DEEP SOUTH PACIFIC

If you’re still wondering whether the Tiki Revival has legs, consider Black Mountain, North Carolina, where the last pop culture trend to penetrate city limits was bear-baiting.

Passing through the area recently, the Beachbum entered the local Ingles supermarket in search of limes and ice.  There, just inside the door, he found a coin-operated novelty dispenser (pictured above) full of “Tiki jewelry.”  While there were no Tikis on any of the jewelry, the mere usage of  the word signals that Tiki has achieved full market penetration.  Hell, supermarket penetration.

In other Tiki Revival news, a recent Honolulu magazine article profiles the new Hawaiian Tiki Tribe, while Class magazine interviews a certain Tiki dipsomaniac.

Not enough shameless self-promotion for you?  Very well then, here are two new reviews of our Tiki+ iPhone app from the discerning taste-makers at the Chicagoist and the Pegu Blog.

 

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HAS MIXOLOGY JUMPED THE SHARK?

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear right up front:  we love mock speakeasies.  We love bartenders who wear bowler hats, Jerry Thomas facial hair, and sleeve garters.  Even more than the theatricality, we love the ceremony of watching a vintage cocktail being scrupulously and lovingly brought back to life before our eyes.  It’s what makes going to a bar better than drinking at home with the TV droning in the background.

Which is what we did last night.  With a Planter’s Punch in one hand and the remote in the other, we happened on a basic cable sitcom called The League, about a group of fantasy football players.  Our fantasies have nothing to do with football, but we put down the remote when one character, a metrosexual named Andre (pictured above) who chases all the latest trends, announced that “I’ve been studying mixology.”  Then he invited the group to a “mixology party” at his loft — or, as he renamed it for the party, “Andre’s Speakeasy.”

At the party he pulled out all the craft cocktail stops, from chipping a big block of ice to giving a running commentary as he demo’d a drink for his guests:  “My muddling is going to be much more rewarding to your palate … We’re making the drink on every single level…”

Unimpressed, the group poured themselves vodka shots and made sport of their host’s pre-Prohibition bartender’s outfit (“You look like a Deadwood character at a Justin Bieber concert”).  Oh, and the drink?  It’s name was “The Poser’s Demise.”

For all the reasons we stated at the top of this post, we would hate to see the end of the olde tyme cocktail bar trend.  But we have seen the future, and it’s not mock speakeasies.  It’s mocking speakeasies.

 

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COOL CATALONIANS

While London has a severe case of Polynesiaphilia (six Tiki bars opened there this year alone) and Hamburg, Oslo, and even Moscow show signs of infection, Barcelona has long been Europe’s most Tikified city.  And Kahala has long been it’s most Tikified bar.

The Beachbum’s host during a recent Barcelona visit, Ivan “Bastardo Saffrin” Castro, filled us in:  “You know why Kahala has such good decor?  In the 1970s there were 12 Tiki bars in Barcelona, and the owners used to play poker together.  And they bid with their Tikis.  And Nicolas, the owner of Kahala, was a very good poker player.”  The decor is indeed impressive, from the jungle lagoon foyer — whose wooden bridge takes you over a babbling brook past temple ruins — to the artfully lit friezes adorning the bar, where each drink is served in a different bespoke Tiki mug, many dating back to Kahala’s opening day in 1971.

Kahala served Cantonese food until 1977, but stopped when actual Chinese restaurants began popping up in Barcelona.  Encouraged by the global Tiki Revival, Nicolas has restored Kahala to a full-service restaurant.  His new chef, Santi Lafonfioni, offers a luau that starts with classic pupus, done to a turn, followed by a whole roast suckling pig, and a show-stopping dessert tray featuring a delectable Fog Cutter Mousse and mini Easter Island moais made of Portuguese marzipan.

After pausing to admire Nicolas’s Tikified Harley parked on the sidewalk (complete with coconut headlight housings), we headed across town to Barcelona’s newest Tiki bar, Tahití (pictured above).  The boxy room is short on decor but long on aloha.  Alberto and Vasco, the friendly, enthusiastic bartenders, serve every drink with a smile — and a flaming sugar cube.

One thousand eyes watched us stumble to our next bar.  They were all affixed to the walls of Ohla Hotel, whose surreal exterior presaged the Cocteau-esque drinks of Max La Rocca and Giuseppe Santamaria, the team behind Ohla’s Boutique Bar.   Working side by side with serene economy of movement and a limpid, almost feline grace, Max and Guiseppe served us a progression of increasingly complex setpieces:  a Deconstructed Negroni with kumquat jelly … a Rhubarb Crusta … a Gin Mai Tai topped with cherries soaked in Port, Dubonnet, vanilla sugar and bitters … a tripartite cocktail called Three Is The Magic Number, with three base spirits, three bitters, and three sweeteners, all bound together with chocolate smoke wafting from a hand-blown decanter (pictured below).  This last was a command performance, a pas de deux of concentrated but seemingly effortless industry.  It topped even Giuseppe’s Mulata Mojito, whose never-ending garnish began with chocolate swizzle sticks and ended umpteen items later with a cascade of gold dust.

Anything after Ohla would have been anticlimactic — with the possible exception of Las Boadas, founded in 1933 by Miguel Boadas Parera upon his return from Havana, where he’d tended bar at La Florida, Constantine Ribalaigua’s legendary “Cradle of the Daiquiri.”  Our heart leapt as we entered Las Boadas to find barmen mixing drinks the old Cuban way, “throwing” them from mixing can to mixing can.  We couldn’t place our order fast enough:  “Daiquirí, por favor!”  Feeling like the victim of a bait-and-switch scam, we watched our Daiquiri being mixed — in a blender.  This, of course, is no sin:  Constantine used a blender for many of his drinks, and so do we.  But our Las Boadas Daiquiri was served slushy in a tall tumbler.  And it was even sweeter than the canned maraschino cherry that topped it.

Fortunately, Ivan had a solution.  He marched us around the corner and through an alley to The Caribbean Club.  Our ruffled feathers were instantly smoothed by walls of dark polished ship’s wood, porthole windows, an extensive cocktail shaker collection, and display cases full of antique nautical curiosities.  Ivan ordered Daiquiris for our party of four — which barman José Antonio made all at once in a large vintage Parisian shaker.  We have read that Constantine measured his drinks so precisely that when he poured from his shaker into a row of glasses, the last drop filled the last glass right to the rim.  So it was with José.  The drink itself was perfect:  tart, strong, frosty.  The bum’s compliments, delivered in broken, dimly remembered high-school Spanish, must have made some sort of sense, as José grinned (whether at our gratitude or our ineptitude, we cannot say) and offered us a shot of one of the extinct rums from the Caribbean Club’s collection.  We chose a limited-edition numbered bottle of 40-year-old Spanish rum, “Ron 1818,” which had sat unmolested on the shelf for so long that it took a pocket knife to pry the top loose.  It took a crowbar to pry us out of José’s hideaway.

KAHALA

TAHITÍ

OHLA BOUTIQUE BAR

CARIBBEAN CLUB

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OUR NIGHTLY BREAD

Berliners do not take their drinking lightly.  A recent week there had us sprawled in our bed at the end of every night, barely able to move.  Fortunately we had company.  Nightly from 12 to 6 a.m., a local TV station aired an unbroken closeup of a dour puppet trapped in a Sartrean void.  His frustrated monologue was in German, so we had no idea who or what he was (a stick of rancid butter?  a moldy sponge?), only that his existential dilemma mirrored our hangover to an alarming degree.

We asked our hosts, Wolfgang and Arta, about him, and learned that he is a loaf of bread named Bernd, and something of a local celebrity.  Relieved that he was not a figment of our alcoholically impaired imagination, we were finally able to focus on other things, namely the German Rum Festival Berlin and Bar Convent Berlin.  Here’s a smattering of what we saw and heard:

Master blender Richard Seale, on distillers who dope their rum with sugar and artificial flavor extracts:  “The rum world is a jungle.  It’s the wild west.  There are no rules.  Anything goes.”

Ian Burrel, at his Pina Colada lecture:  “You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning.”

Angus Winchester, on the co-option of Tiki bars by Caribbean rum marketeers:  “Can pirates be part of Tiki?  No.  Can reggae be part of Tiki? No.”

Gary Regan, opening his seminar on New York bars to a packed house:  “Good afternoon, motherfuckers.”

Angus Winchester again:  “Drinking to get drunk is like fucking to get pregnant.”

Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re ovulating.

 

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COCKTAIL NATION VS. CARRIE NATION

Starting this Sunday, PBS airs a new three-part documentary by Ken Burns (The Civil War, Baseball, Jazz).  Apparently not all the Beachbum’s friends are in low places, because he was recently sent a preview copy.

This time Burns co-directed with Lynn Novick, but all the usual Burns trademarks are there:  compelling archival footage, equally compelling photos, and an epic narrative personalized with stories of famous, infamous, and anonymous people caught in the undertow of American history.

In this case the history is of American drinking, and what happened to it when the decades-long crusade of temperance activists resulted in the Volstead Act.  Prohibition makes an admirable companion piece to what is still the best book on the subject, Herbert Asbury’s 1950 The Great Illusion.  The film serves up some delicious ironies, such as that temperance groups were segregated by both race and gender, and that one bootlegger’s biggest weekly delivery was to the chambers of the U.S. Senate; we also learn that drinking was so pervasive in the early years of the Republic that instead of coffee breaks, American workers took “grog breaks.”

Prohibition clocks in at around 6 hours.  That makes it a short subject for Burns, who spent 18 hours on baseball and almost 19 on jazz.  Which brings us to our sole quibble:  like baseball and jazz, the cocktail was an American cultural phenomenon.  While long on the political, economic, and sociological consequences of Prohibition, nowhere in Prohibition’s 346 minutes do Burns and Novick find time to discuss Prohibition’s effect on the cocktail itself:  how making alcohol illegal between 1920 and 1933 almost destroyed the American mixed drink as a culinary art form.

We could have used a little less about Al Capone (a History Channel perennial) and a little something about the diaspora of America’s mixologists to Havana, London, and Paris — which, coupled with the ghastly drink recipes concocted in speakeasies to mask the taste of bootleg liquor, drastically set back cocktail culture in the country where the cocktail first gained prominence.

On the other hand, as spirits journalist Camper English has pointed out, the vacuum created by Prohibition was filled by Don The Beachcomber and his Tiki drinks — which may never have happened at all if U.S. cocktail bars had continued purring along without the rude interruption of Andrew Volstead and company.

For screening times and DVD info:

“PROHIBITION” ON PBS

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