The last time the Beachbum found himself in British Columbia, well-nigh ten years ago, the region’s classic Tiki bars had sailed away like Captain Cook after the Yuquot Indians refused to barter for the usual worthless trinkets. Vancouver’s magnificent Trader Vic’s outpost (pictured above) had been razed. The city’s other Tiki jewel, the Waldorf Hotel’s Polynesian Room, was still intact — but shuttered, its bamboo walls, carved menehune columns, and saucy Leeteg canvases all under lock and key.
We returned to Vancouver this year, and found that so had Tiki. During the Tales Of The Cocktail On Tour roadshow whose coat-tails we rode in on, we learned that the Waldorf’s Tiki bar is now back open, and back to serving drinks in coconuts. The city’s burgeoning craft cocktail movement has also embraced exotica: at West Restaurant, David Wolowidnyk sweetens his Mai-Tais with home-made orgeat; at the Tales On Tour closing party, the Revel Room’s Robyn Gray made a delicious tikified Rum Crusta swizzled in a Ku warrior mug.
But our peak tropical drink experience occurred in the unassuming basement bar of the Calabash Bistro. This is the lair of mixologist Jason Browne, a U.K. transplant who has transplanted and transformed faded old West Indian standards like the Yellow Bird and the Dark & Stormy. Particularly the latter. The original Dark & Stormy — a two-ingredient yawn of a drink — always seemed to us less like a cocktail than a mistake. (“Hey, who spilled rum in my ginger beer?”) But Jason infuses the rum with crystalized ginger, adds a welcome measure of lime juice, and spices his bespoke ginger beer with cinnamon, clove, star anise, green cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla, and the zest of lemon, orange, and lime. As the locals chant in their native rituals, “O Canada!”