“If you can’t come to paradise, I’ll bring it to you,” Don The Beachcomber used to tell his customers. Last week, President Obama echoed this sentiment at the first luau ever held on the White House lawn: “I wish I could give you all trips to Hawaii,” he told his 2,500 guests, “but I figured, given our budget crunch we can’t do that, so we’d at least bring Hawaii to you.”
Aloha wear, flower leis, and kalua pig were all in evidence, though the press has largely kept mum about what drinks the thatch-roofed Tiki bar had on offer (other than beer and coffee).
The Obama ohana isn’t the first First Family with an appetite for Polynesiana. The Nixons were regulars at Trader Vic’s in the Capitol Hilton, where Dick indulged his fondness for Navy Grogs. Nixon’s advisors did not share their boss’s love of tropical drinks: In his autobiography, Henry Kissinger wrote that he and his fellow Cabinet members lived in fear of Nixon’s sneak-aways to Vic’s, in which all the President’s men were expected to partake.
Back then, D.C. was home to several Polynesian restaurants and bars. The Aloha Hut, “your beach at Waikiki in the nation’s capital,” served exotic drinks on G Street, while the Luau Hut enticed patrons to F Street with a concept even more exotic to Washingtonians — free parking. If the lot was full, you could always try your luck at D.C.’s other Polynesian restaurants, the Waikiki and the Orchid Isle; in nearby Baltimore, Trader Vince offered such “exotic drinks of the South Seas” as the Polynesian Splendor, the Tahitian Mist, and the Virgin’s Downfall.
The 1990s witnessed the debut of Politiki on Pennsylvania Avenue. In addition to tikis carved in the likeness of past Presidents, Politiki offered drinks in mugs featuring the mugs of Nixon, Lincoln, FDR, Reagan and Carter (last two pictured above).
Washington Post cocktail correspondent Jason Wilson delves into D.C.’s Tiki past in this recent column, for which he interviewed your humble bum: