Photo: Demián Camacho Santa Ana
With the renewed interest in classic cocktails over the past decade, it wasn't uncommon to get a little attitude from some bartenders -- whether in hip urban establishments or honky tonk bars -- if you ordered piña colada ("the blender is broken"), a Mai Tai, or any other foofy drink that traditionally comes in a funky mug with a fruit salad garnish. Not anymore. Tiki drinks and all their gewgaw are back in full swing.
In the early 30's, Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt figured out how to make some money with his interest in Polynesian culture. He named his place Don the Beachcomber (and later even changed his own name to Donn Beach), becoming quite the entertainer and host at his restaurant bar. Legend has it that he ran a water hose on top of his tin roof to mimic the sound of rain so customers would keep chatting and drinking. With over 80 drinks to his credit, he is the father of the tiki cocktail craze that lasted for decades. With copy cats galore attempting to make a profit off his concept, many of the liquor bottles at the Beachcomber bar were replaced with ones labeled with cryptic letters and numbers to keep the recipes as secret as possible.
California's Victor Bergeron built on the Beachcomber's success. His tiki entertainment empire became known as Trader Vic's. His books Trader Vic's Book of Food and Drink (1946) and the Bartender's Guide by Trader Vic (1947) are worth adding to your library.