Coconut, mango, tamarind, lime and passion fruit are tropical flavors frequently associated with Latin cocktails like the piña colada, mango margarita and caipirinha, but they’re also the basis for Polynesian-style drinks. We’re talking about tiki bar cocktails, which bring to mind images of floral Hawaiian shirts, the 1958 film ‘South Pacific” and drinks mixed up with blue curacao topped with an umbrella. Retro images aside, the tiki bar movement is back and bigger than ever, giving Latinos the chance to indulge in fruit-and-spirit driven drinks that go beyond the typical mojito.
“Tiki drinks are just another aspect to the cocktail scene that’s still considered a bit underground,” says mixologist Dominic Venegas. A west coast transplant now whipping up drinks at the posh NoMad Hotel in New York City, Venegas is a self-described tiki affectionado determined to share his love of tiki culture, one drink at a time. “It’s still a bit underground,” says Venegas of tiki style, but “if you love tiki, you know where to go.”
The tiki bar movement – which took off in popularity after World War II when soldiers returning from the South Pacific brought with them a taste for island life and penchant for rum, the cheapest spirit at the time – has recently experienced a revival in Los Angeles and New York; a trend Venegas chalks up to a revival of classic styles like the Prohibition-era cocktail movement.
“It’s a really great history that started with bars like Trader Vic’s in Oakland and Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach,” explains Venegas of the two California bars credited with launching the tiki movement in the mid-1930s even before WWII veterans began coming home with a penchant for tropical drinks. “And now, it’s something that’s becoming even more popular and those of us into this style are getting really experimental.”
Using an assortment of spirits ranging in color and proof (Venegas loves using 110-proof Jamaican rums for added punch) and a variety of ingredients like orgeat almond syrup, pineapple juice, coconut water and the freshest of fruits, tiki cocktails are without a doubt, sexier than ever.
“As far as I’m concerned, tiki is the most exciting movement out there,” says Venegas, who has worked at dozens of fine dining restaurants and lounges since first working as a bartender as a teen during a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Hawaii. Take the San Luis Obispo, California native’s words to heart: “Once you try tiki, you’ll see why it’s becoming so popular.”
1 chunk pineapple(muddled)
.5 oz lime (squeeze of one half lime, keep the shell)
1 oz pineapple juice
.5 oz cinnamon simple syrup
.5 oz Grand Marnier
2 oz Clase Azul Plata
Fresh mint for garnish
Preparation: Using a shaker, shake all of the ingredients except the Lemon Hart rum and fine strain into a 3/4 pebble ice-filled Zombie glass. Place 1/2 lime shell on top of ice, making sure the lime is facing up and placed on ice to be flush with rim of glass. Float Lemon Hart over lime shell and top with fresh cinnamon. Using a kitchen blow torch, match or lighter, ignite the lime shell. Let it burn for about 8 seconds and blow out flame.
Serve with a mint garnish and long straw. Makes one cocktail.