive downward for the following fifty years, picking up bad habits like flavored vodka and powdered drink mixes. By the start of the 21st century, Tiki was just about left for dead, consumed ironically if at all. Fortunately, the rise of the craft cocktail movement swept Tiki into its whirlwind of vintage recipes and ingredients. A decade or so later, dedicated Tiki-centric bars are popping up all over the world and modern Tiki recipes are just as easy to find as the classic Donn Beach, Trader Vic, and Steve Crane recipes from the 1930s through1950s.
Inevitably, tons of “Best Tiki Bars” lists have popped up online. Of the current “modern era” Tiki bars, these lists inevitably cite Smuggler’s Cove, Hale Pele, Latitude 29, Three Dots and a Dash, and Lost Lake, among others—all worthy of your drinking time. At the same time, a set of celebrity Tiki bartenders has become the face of the Tiki revival – people like Jeff Berry, Martin Cate, Blair Reynolds, and Paul McGee. You’ll find quotes from these fine folks all over the coverage of Tiki these days. They’ve all contributed significantly to Tiki’s new modern era, embracing the classics but not being bound by them either. A lot of attention is lavished on these revivalists, and deservedly so.
As someone who spends, shall we say, significant time in bars, fatigue from parsing ingredient lists on cocktail menus is an occupational hazard. So many Old Fashioned variations, so many twists on a daiquiri. No slight to the actual drinks, but a recipe that’s completely from out of left field is a rarity – that’s something I gotta have! The Banana Stand at Seattle’s Rob Roy absolutely falls into that category.
The Banana Stand is the brainchild of Zac Overman, a Tiki savant and recent transplant to Seattle — score one for us! Monday nights at Rob Roy are known as Tangaroa Roy–a celebration of Tiki, with anything but traditional Tiki classics. The Banana Stand made its first appearance at a Tangaroa Roy that happened to coincide with Seattle’s Women Who Love Whiskey anniversary party. Zac created a custom menu heavy on the whiskey, and The Banana Stand practically leapt off the page at me. Laphroaig? Crème de Banane? An automatic yes!