BUENAS NOCHES IN BUENOS AIRES

asadoSM

Meat, maté, tango, amaro. This may sound like army field code from a WWII movie, but it’s actually the four pillars of Argentinian R&R. The Beachbum encountered each during a recent trip to Buenos Aires with Tales of the Cocktail On Tour, where he led a Tiki seminar for local bartenders (you can read about it in Spanish here and in English — Camper English, no less — here).

At a ranchero outside the city, Tales producers Mr. & Mrs. Cocktail hosted a traditional asado (pictured above), an open pit barbecue where no animal part is allowed to escape uncharred. Asado menus range from cow salivary gland to pig pancreas, but fortunately the emphasis here was on short ribs. In true Argentinian style, nothing was wasted: Tales panelists Mike Ryan and Don Lee confiscated the rib fat for their “Science of Cocktails” seminar, using it to fat-wash bourbon for an Asado Old-Fashioned.

Maté, the South American tea made from dried yerba maté leaves, is another Argentinian tradition that’s found its way into Buenos Aires cocktails. At the Pony Line Lounge, we took the advice of maître d’ Tasio Baserga and ordered a mug of chilled maté infused with spirits and spices, which barman Emiliano Espinosa served alongside a pitcher of lemonade. (You add the lemonade to the spiked maté, diluting your cocktail to taste.)

If there’s anything more Argentinian than tango, it’s amaro. Buenos Aires has an amaro culture that rivals Rome’s, which is no coincidence: Italian immigrants poured into the city from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, taking their love of bitter fortified aperitif wines with them. Fernet Branca has a plant in Argentina — the only one outside of Italy — and a bevy of home-grown amari brands, chief among them Pineral, compete for grocery store shelf space with Campari, Cinzano and Cynar.

While Fernet and Coke is the most popular cocktail in Buenos Aires, the city’s craft cocktail bars put amari to much more interesting use. At Bar 878, Javier Sosa combines lime, grapefruit and Pineral into his Pizarro, while Bahdir Malouf counters with the Aperitif For Destruction: gin, mint and tonic water embittered by a blend of three amari (Punt e Mes, Cinzano and Cynar).

While Aperitif For Destruction was the best cocktail name in town, the best atmosphere belonged to Floreria Atlantico, a bar-restaurant hidden in a long, narrow basement underneath a flower shop. You enter through the shop, and with your nose full of bouquets descend the unmarked stairs into the Atlantico. With its distressed concrete walls, flaming parrilla behind the bar, and mix of bohemian and jet-set clientele, the interior recalls an Antonioni set from his L’eclisse period — or, to use the parlance of our times, a Dos Equis “most interesting man in the world” commercial.

Speaking of movie sets, step into Cafe Tortoni — an ornate, high-ceilinged coffee house that hasn’t changed a lick since it opened in 1858 — and you’re in a period epic by Visconti or Bertolucci. Our spirit guide, local cocktailian Fede Fusco, instructed us to skip the coffee and sip as the locals do: on thick, strong hot chocolate, leavened to taste with a side of whole milk. If you must order an alcohol-free beverage, there are worse calls than this.

PONY LINE LOUNGE

BAR 878

FLORERIA ATLANTICO

CAFE TORTONI

 

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THE BUM GETS SOME INK

Cass Tattoo

While the Beachbum is not above shameless self-promotion, he’s generally too lazy to indulge in it. But now Tiki mugmaker and mixologist extraordinaire Cass Junkhauler McClure has given the Bum a shot in the arm, in the form of a tattoo on Cass’s arm (pictured above).

Energized by this homage, we’ve managed to work up the gumption to post some recent press clippings about us.

First up is a New Orleans Times-Picayune pictorial of our new hut in the Crescent City, with no less than 22 photos by Dinah Rogers.  In the accompanying text, R. Stephanie Bruno heroically attempts to explain the Bum’s obsession with Bosko wall art and Mrs. Bum’s penchant for vintage Enid Collins purses.

Over at My Spilt Milk, Alex Rawls’ lively and literate website about all things New Orleans, Alex goes deep into the Zombie’s past — and the Bum’s — in an article entitled “I walked With a Zombie.”

Speaking of Zombies: In Class magazine, Ian Cameron reports on the Zombie seminar we gave last month at the Tales of the Cocktail festival in New Orleans. (So do Alexander Hanna in Intoxicology 101 and Eva Halloween in The Year of Halloween.)  In the same issue of Class, Ian recaps a second Tales seminar we did on 1970-80s drinks, a.k.a. mixology’s Dark Ages, which Anthony Rivera also writes about for The Scofflaw’s Den and Amy Zavatto for Fox News.

In the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Michael Rietmulder quotes us in his feature on the return of Tiki drinks to the Twin Cities, “Taking the Tacky out of Tiki Drinks.”

Not sick of us yet? Florida Tiki chronicler Jim “Hurricane” Hayward writes about us on his Atomic Grog site, not only in a drunken interview at the Mai-Kai but also in a story about Jim’s “Tiki Top 10” memories of this year’s Hukilau festival in Fort Lauderdale — where our “Wild West Indies” seminar made the list at number eight. Trina Sargalski of WLRN, South Florida’s National Public Radio station, also wrote about the West Indies seminar in her piece “Hukilau: 500 Years of Tropical Cocktails in Fort Lauderdale.”

After all that reading you probably need a drink. How about a Navy Grog, made with the Navy Grog Ice Cone Mold that we collaborated on with Cocktail Kingdom? Not sure? Okay then, here’s yet another thing to read: a review of the cone by Anthony Todd in The Chicagoist.

 

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HOW TO GLAM YOUR GROG

Cocktail Kingdom catalogue

Just after Prohibition, Don The Beachcomber single-handedly invented the Tiki bar and the Tiki Drink. During WWII he came up with the Navy Grog, one of his most popular — and most copied — faux-Polynesian punches. A large part of the Grog’s appeal was its signature garnish: a cone of ice packed around the straw, which both chilled the drink and transformed it into a “conversation-piece” cocktail (pictured below). Hundreds of Tiki bars and boîtes once glamorized their grogs this way, but now it’s a lost art; only one place in the world, the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, still does it. Over 20 years ago, ex-Beachcomber’s bartender Tony Ramos — who used to make Navy Grogs for Frank Sinatra at the Palm Springs Don The Beachcomber’s — revealed to the Beachbum how Tiki bartenders originally made the cone. The Bum passed this secret along to the folks at Cocktail Kingdom, who have now faithfully re-created the bespoke metal mold and “poking rod” used during Tiki’s 1940s-70s heyday.

Navy Grog

Here’s how it works: Tightly pack the metal mold with finely shaved “snow” ice. (You can make snow ice by running crushed ice through a food processor or a Sno-Cone maker.) Next, run the poking rod through the center to make a hole for the straw. Then gently remove your ice cone from the metal mold, and place the ice cone upright in your freezer. (Repeat these steps to make as many cones as your freezer space allows.) Let cone freeze for a minimum of 4 hours, until it’s frozen solid. When ready to use, remove the hardened cone from the freezer and slide a straw through the hole.

You can use the cone in any Tiki drink served in a rocks glass (such as the Mai Tai). But here’s the drink it was invented for: To make one Navy Grog, place in your shaker 3/4 ounce each fresh lime juice, white grapefruit juice, and club soda; 1 ounce each gold Demerara rum, dark Jamaican rum, and white Cuban (or Puerto Rican) rum; and 1 ounce honey mix (1 part honey dissolved in 1 part warm water). Shake well with plenty of ice, then strain into a glass containing your ice cone.

You can order your cone from Cocktail Kingdom here:

BEACHBUM BERRY’S NAVY GROG ICE CONE KIT

 

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ON THE ROAD

On The Road

The arrival of spring signals the departure of the Beachbum, as cocktail festivals bloom and he alights to smell the flowers garnishing his drinks.  Here’s his itinerary, should you be in the neighborhood (especially the neighborhood bars):

On April 20, the Bum will take on Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell in a debate at the Miami Rum Renaissance entitled “Battle of the Rum Ambassadors.”  Ian will make the case that he’s the world’s premiere ambassador of rum, while the Bum will take Don The Beachcomber’s side.

On April 29, the Bum will be in Buenos Aires to give a Tiki history seminar at the Tales of the Cocktail on Tour festival.

On May 7, he’ll be in Amsterdam to co-judge the Bols Around The World cocktail competition finals.

And on June 2, he’ll be at the Sunset Tiki Party in Tampa, Florida, followed by the Hukilau on June 7 in Fort Lauderdale, where he’ll lead a historical survey of “The Wild West Indies” and their even wilder drinks.

After these five solid days of work, the Bum will take a much-needed summer vacation.  Followed by his fall and winter vacations.   With any luck, he will then be rested enough to take on an even more punishing spring 2014 schedule.

 

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A LAYABOUT’S LONDON LAYOVER

Nightjar drinks

Zigzagging their way home from the Athens Bar Show last November, Mr. and Mrs. Bum found themselves with some time to kill in London. With only a few hours to spare, where do Tikiphiles go in a city that is arguably the cocktail capitol of the world? Talk about an embarrassment of riches from which to choose. There are actual Tiki bars like Trailer Happiness, Mahiki, and Kanaloa, all worthy. And there are scads of craft cocktail bars with exotic drinks on their menus.

But we’d been to all these places before. And before that. Was there any London exotica that we’d missed?

At the West End restaurant Bam-Bou, a steep wooden staircase winds through four stories of dining rooms. By all means, stop at one of them to sample the tasty pan-Asian dishes. But don’t leave without climbing to the summit. Here on the fifth floor is the Red Bar, an opium dream of Indochina in 1954. Lit by candles, ringed with black lacquered apothecary cabinets overflowing with mysterious Far Eastern herbs and spices, the Red Bar is an ideal place to rub shoulders with ghosts (if incorporeal beings can in fact rub shoulders, or any other part of themselves, which, for their sake, we hope they can). Is that Josef von Sternberg in the corner, sketching sets for Shanghai? Graham Greene, ordering three-snake liqueur from barman Ladislav Piljar? Well, at least Ladislav is no illusion. We’ve written about this Slovakia-born mixologist’s stint at Belfast’s Merchant Hotel Bar, whence he migrated to London’s Hix and the venerable Savoy Hotel, but here amid Bambou’s chinoiserie he seems — temporarily, at least — to have stopped roving. “I am very happy in these surroundings,” he informed us.

He also told us that Red Bar’s original drinks come from any one of a number of Bam-Bou’s staff, who rigorously workshop their recipes. Some of these are as exotic as the decor (the Kobe Mizuwari combines Japanese whiskey with umeshu, lemon, and a gunpowder tea syrup), but the most successful ones we sampled came from Ladislav’s own hand. Best of show were his Bam-Bou Daiquiri (Venezuelan rum, cinnamon liqueur, lime, caster sugar) and an as yet unnamed rum-and-allspice flip he’s still experimenting with (ask him for it; he’ll know the one).

Bam-Bou

In East London, another Slovakian émigré has gone exotic in a big way. So big that tables at his current place of employ, Nightjar (named after a nocturnal bird), are booked solid months in advance. Much has been made of Marian Beke’s innovative garnish program — which, through a strict daily prep regimen, produces visual masterpieces in record time at minimum cost. Marian’s garnishes have become such a selling point that Nightjar offers a pack of souvenir drink-photo playing cards to customers who want a memento of their prettified potions (pictured at top of post); Marian and his head bartender, Luca Cinalli, are also frequently tapped to give garnish seminars at bar shows throughout Europe.

Given the material used in some of the most elaborate garnishes, Nightjar might more appropriately be named Magpie: raw materials include quail egg shells, dried starfish, cacao nut casings, and Japanese origami. But what’s in the glass is just as novel as what’s on the rim.

Our first drink was the magnificent B.A.Q. Daiquiri (pimento-smoked Jamaican rum, fresh kumquat juice, honey and “barbecue spices”), followed by the Cosmo Roast (turkey fat-washed gin, house cranberry conserve, sage leaves, lime, and absinthe bitters). Although we admired the showmanship behind the Queen Elizabeth (a cocktail aged underwater in a barrel, which rests at the bottom of an aquarium next to a submerged replica of Big Ben), we opted instead for two classic Tiki drinks that had both been given the full Nightjar treatment. Marian’s take on the Beachcomber’s Punch transformed Don The Beachcomber’s simple rum, lime, and apricot brandy concoction into something Don would not have recognized, but would surely have enjoyed: cocoa-buttered Puerto Rican rum, housemade mamajuana cordial, chai tea, mastiha honey, lime, and fresh pineapple juice. Trader Vic’s Tortuga was similarly transformed by substituting housemade cacao-infused Amer Picon for the vermouth called for by Vic.

In fact, we couldn’t find a single drink on the 17 page menu that didn’t contain at least one arcane housemade ingredient. To name a few: monkey nut infusion, cheddar cheese-matured gin, quince liqueur, tobacco liqueur, tonka bean liqueur, Turkish delight syrup, Mexican herb syrup, juiced Korean pear, roasted melon juice, Arabic bitters, fig perfume, Peruvian corn soda, Malbec vine leaf smoke, Greek yoghurt tincture.

The sheer number of bespoke ingredients that go into Nightjar’s drinks (all told, we counted 35) boggles the mind, especially when you consider the elaborate garnishes that adorn those drinks. With all that stuff going in — and on — every glass, and with every seat in the house always occupied, you might expect a long wait for your cocktail. But Marian, Luca, and their confrère Gabriele Manfredi kick out orders at amazing speed, with clockwork precision, economy of movement, and balletic grace. It’s poetry in fast-motion. No wonder Nightjar’s jovial owner Edmund Weil, who has taken great pains to re-create the intimate ambiance of a 1920s live-jazz cabaret, discourages seating at the bar; if he didn’t, no one would be watching the stage.

BAM-BOU

NIGHTJAR

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