GREECE IS THE WORD

Thodorus Pirillos

The last time the Beachbum hit Athens was so long ago that … well, let’s just say he panhandled not for euros but drachmas. Recently he returned to the city to find it in financial straits even worse than his own, but you wouldn’t know Athens was depressed if all you did was go to the local bars. Which, of course, is all we did.

After such a long absence we were in need of tippling tour guidance, which Mixellany publishers Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller stepped up to provide. Like the Bum they were in town for the Athens Bar Show, an intimate event more focused than most of its kind, with an emphasis on local products (the most interesting were Mastic, a liqueur rendered from the resin of a Mediterranean shrub, and a vanilla-fig bitters by Stelios Magoulas of the Hellas Bar Academy).

The first stop on Anistatia and Jared’s itinerary was A For Athens, located on the sixth floor of a hotel off Monastiraki Square. Two things took us by surprise. First was the eye-level view of the nearby Acropolis, quite simply the most spectacular thing we’ve ever seen from a bar stool (the vista is even more impressive from the open-air roof deck one flight up; seek the unmarked staircase half-hidden to the left of the bar). Second was the cocktail menu, which contained a healthy selection of Tiki drinks: a Cou-Cou Comber from Sippin’ Safari, a classic Mai Tai mixed with Appleton Extra and Rhum St. James, and original exotics expertly mixed by barman Thodorus Pirillos (pictured above; photo by Jared). We particularly enjoyed his Passion Caramel (gold Puerto Rican rum teased with passion fruit and butterscotch) and Mole de Platano #2 (Zacapa Centenario fat-washed with banana butter, then thrown Cuban-style with sherry and mole bitters). A work-in-progress house mix by Thodorus (ginger syrup, pear brandy and brown sugar) was delectable in and of itself.

Across the square from A For Athens stands its new sister bar, 360, so named for the panoramic terrace view that puts you one block closer to the Acropolis — and closer still to the Grecian tiki revival. Owner George Gaitanidis has five drinks from the Beachbum Berry books on his menu, served in Tiki mugs hand-made especially for 360 by a Greek artisan in Thessalonika. George reckons he’ll be throwing a lot more business that artisan’s way: “By May we expect to be serving 2,000 cocktails a day,” he told us, “since 1,500 for A For Athens is the average.”

We found still more Tiki at Baba au Rum. On the walls: Framed Trader Vic cocktail menus and pages from Sven Kirsten’s Book of Tiki. On the menu: a full complement of old and new Tiki drinks, from Scorpion Bowls and Zombies to original Baba au Rum riffs like the Ray Barrientos Daiquiri, named after a 1950s Beverly Hills Luau bartender and incorporating the Luau’s secret “Spices #4.” (How’s that for obscure?)

BlackCatSociety

Even so, Baba au Rum is not a full-tilt Tiki bar. Gilded Age and Prohibition-era cocktails also take up a lot of real estate on the menu, and the decor is postwar Paris bohemian boîte, with live jazz to match. The night of our visit, a six piece ensemble called Black Cat Society (pictured above) monopolized almost all the floor space, but rewarded the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd with virtuoso Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, and even James Brown numbers. “I Feel Good,” the keyboardist announced before launching into Brown’s signature anthem. “This is a rum bar. And when we drink rum, we feel good!”

It was impossible to feel otherwise after a rum Manhattan and rum Old-Fashioned, both enlivened with house-made spice tinctures. When we asked owner Thanos Prunarus who came up with these formulae, he replied that “the drinks are a team effort,” citing as his collaborators Baba au Rum bartenders Konstantinos Stefanakis and Vagelis Zachos, and even their barback Tazul. To this list we’d add Thanos’s co-host Katerina Kastana, whose warm welcome made every drink taste just a little bit better.

BABA AU RUM

A FOR ATHENS

360 COCKTAIL BAR

 

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BACK IN THE NEW YORK GROOVE

Tiki Monday

Since Ace Frehley sang those immortal words in 1978, Exotica has has been in and out of the New York groove. The lowest blow, of course, was the closing of the storied Trader Vic’s in the Plaza Hotel. Both Stanley Kubrick and Bob Fosse were fans (Fosse took his mistresses there; Kubrick took Arthur C. Clarke), but when Donald Trump bought the Plaza in 1989 he pronounced Vic’s “tacky” and shut it down. More recently, Manhattan Tiki suffered another blow when the Hawaiian-themed Lani Kai bar — home to “Tiki Monday,” Brian Miller’s weekly bacchanal of outstanding rum drinks and uplifting aloha spirit — closed shop in September. Nevertheless, exotic drinks are still alive and well on the island.

For one thing, as of January 7th Tiki Monday has a new home at GoldBar, whose wall of gold-plated skulls should mesh nicely with Brian’s “Tiki Pirate” wardrobe (pictured above). For another, you don’t have to wait till Monday for an artisanal exotic cocktail in New York. You can get one any night of the week at PKNY, Mayahuel, Pegu Club, PDT, or the Experimental Cocktail Club.

Of these, only PKNY is an actual Tiki bar. Granted, the decor — a mashup of Dinkins-era Lower East Side grit and bamboo beach bar — owes more to The Warriors than to Eli Hedly. But the music, at least on the nights DJs Jack Fetterman and Gina Of The Jungle control the playlist, is authentic. So’s the menu, a treasure-trove of old-school Tiki drinks and new-school artisanal craft cocktail twists on the classics. Each is lovingly made from scratch, with no ingredient uninvigorated: the house coconut cream mix, to take one example, was subjected to constant experimentation that dragged on for months — resulting in the only Piña Colada the Beachbum (who normally hates Piña Coladas even more than he hates that song about them) has ever ordered twice.

pkny

After following these with a Nui Nui, Jet Pilot, and Jungle Bird (all from the Beachbum Berry books, and all improved by canny rum substitutions) the Bum slurred his compliments to PKNY barman Valentin Gonzalez. A word of advice: don’t over-compliment Val or he’s likely to lift you off the floor in one of his signature bear hugs. When the Bum’s feet again touched terra firma, Val confided that not every PKNY drink is the result of a long gestation period. Some hatch spontaneously: “One night a drunk lady came in and said, ‘I wanna Piña Colada and a Mai Tai. But I want it together.’ We put them both in the same glass, and it actually worked. So we called it the Happy Ending.”

Curious about where else in town we could find a good exotic, we enlisted our local spirit guides, Martin Doudoroff and Sandy Rosin. They marched us to Mayahuel, Phil Ward’s catedral of agave-based cocktails. The downstairs bar is beautifully and elegantly themed, with late 19th-century Mexican decor accented by chiaroscuro lighting that would do Zurbaran proud (try to score a seat here rather than the upstairs dining room, which lacks the dreamlike atmosphere of the lower level). Naturally our first drink choice was the On The Bum, an intriguing mix of pineapple-infused mescal, Jamaican rum, lime, orgeat, and Phil’s “Medley #2” spiced syrup; next came a revelatory Smoked Pisco Sour, followed by the imaginative and transformative Change Agent (sotol blanco, granny apple, ginger, lime, and salt).

After Mayahuel we hit the Experimental Cocktail Club, whose host CoCo Prochorowski (imported from Stagger Lee in Berlin, where he’d seriously juleped the Bum two years ago) recommended an ECC specialty called the Kinkakuji, by Nicolas DeSoto. It was as good as it was complicated — and it was very complicated, incorporating Japanese whiskey, Trinidad rum, Batavia arrack, clarified milk, coconut water, green tea, and a house mix of eight Asian spices.

Audrey Saunders’s venerable Pegu Club (a proving ground for many now prominent NYC bartenders) has also gone exotic of late, offering drinks to match its decor, which recalls Burma under the British Raj. Pegu bartist Kenta Goto combines lemon, cucumber, apple, and artichoke-infused gin into his Cucumber Apple Fizz; we also enjoyed a Honeydew Daiquiri co-created by Kenta and his fellow Pegu mixologist Raul Flores (rum, lime, lemon, melon nectar, and absinthe).

The Shark

We’ve covered Please Don’t Tell elsewhere in these pages, but that was before John deBary hired on there. John’s done something that would have been unthinkable in haute Manhattan speakeasies like PDT even a short time ago: put a blue drink on the menu. A tasty one, too, as befits PDT. The Shark (pictured above) compounds butter-infused Nicaraguan rum, Jamaican overproof rum, Frangelico, blue curacao, lemon, pineapple, cream, and Bittermens Elemakule Tiki Bitters — and comes complete with a paper parasol garnish.

We also noticed paper parasols as far afield as the Hurricane Club on Park Avenue and Otto’s Shrunken Head in the East Village. Apparently what goes around does indeed come around: the umbrella drink is back … if not in the mainstream, at least in the New York groove.

PKNY

MAYAHUEL

EXPERIMENTAL COCKTAIL CLUB

PEGU CLUB

PLEASE DON’T TELL

 

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MAGNIFICENT OBSESSIVES

Drinking played a huge part in “Papa” Hemingway’s life — and death.  But while Hemingway biographies have become a cottage industry over the years, no Hemingway scholar has seen fit to write a book on the subject (although Tom Dardis devoted a chapter to Papa’s binges in his classic 1991 treatise on alcoholic writers, The Thirsty Muse).

Now Philip Greene, a co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans, has filled this void with his entertaining book To Have and Have Another:  A Hemingway Cocktail Companion.  Even if your youthful ardor for Papa’s quien es mas macho work has dimmed over the years (as ours has), you have to admire Philip’s obsessive thoroughness.  After over two decades of research, he’s come up with recipes and backstory not only for every cocktail that Hemingway’s fictional characters ever drank, but also Hemingway himself.  No small feat, considering that Papa approached drinking the same way he approached boxing:  as a competitive sport, with the winner the last man standing.

Hemingway also fancied himself something of a mixologist, and Philip doesn’t miss a beat here either.  He’s even tracked down an original tropical drink by Papa, the Tomini, which the novelist fashioned from coconuts and limes growing in the back yard of his Key West home.  (Recipe:  2 ounces gin, 4 ounces fresh coconut water, juice of one lime, and Angostura bitters to taste, shaken with ice.)

Papa killed himself with a rifle blast to the head 51 years ago.  He was a better shot than the movie industry, which shot itself in the head over 30 years ago, but is still with us:  brain-dead, incapable of meaningful work, but obstinately clinging to a culturally irrelevant existence.  Which brings us to another book by and for obsessives.

The movie industry’s self-inflicted wound was Jaws — a good film, but one which made so much money that Hollywood’s corporate overlords decreed that thenceforth all movies would take after the titular shark of Spielberg’s blockbuster:  they would become relentless marketing machines that chased not intelligent adult audiences but their own tails, “miring every multiplex in spectral repetitions of former success,” as Joshua Cohen put it in a recent issue of Harper’s magazine, “franchises with recurring casts acting out recursive plots; sequels becoming threequels; do-overs; reenactments.”

What’s an alienated aesthete to do?  Just as Papaphiles now have Philip’s handbook, cinephiles now have the American Library Association’s Queue Tips:  Discovering Your Next Great Movie.  Chicago-based critic Rob Christopher asked ten writers from different disciplines for lists of their pet films to rent or stream.  (Rob himself contributes the best lists, including “Nine Westerns That Aren’t Westerns” and “Flops That Aren’t Actually Half Bad.”)  The resulting syllabus is heavy on the work of late lamented visual artists who wouldn’t stand a chance of getting their now classic films made today (Welles, Penn, Tarkovsky), as well as recent titles by the few contemporary American filmmakers (Malick, Lynch) who still joust at the windmills of Hollywood, Inc., stubbornly refusing to let go of the now downright quaint notion that movies are not just market-driven digital content, but an art form.

All well and good, you say, but what’s Queue Tips doing in a blog about Tiki drinks?  As it happens, the Beachbum penned one of the book’s lists, “Tropical Cocktails at the Movies,” an expanded version of his 2008 Grog Blog post.

And speaking of tropical cocktails:  apparently they’re not just for rum anymore.  Of all things, a Tiki moonshine recipe appears in this month’s Whisky Advocate magazine.  What Philip Greene is to Hemingwayiana and Rob Christopher to movie trivia, Matthew Rowley is to white dog.  In 2007 he wrote the definitive book on the subject (Moonshine!:  Recipes * Tall Tales * Drinking Songs * Historical Stuff * Knee-Slappers * How to Make It * How to Drink It * Pleasin’ the Law * Recoverin’ the Next Day), but five years later he’s still on a quest to quaff the spirit wherever it’s found, from illegal hillbilly stills to high-end boutique hipster distilleries — all of which he explores in his Advocate article “It’s a Nice Day For a White Whiskey.”  You can download a PDF of the piece over at his Rowley’s Whiskey Forge blog.

TO HAVE AND HAVE ANOTHER

QUEUE TIPS

MOONSHINE

 

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GHOST WORLDS

“The past is a foreign country,” L.P.Hartley famously wrote, “they do things differently there.” Thanks to two Tiki DVDs, now we can see for ourselves.

A mostly silent, at times hypnotically Herzogian, compilation of amateur vacation footage from the 1950s through the 1970s, Hawaii Home Movies is an eerie experience — a video seance. Vanished tourist Edens flicker back to life in faded color and fuzzy focus, among them the Coco Palms Resort, the Willows restaurant, Ulu Mau Village, even a glimpse of Don The Beachcomber’s outdoor Dagger Bar on Waikiki.

More compelling than the long dead places are the long dead people, often caught unknowingly on camera. A group of fat Middle American ladies breaks into an impromptu hula in a shopping center parking lot; WWII vets in aloha shirts disembark from an endless line of buses at the Punchbowl cemetery; a bored tour guide takes a cigarette break. In one Super-8 sound-camera clip of surfers on the North Shore, the cameraman’s off-screen wife can be heard carping, “It’s better’n San Diego, but it’s still nothin’ spectacular, Bob.”

The footage all comes from the collection of Rohan Pugh, an Australian Tikiphile who culled an hour’s worth of the 8mm and 16mm reels he found at yard sales over the years. He added no contextualizing voice-over narration; as he freely admits in the liner notes, he also did “very little editing. Unless it was edited at the time, this is as it came out of the camera.” There are the inevitable longueurs: we could have done with fewer Kodak Hula Show moments, or shaky pans of empty beaches. But on the whole, the DVD benefits from Rohan’s decision to let the archivist in him win out over the entertainer. Giving the amateur footage a professional gloss would have stripped it of its ghostly affect.

Professional gloss is on abundant display in The DVD of Tiki, Volume 1: Paradise Lost (pictured at top of post), an artfully directed documentary about the rise and fall of “Backyard Polynesia,” the midcentury pop-culture lifestyle trend first documented by Sven Kirsten in his 2003 tome The Book Of Tiki. Sven is one of the film’s many on-camera interviews (full disclosure: your humble Bum is among them), and Sven’s sound bites, interwoven with rare vintage footage and new sequences shot in the South Pacific and at the surviving Tiki meccas of North America, help director Jochen Hirschfeld condense 40 years of Poly-Pop history into 95 sharp, satisfying minutes.

It took Jochen, who directs TV commercials in his native Germany, eight years to complete this first volume of his Tiki opus. Since he began in the nascent stage of the Tiki Revival, he was able to accrue a wealth of material — including a visit with Martin Denny and a session with one of postwar Tahiti’s legendary Bali Hai Boys — that a filmmaker setting out today couldn’t hope to capture, since more than a few of Jochen’s interview subjects are now dead. But more important than possessing exclusive footage, Jochen possesses the narrative gifts to put the ghosts of Tiki’s past into a crisp and cohesive story. Here’s hoping Volume Two doesn’t take another eight years.

DVD OF TIKI

HAWAII HOME MOVIES

 

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MISSION TO MOSCOW

Recently the Beachbum was invited to the Moscow Bar Show (pictured above) to help spread Tiki in Russia. On arrival, he discovered that he was a day late and a rouble short: Tiki has already taken root in Russia.

At the show we made the acquaintance of Ignat Samsona, who’s introduced Mai Tais to his clientele at Restaurant Famous in Rostov-On-Don; Yuriy Sokiryan, who’s started a Tiki drink program at the Grand Hotel in Kiev; and Andrii Kosachov, who’s gene-splicing Russo-Tiki drinks in the Ukraine (such as his Russian Kiss, which swirls lemon juice and honey syrup with horseradish and red basil). We also caught up with our pal Alexey Shaposnikov, who told us he’s been teaching Tiki classes to his fellow bartenders in Saint Petersburg. As if that weren’t enough, we learned that Moscow now boasts not one but two Tiki bars, the Aloha and the Kon-Tiki.

We must confess that we failed to visit either of them. “How could this be?” you ask. “You lazy bum, how could you travel halfway around the world and not go to the Tiki bars there?” Well, as it happens, getting halfway around the world is much easier than getting halfway around Moscow.

Russia’s capital is a traffic jam in search of a city. It’s as if Houston fell on top of Los Angeles. On even the shortest cab ride you will encounter ambulances hopscotching through the gridlock to the scene of multiple traffic accidents. Which is puzzling, because traffic rarely flows long enough to enable an accident. Add to this a nine-million-passenger-a-day Metro that makes Tokyo’s seem depopulated, and you have a situation where getting anywhere is a major commitment. Especially for a commitment-phobic сачок (which, the Moscow Times informed us, is us: “сачок is a goof off, loafer or slacker.”)

Not that we had to go far to get a good drink: the Bar Show itself offered lots of them, from Nikka Whiskey ambassador Stanislav Vadrna’s artful swizzles to British barsmith Samantha Fish’s muscular Manhattans. Anton Marychev of Moscow’s fine Time Out Bar (which we did manage to visit) pointed us to the best homegrown show booth, where a local cocktail collective known as the Bartender Brothers conducted a food-pairing demo that proved vodka isn’t all bad — especially when you chase it with oysters and caviar.

TIME OUT BAR

MOSCOW BAR SHOW

 

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