Exciting news this week for fans of The Mai-Kai with the release of new Tiki mugs and pre-orders for a long-awaited history book. News on The Art of Tiki event in South Beach includes a new rum sponsor and the return of last year’s champ. We recap events from N.Y.C. to L.A., including new Doug Horne Tiki mugs. Upcoming events include a tribute to Steve Crane, South Florida’s Polynesian Cultural Festival, and a new Trader Vic’s seminar. In other news, a tree crashes the party at VenTiki, plus Bacardi and Havana Club duke it out. Regular features spotlight eclectic artist Sam Gambino; groundbreaking exotica ensemble Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica; Brooklyn bar Fort Defiance; and online group Poly Hai. The Rum of the Week, Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 15, is featured in the Pineapple Express cocktail.
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* Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events
Note: For 2016, The Week in Tiki will remain bi-weekly, but we’ve simplified the schedule. Look for blogs recapping the first and second half of each month.
New Mai-Kai mugs released, history book coming in July
As promised, the new mugs inspired by The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale have been released to the general public by California-based artist Tiki Diablo. The mug is available in three different glazes for $75 each and can be purchased online via Tiki Diablo’s store. They should also be available in the restaurant’s gift shop, The Mai-Kai Trading Post, within the next week.
In December, a limited number of artist proofs were released and quickly sold out. The mug, which comes with its own pendant, pays tribute to the historic Polynesian Palace’s iconic Tikis. Tiki Diablo, aka Danny Gallardo, has previously created mugs that pay homage to memorable Tikis at The Mai-Kai in 2014 and 2015 (see story). He’ll also be crafting the official mug for the upcoming book on The Mai-Kai by Tim “Swanky” Glazner.
UPDATE: The book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant, will be released Sept. 28. The 176-page hardcover book (11 inches wide by 8 1/2 inches high) is being issued by Schiffer Publishing. It’s available for pre-order online via Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Glazner will be hosting a release party and special events at The Mai-Kai on Sept. 17-18. Advance copies of the book will be available at the release party.
In the book, the longtime Mai-Kai historian reveals never-before-seen photos and stories that he’s gleaned from more than 13 years of research on the 59-year-old Tiki temple, which was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a fascinating story of the brash young men who in 1956 created The Mai-Kai for a million dollars, making it one of the most expensive restaurants of its day. By sparing no expense and creating a one-of-a kind Tiki paradise, Bob and Jack Thornton created an acclaimed playground of celebrities and playboys during the mid-century heyday of Polynesian Pop.
Glazner also spotlights the beautiful women who worked there, many who used the experience as a jumping-off point for adventure and fame. The book includes exclusive first-hand stories on more than 400 images, documenting not only The Mai-Kai but the history, allure, and enduring legacy of the original Tiki era. Focusing on 1955 to 1971, the book traces the genesis of the restaurant and its key employees back to Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber. Many of The Mai-Kai’s original key managers and employees came from the Beachcomber outpost in Chicago, where the Thorntons called home. This includes bartender Mariano Licudine, who created the acclaimed bar menu (based on Donn Beach’s original “rum rhapsodies”) that remains intact at The Mai-Kai today.
Don’t miss: Glazner, who also operates Swank Pad Productions and writes the Swank Pad blog, will present a special symposium on The Mai-Kai at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in June. “The Mai-Kai: History, Mystery and Adventure” will be presented at the event’s host hotel, the Hyatt Regency Pier 66, on Friday, June 10, at 2 p.m. Tickets are available now for $25. Glazner will present rare video and images as he previews the book and explores the rich history and entertaining stories of The Mai-Kai.
* Facebook event | Atomic Grog preview
JUNE UPDATE: ‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai
* More on the book: Official site | Facebook page | Email list
* The Mai-Kai: Official website | Facebook page | Instagram
* The Atomic Grog: Heeeeeeere’s the rich history and lost stories of The Mai-Kai
Tour of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious bars and kitchen | The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide
‘The Art of Tiki’ to feature Rhum Barbancourt, Brian Miller
More details are emerging about the sold-out Tiki cocktail competition set for Feb. 26 at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. “The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown” will feature nine of the country’s best Tiki bars and bartenders competing for cash prizes (and bragging rights) in a festive event hosted by Food Network’s Guy Fieri. The second annual event will also include food stations with small tropical-themed bites created by acclaimed chefs from South Florida and beyond. Guests will sample the food and cocktails, then vote for their favorite drink.
The cocktail competitors all submitted recipes in advance and had them approved by the event organizers. In a change from last year, the spirits sponsor is Rhum Barbancourt, so all the drinks must include at least one of the brand’s distinctive sugarcane-based rhums from Haiti. In addition, there will be a special cocktail booth at the event that won’t feature a contestant. Instead, you’ll find last year’s winner, Brian Miller (of “Tiki Mondays With Miller” in New York City), mixing up special Rhum Barbancourt drinks on behalf of the sponsor.
The competing bars are The Broken Shaker (Miami Beach), Fort Defiance (Brooklyn), Foundation Tiki Bar (Milwaukee), The Golden Tiki (Las Vegas), Kreepy Tiki Lounge (Fort Lauderdale), The Mai-Kai (Fort Lauderdale), Porco Lounge & Tiki Room (Cleveland), The Rum Line (Miami Beach), and Slowly Shirley / The Happiest Hour (New York City).
Full event preview coming soon.
* Previous update: Tickets for ‘The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown’ sell out
* The Atomic Grog’s recap, photos from the 2015 showdown
Modernism Week in Palm Springs salutes Tiki with Shag party
The 11th annual Modernism Week in Palm Springs celebrates the influence of Tiki culture with a special cocktail party hosted by Shag, “Palm Springs Polynesia: Then & Now,” on Friday, Feb. 12. Guests will join artist Josh Agle (aka Shag) in toasting the influence of Tiki culture in Palm Springs modernism since the 1950s.
Set for 8 to 11 p.m. at the Caliente Tropics Hotel (site of May’s Tiki Caliente event), the party will feature hors d’oeuvres and three themed cocktail stations, presented by Sailor Jerry rum, Bootlegger Tiki and Tonga Hut. The poolside festivities will also include live music from the Martini Kings, plus DJ Baz. Guests will receive a special gift from Shag, and there will be a selection of artwork from Shag the Store on display. Tickets ($125) are still available.
Tiki culture, particularly its mid-century design aesthetic, has a rich history in Palm Springs. A revival and renaissance began 14 years ago when the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation published the “Desert Polynesia” tribute journal with cover artwork by Shag (see above). In 2010, officials voted Royal Hawaiian Estates (where Shag maintains a desert getaway) as the city’s first residential historic district. The resurgence has been punctuated by events such as Tiki Caliente and Mod-Palm Springs (both held at the Caliente Tropics), as well as new Tiki bars (Tonga Hut, Bootlegger Tiki) and a much greater awareness overall.
* Related: Palm Springs – Tiki Town (Palm Springs Life)
Modernism Week, which runs Feb. 11-21, is designed to foster appreciation of mid-century architecture and design with 11 days of events that encourage education, preservation and sustainable modern living as represented in Palm Springs. It features hundreds of events, including the Modernism Show, home tours, films, lectures, double-decker bus tours, parties, walking and bike tours, vintage fashion, live music, and more.
Many events are sold out, but those still available include:
* Super Space Age Slide Show on Feb. 13 and Super Duper Double Decker Architectural Bus Tours on Feb. 15-17, all hosted by Charles Phoenix.
* Hendrick’s Cocktail Academy: An Interactive Mixology Event on Feb. 13, a hands-on class with award-winning mixologist and brand ambassador Mark Stoddard.
* Disney’s Midcentury Modern on Feb. 16, exploring the influences, artistry and experiences inspired by mid-century modern design in dozens of Disney creations worldwide.
* Frank Sinatra’s Neighborhood: The Movie Colony Historical Walking Tour on Feb. 19 will give guests a view of the exteriors and insights about some of the legendary homes built in the 1930s and 1940s and owned by such stars as Sinatra, Cary Grant, Dinah Shore, Tony Curtis, and Jack Benny.
There will also be two free events at Shag the Store in Palm Springs: On Feb. 13, Shag’s much-anticipated “Primal Cuts” limited edition serigraph print will be released. On Feb. 20, a mid-century modern party will feature the return of 20-30 classic reproductions from previously sold-out numbered editions. Shag will be signing prints at both events, which will also include complimentary cocktails and musical entertainment.
Modernism Week is also a charitable organization, providing scholarships to architecture and design students, as well as supporting local and state groups that strive to preserve modernist architecture throughout California.
* Official site | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Shag was also in the spotlight in January with yet another special release party, plus a new solo exhibit:
“995 Skyline Drive,” Shag’s largest print to date at almost 60 inches wide x 30 inches high, was released Jan. 23 at Shag the Store in Palm Springs. As usual, Shag was there signing prints and greeting guests, who also enjoyed complimentary cocktails and live music. But the big surprise was the co-host, Teen Wolf star and Shag fan Ryan Kelley.
The “Jungle Drums” exhibit opened at Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles on Jan. 16 featuring all new paintings with a tribal theme. Running through Feb. 13, the exhibit was inspired by vintage 1950s pinup decals that depict girls clad in zebra stripes and leopard spots, lounging placidly with wild cats and snakes. It’s also Shag’s tribute to modern pinup models and female photographers who “have revived and revitalized the genre and turned themselves into pop culture stars.” [See photos from the opening]
* Shag’s new show beats the ‘Jungle Drums’ (The Creators Project)
Don’t miss: Shag will make a rare East Coast appearance June 8-12 at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, hosting the sold-out Shag’s Skylounge and presenting the symposium “I Learned My ABC’s in Waikiki” about growing up in Hawaii (tickets just $25). He’ll also be participating in signings and providing special event artwork. [Latest Atomic Grog preview]
* Shag on The Atomic Grog: Artist of the Year | Artist of the Month
Event recaps: Tiki Mondays is back, Doug Horne mug release parties, Martin Cate cocktail seminar
In dry dock since October, Tiki Mondays With Miller returned to Pouring Ribbons in New York City on Jan. 25 for the usual skullduggery led by Brian Miller and his scurvy crew. Keep an eye out for the Spring Equinox edition in April. It was just announced that Miller will be making a guest appearance at The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on Feb. 26 (see story above).
Artist Doug Horne celebrated the release a his new puffer fish mug, Leaping Fugu, with a party Jan. 16 at Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach. Horne’s first launch party for an original mug was a smashing success with all 100 blue and green Leaping Fugus, which were produced by Eekum Bookum, selling out at the event. Hosted by Crazy Al Evans, the party also featured retro lounge duo TikiTronic, and a raffle of Doug Horne prints and other goodies. [Facebook: Photos, event recap] It was a busy week for Horne. Just two days earlier, a release party was held at Roxanne’s Cocktail Lounge in Long Beach for a special two-sided, limited edition mug Horne created (also with Eeekum Bookum) for the bar and its hidden speakeasy, The Exhibition Room. Horne was on hand signing mugs and displaying his artwork while California’s favorite Tiki party bands, Ding Dong Devils and The Hula Girls, rocked the house. [See the mug on Ooga-Mooga] Horne will also once again be creating the official mug for Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs in May. [Photos, more info]
Tiki and rum historian Martin Cate, owner of acclaimed cocktail den Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco , presented a seminar on “Tiki Cocktails & Culture in a Modern Setting” on Jan. 24 as part of the Golden State of Cocktails events in Los Angeles. Designed as the West Coast’s answer to Tales of the Cocktail, the third annual gathering of industry professionals featured three days of seminars and exploration of spirits and cocktails. The Below Decks attended Cate’s seminar at The Majestic Downtown, a historic event space, and filed a report and photos on Tiki Central. The seminar, which included a Mai Tai and two other sample drinks, was an “incredible historical lesson in Tiki cocktails from the beginning to today,” The Below Decks reported. “Mr. Cate was wonderful, informative and funny, of course, and he’s got me very excited about his upcoming book.” Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki, will be released via 10 Speed Press on June 7. Go to the Smuggler’s Cove Facebook page to pre-order via multiple online vendors. Cate will be at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale when the book is released, hosting book signings and participating in the Tiki Tower Takeover cocktail party during the June 8-12 event.
* More on the book from The Atomic Grog
Upcoming events: Steve Crane tribute in S.F., Sweet Hollywaiians in Hawaii, Polynesian culture in South Fla., cocktail seminar at Trader Vic’s Atlanta
Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco salutes Polynesian restaurant pioneer Steve Crane, considered “the last of the great Tiki entrepreneurs of the golden era,” with a 100th birthday celebration on Sunday, Feb. 7. Crane created the legendary Luau in Beverly Hills, followed by a nationwide chain of Kon-Tiki restaurants that competed head-to-head with Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber during Tiki’s mid-century heyday. Smuggler’s Cove owner Martin Cate will no doubt give attendees a rum-fueled history lesson on Crane, who was married to actress Lana Turner. Drinks from Crane establishments will be offered at low prices, including the famous Luau Scorpion. [Facebook event] Meanwhile, Cate and wife Rebecca have announced the pre-sale of their upcoming book, Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki, through eight retailers in the U.S. and Canada. Click on the link on the Smuggler’s Cove Facebook page to order. The June 7 release will be followed by book-related events all summer long, including Cate’s June 8-12 appearances for book signings and the Tiki Tower Takeover cocktail party at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale.
Japan’s Sweet Hollywaiians are making a rare appearance on U.S. soil on Friday, Feb 12, at the fourth annual Hawaii Ukulele Museum Benefit Concert in Honolulu. Hosted by the Ukulele Foundation of Hawaii, the event is part of the Ukulele Picnic Weekend, the largest annual ukulele festival in Hawaii. Money raised is earmarked for a planned Hawaii Ukulele Museum to be built in Honolulu. Sweet Hollywaiians are a unique all-instrumental group from Osaka, styled after a 1920s and ’30s string band with an eclectic repertoire of Hawaiian, Swing, Ragtime, Blues, and other music. The band has twice wowed the crowds at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale (2010 and 2014). [See photos]
South Florida’s Polynesian Culture Association will host its 13th annual Polynesian Cultural Festival on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 20-21. Running from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Jaco Pastorius Park in Oakland Park, the event will feature hula and fire dancers, island music, a ukulele exhibition, South Pacific arts and crafts, food and drinks, kids’ activities, and more. The nearby Funky Buddha Brewery will provide a selection of its acclaimed craft beer, including Pina Colada Wheat Ale. Admission is just $7, free for ages 11 and under. The Polynesian Culture Association is South Florida’s only nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving, promoting, and sharing the culture of the Polynesian people in the local community.
* Facebook events: Saturday | Sunday
Rum and Tiki expert Paul Senft of the RumJourney.com blog returns Saturday, Feb. 27, with another special cocktail seminar at Trader Vic’s in Atlanta. Guests will enjoy a flight of three vintage Tiki cocktails from the 1946 classic, Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink. The $25 admission also includes food. Call Trader Vic’s at (404) 221-6339 to reserve a seat.
* Facebook event | Trader Vic’s Atlanta
Quick sips: Tree crashes party at VenTiki, Bacardi battles for Havana Club name, unique rums brewing at Wicked Dolphin
Tragedy was averted Jan. 31 at VenTiki Lounge in Ventura, Calif., when a palm tree at least 70 feet tall crashed through the roof during a storm, narrowly missing four people on the patio. A Tiki has been credited with stopping the falling tree, perhaps curtailing more serious damage and injuries. Around eight guests had just left the area where the tree landed, owner Duane Couch told NBC4 news in Los Angeles. “It was absolutely miraculous that everyone just happened to not be in the path of the tree,” Couch said. Three customers and a chef were seated near the tree, but it was stopped short when it came to rest on a Tiki. A security camera captured footage of the tree falling through the roof. Employees are seen running into view as the tree snaps in two after striking the roof. There were no injuries, but the patio, roof and an awning were damaged. “The Tiki gods were with us,” co-owner Tonya Couch told NBC4. City workers removed the palm, but they left three 4-foot sections that will be carved into new Tikis, according to a story by the Ventura County Star. VenTiki reopened on Feb. 5. “VenTiki is open and making Hurricanes after the great palm tree incident of 2016,” a post on Facebook said.
* NBC4: Story, video | Ventura County Star: Story, photos | Video
The gloves are off in the battle between spirits giants Bacardi and Pernod Ricard over the use of the iconic Havana Club name in the United States. In mid-January, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reversed previous decisions that favored Bacardi and awarded a trademark for Havana Club rum to the Cuban government and worldwide brand owner Pernod Ricard. The loosening of the Cuban embargo has raised the prospects of rums from the island entering the U.S. market for the first time since the 1950s. Pernod Ricard entered into a joint venture with the Cuban government in 1993 to produce and distribute Havana Club everywhere except the U.S. A year later, Bacardi says it made a deal with the exiled family that had founded Havana Club to distribute and market a rum under that name on American soil. Pernod Ricard fought back, but U.S. courts have consistently sided with Bacardi, another historic Cuban brand that fled the communist takeover. Bacardi, based in Bermuda, has become the largest privately held, family-owned spirits company in the world. Based in France, Pernod Ricard is often ranked as the second largest producer of spirits in the world (Jameson, Absolut, Seagram’s, Beefeater, et al.) behind Diageo (Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, Baileys, Guinness, etc.). Bacardi, which also owns non-rum brands such as Bombay Sapphire gin and Grey Goose vodka, is often listed in the Top 5 along with Beam Suntory (Jim Beam, Pinnacle, Courvoisier). With the U.S. considered the world’s No. 2 rum market (trailing India), it’s clear the stakes are high in the battle for the Havana Club name. Bacardi has only dabbled with the brand, sporadically releasing a Havana Club rum from its Puerto Rico distillery, mainly in Florida. After President Obama’s decision to ease relations, Pernod Ricard re-applied for a license to expand its Havana Club brand into the United States, spurring last month’s decision and Barcardi’s ire. “Bacardi is shocked and very concerned by this unprecedented action taken by the United States government,” the company said in a statement. Bacardi was apparently caught off-guard, but it quickly submitted a request for all documents relating to the Havana Club trademark registration action, apparently girding for a legal battle. Bacardi claims the decision violates legislation that covers trademark owners whose business and assets were confiscated under Cuban law. However, that law (known as section 211) is under fire from Cuba and the European Union (on behalf of Pernod Ricard) and could be overturned. Major decisions on the embargo are likely on hold until after the presidential election, but everyone involved preparing for all scenarios. Pernod has trademarked a rum called Havanista (including a label that mimics Havana Club) that could be marketed in the United States after the embargo is lifted.
* Sources: Miami Herald | Harpers | Quartz | The Spirits Business
Southwest Florida’s Cape Spirits distillery has launched a new series of artisan rums from Wicked Dolphin in collaboration with Florida craft breweries. The first release in the Brewer’s Series is a collaboration with Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing. Old oak bourbon barrels were used to age Wicked Dolphin rum for two years. Cigar City then took the barrels and filled them with a tropical-style stout. The barrels were then emptied and sent back to the Wicked Dolphin distillery in Cape Coral, where they were again filled with rum. The final product is a 92-proof rum infused with residual stout notes from the barrel. “The result is a delightful osmosis of flavors,” rum expert Robert A. Burr wrote in a review. The rum will be available at the distillery and select retail stores in Florida for $47.99. Future releases will spotlight other breweries across the state.
* More info and video review from Rob’s Rum Guide
* Atomic Grog reviews: Wicked Dolphin Silver | Wicked Dolphin Florida Spiced
***** Links of the week*****
* How Paul McGee’s Lost Lake became another Tiki paradise (Chicago Eater)
* Shameful Tiki Room takes tradition seriously (Toronto Metro)
* Kitschy cocktails at Ventiki (Ventura County Reporter)
* The oldest Tiki bar In the world (Critiki News)
* Welcome to the rhum revolution (Tales of the Cocktail)
* Can rum survive its moment in the sun? (Cocktail Wonk)
* 3-course interview: Wayne Curtis on rum (Gambit)
* What we talk about when we talk about booze: Rum edition (The Huffington Post)
* Discover Florida’s rum at Wicked Dolphin (Fort Myers News-Press)
* The elusive key to Tiki cocktails (Lucky Peach)
* Toast Hemingway with help from cocktail book (Austin American-Statesman)
ARTIST OF THE WEEK:
What do you get when you combine Tiki, hot rod, beatnik and lowbrow styles? The art of Sam Gambino, of course. A distinctive voice in the Tiki art world for more than a decade, Gambino is known for his immediately recognizable paintings and Tiki mugs. A Detroit native, Gambino was heavily influenced in his youth by his father, Sam C. Gambino, who did lettering and pinstriping on race cars and hot rods. He worked with his dad while figuring out what to do with his college degree (engineering was his first choice), then was exposed to the Tiki scene via some early work he did creating vintage signs. He combined that with caricature art, another talent from his youth (thanks to Mad magazine and mid-century pop culture), and his style was born. Gambino’s expertise at creative lettering and drawing caricatures is still a foundation of his art. His credits include creating panels for the syndicated New Breed comic strip as well has having his work shown in galleries around the globe. His mug designs appeared in Tiki Farm exhibits was well as Tiki bars and restaurants worldwide.
* Find Sam: SamGambino.com | Facebook
* Sam Gambino mugs on Ooga-Mooga
* See past artists of the week
Don’t miss: Gambino contributed artwork to the LP design of the upcoming This Is Vintage Now Vol. 2 music compilation featuring some acclaimed recording artists from yesterday and today. Songs from exotica legend Robert Drasnin and The Waitiki 7 are among the 13 tracks.
BAND/MUSIC OF THE WEEK:
Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica
This Boston-based ensemble led by percussionist, vibist and composer Brian O’Neill embodies the true meaning of exotic music. As a vibraphone quintet, Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica performs global jazz and chamber music with world-music flavors sourced from Asia, the Middle East, the Balkans, and Latin America. The group’s latest album, Where Here Meets There (2013) blends original music by O’Neill with unique arrangements of classical and popular works by Gershwin plus Tiki classic Black Orchid (Cal Tjader). In addition to the quintet, O’Neill has assembled a 22-piece big band that released a groundbreaking album in 2012, The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel. This lineup is considered to be the world’s only band dedicated to performing the lost space-age pop music of Juan Garcia Esquivel, newly transcribed by O’Neill. In addition to Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica, O’Neil (dubbed a “percussion master and musical polymath”) has over the past 15 years worked as a multi-percussionist in symphony orchestras, jazz groups, and world music ensembles. He travels the world as both an orchestral player and global music performer in numerous bands, playing on stages everywhere from the Japan to Mexico to Carnegie Hall.
* Official website | Bandcamp | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube
* Buy music, more: Official band store | Amazon
* All past bands/music of the week
Don’t miss: Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica embarks on its first Golden State Exotica Tour this month, with concerts by the quintet Feb. 17-20 in San Carlos, San Francisco, San Diego (at Bali Hai), and Los Angeles. “We’re excited to finally get out west and bring something new to California listeners of creative instrumental music,” O’Neill said in a press release.
* Latest concert dates
BAR OF THE WEEK: Fort Defiance
In New York City, it’s typical to find great cocktails (including masterful tropical concoctions) in unusual places. One such out-of-the-way gem is Fort Defiance in the far western reaches of Brooklyn (Red Hook), operating under the guidance of veteran writer and award-winning bartender St. John Frizell. While Fort Defiance is not a tropical bar per se, it’s known far and wide for The Sunken Harbor Club, a celebration of Polynesian food and drinks that has been named “Brooklyn’s Best Tiki Bar” even though it happens just once a month. The lively event, which also took over New Year’s Eve this year, features guest bartenders, tropical treats (Big Kahuna burgers, Tiki noodles, fried wontons), aloha-wear clothiers, plus more on the last Thursday of every month. At its heart, Fort Defiance is a neighborhood joint serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, weekend brunch, and craft cocktails all day long. Opened by Frizell in 2009, the scrappy little cafe has survived against the long odds, including a life-threatening blow from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 (see link below), to become a Brooklyn institution. Far from the tropics, Fort Defiance has proved its mettle as safe haven in the storm of everyday life, just like any great Tiki bar.
* Related: The inspiring story of Fort Defiance’s triumph (Tales of the Cocktail)
* FortDefianceBrooklyn.com | Facebook: Fort Defiance and The Sunken Harbor Club
* See past bars of the week
Don’t miss: St. John Frizell, along with bartender Tyler Caffall, will represent Fort Defiance at The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on Feb. 26. After his victory in October at a similar event at the New York City Wine & Food Festival, Frizell tries to make it two wins in a row vs. some of the country’s best Tiki bartenders. You can also catch Frizell at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale on June 9, mixing up signature cocktails at the sold-out Tiki Tower Takeover event along with Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Latitude 29), Martin Cate (Smuggler’s Cove), Paul McGee (Lost Lake), and Brian Miller (Tiki Mondays With Miller).
WEBSITE OF THE WEEK: Poly Hai
Poly Hai is a privately-funded public school for men and women dedicated to the preservation and extension of the Polynesian pop lifestyle. Really. It’s also a Facebook page hosted by Principal Matthew Rios and Principal Kari Hendler, veteran Tiki Magazine writers and esteemed instructors in all things Tiki. Poly Hai’s curriculum focuses on “history, arts, culinary sciences and aloha spirit.” Students will learn to “make art, make music, make cocktails, make friends,” with lessons firmly grounded in the established teachings of the great Tiki scholars such as Kirsten, von Stroheim, and Berry. Looking for extracurricular activities? Poly Hai has many suggested field trips, where learning the Tiki fine arts can be particularly festive. There’s no dress code. Feel free to wear an aloha shirt over your official Poly Hai T-shirt. Don’t languish with a secondary education. Head on over to the admissions office and click on the “Like” button.
* Poly Hai on Facebook
* See past websites of the week
RUM OF THE WEEK:
Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 15
Ron Matusalem is a Cuban-style rum based in the Dominican Republic, produced by the same family that owned the brand in Cuba prior to the 1959 revolution. After being exiled, the family struggled to revive the brand before launching the current rums in 2002 with an emphasis on the premium U.S. market. Gran Reserva 15 is a “super premium” rum produced via the solera aging process, a technique (also used for wine and other spirits) that involves blending rums of different ages from a series of barrels. The stated age of the product, in this case 15, is typically considered an average, though it also can be the oldest of the various blends. It typically yields a smoother sipping rum, and Gran Reserva 15 certainly fits this bill. The rum’s spicy oak bite is pleasantly brief, giving way to a dry citrus, then a sweet vanilla flavor. It strikes a nice balance between raw and mature rums. Though primarily a sipper, it works great in cocktails that call for a Spanish-style aged or gold rum.
* Matusalem.com | Facebook | Twitter
* See all past rums of the week
COCKTAIL OF THE WEEK: Pineapple Express
(By Jim Kearns, The Happiest Hour, New York City)
* 2 ounces aged rum
* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 3/4 ounce honey mix
(1:1 mix of honey and water)
* 1 ounce fresh pineapple juice
Shake vigorously with 1 cup of ice for 8-10 seconds and strain over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with sage leaf. Source: InStyle
A staple at the tropical-themed craft cocktail bar The Happiest Hour in Greenwich Village from co-owner and head bartender Jim Kearns, Pineapple Express is a versatile cocktail that’s offered with either cachaca, tequila or rum as the base spirit. Seemingly simple, this perfectly balanced drink is at once tart, sweet, savory and refreshing. I used Matusalem Gran Reserva 15 instead of the recommended Ron Zacapa 23, which is considerably sweeter and less spicy. The spicy, dry rum punches through the pineapple, enhanced by the honey and lime on the back end.
* See all past cocktails of the week
Don’t miss: Bartender Garret Richard is representing The Happiest Hour’s subterranean lair, Slowly Shirley, at The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on Feb. 26. He previously competed in the same event at the New York City Wine & Food Festival in October. [Atomic Grog recap, photos]
SAVE THE DATE: Upcoming events
***** In Florida *****
* Feb. 20-21 – Polynesian Cultural Festival, Fort Lauderdale.
* Feb. 26 – The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown, South Beach Wine & Food Festival, Miami Beach.
* April 15-17 – Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. [Atomic Grog coverage]
* June 8-12 – The Hukilau, Fort Lauderdale. [Atomic Grog coverage]
***** On the Eastern Seaboard *****
* June 23-26 – Ohana: Luau At The Lake at The Tiki Resort, Lake George, N.Y. [Atomic Grog coverage]
* July 20-24 – Tales of the Cocktail, New Orleans, La.
***** Across the U.S. *****
* Feb. 11-21 – Modernism Week, Palm Springs, Calif.
* April 14-17 – Viva Las Vegas.
* April 21-24 – Mojave Oasis, Newberry Springs, Calif.
* April 30 – Midwest Rum Festival, Chicago, Ill.
* May 12-15 – Tiki Caliente, Palm Springs, Calif. [Atomic Grog coverage]
* July 8-10 – Tiki Kon, Portland, Ore. [Atomic Grog coverage]
* Aug. 18-21 – Tiki Oasis, San Diego, Calif. [Atomic Grog coverage]
* Sept. 17 – Makahiki: A Night of Tiki, Indianapolis, Ind.
***** Worldwide *****
* Feb. 19-20 – Puerto Rico National Rum Festival, Old San Juan.
* Feb. 26-28 – Festival RumBahamas, Fort Charlotte, Nassau.
* April 2-4 – Rhumfest Paris
* May 30 – June 2 – International Rum Congress, Madrid.
* June 16-19 – Surfer Joe Summer Festival, Livorno, Italy.
* Oct. 22-23 – The RumFest: London, United Kingdom.
* Nov. 4-5 – Caribbean Rum & Beer Festival, St. Maarten.
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