Take 5: Otto von Stroheim, pioneering event promoter and Tiki tastemaker

One cannot imagine what the modern Tiki revival would be like without Otto von Stroheim. A much less festive place, that’s for sure. Since 2001, the Los Angeles native has produced, along with his wife Baby Doe, the first and largest Tiki event of its kind in the world, Tiki Oasis in San Diego. Before that, he was among a small group of devotees that is credited with igniting interest in mid-century Polynesian culture that continues to thrive and grow more than 25 years later.

Tiki Oasis

Tiki Oasis: Aug. 14-17, 2014, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and Bali Hai restaurant in San Diego. Includes live music and entertainment, symposiums, vendors, car show, and more. Go to TikiOasis.com or Facebook for more info.

In addition to Tiki Oasis, Otto was the creator of several influential touchstones in Tiki’s modern history, including Tiki News magazine, and a series of curated art exhibits and books (Tiki Art Now). Otto can also be found at Forbidden Island in Alameda doing a regular monthly DJ gig.

I cornered Otto at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale during Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in April and asked him five burning questions:

1. You’ve been at ground zero of the Tiki revival since the very beginning. What do you miss about the early days, and what’s better now?

Hurricane Hayward interviews Otto von Stroheim
Hurricane Hayward interviews Otto von Stroheim at The Mai-Kai in April 2014. (Photo by Susan Hayward)

Back then, there were fewer eyes watching you, less pressure, less people to answer to. And, you know, there was less knowledge so if you got something wrong or it was yet to be proven, or if you got a fact wrong, or if you told a story and left out a fact, or if you had a recipe and didn’t get the ingredients right, nobody was there to say whether that was right or wrong. You were moving the peg forward either way. Now there’s so much knowledge and so many people involved, and the knowledge can be dispersed very quickly, if you make a statement or you’re interviewed in a newspaper or a blog, or you write a book or post something or publish something, there’s going to be somebody out there who knows a little more, or knows that you left something out, and they’re going to call you on it. It’s kind of funny because in the old days, people were like, “Oh, that’s great, cool. The recipe for the Mai Tai. Awesome. You know that, alright.” It was a little more relaxed in that way. A little bit less pressure, which would allow you to kind of have more fun in a way.

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Tales of the Cocktail’s signature drink packs a wallop, but can it tame a Hurricane inspired by The Mai-Kai?

Tales of the Cocktail

Nobody can accuse the organizers of Tales of the Cocktail, arguably the world’s premiere festival for bartenders and spirits professionals, of being elitist snobs. The “official cocktail” of 12th annual festival, expected to attract more than 20,000 people to New Orleans this week, is not some highbrow cult classic or trendy new concoction. It’s the mighty yet maligned Hurricane.

Created in the French Quarter in the 1940s, this sweet and potent potation harkens back to other Tiki classics that devolved over the decades as they became a popular yet bastardized staple in bars around the world. But in 2014, as both the cocktail and Tiki revivals show no signs of slowing, why not celebrate both with a drink that screams Bourbon Street excess?

Reviews and recipes below: Hurricane Caesar vs. The Mai-Kai Hurricane

Tales of the Cocktail and New Orleans are the perfect venues for such a celebration. Spotlighting “what’s new and what’s next in bartending,” the festival proudly keeps its reverence for traditions intact, never overtly pandering to its sponsors and the spirits companies. It gives everyone from experienced professionals to fledgling bartenders to laymen a unique chance to mix and mingle with the biggest names and brightest minds in mixology for seminars, dinners, competitions, tasting rooms, and product launches.

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Summer of rum: South Florida hotspots give cool spirit a chance to shine

Updated Aug. 16, 2014

Several of the area’s most respected cocktail bars are embracing rum this summer, giving the sometimes maligned spirit its moment in the sun and providing guests with a jolt of bold and sweet flavors to match the season’s sizzling intensity.

Perhaps spurred by the success of the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival and a growing respect by mixologoists and serious drinkers, rum is poised to break away from its stereotypical niche and reach a broader audience. It’s the prefect fun summer spirit, and it offers many ways to enjoy its versatility.

See below: Kapow UPDATE | Dada | The Mai-Kai | Miami

Bar Stache welcomes an array of rums, brand mixologists for special events

Don Q rum event at Bar Stache

Bar Stache in Fort Lauderdale is offing the most ambitious summer events, dubbed Rum Takeovers. They kicked off July 9 with a Rhum Clément tasting and drink demo by Nick Nistico. Then on July 23, Ron Zacapa from Guatemala was featured along with artesian cocktails by Brijette De Berardinis. Aug. 6: brought Brugal from the Dominican Republic, presented by Bar Stache mixologist Brian Sassen. On Aug. 13, Freddy Diaz of AlambiQ Mixology in Miami brought some of his signature cocktails featuring Mount Gay Rum, joining brand ambassador Karlene Palmer-McLeod.

These Wednesday night tastings (from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.) feature not only some of the top rum brands in the world, but also include cocktails created by special guest mixologists who will also answer questions about each brand. RSVP to vip@stacheftl.com.

Here’s the current schedule (as of Aug. 16):

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Navy Grog ice cone: Lost art is revived by cocktail enthusiasts and a handy gadget

Author and cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry solidified his standing as the “Indiana Jones” of Tiki mixology with his first branded product, unearthing a long-lost gadget from the catacombs of mid-century bar culture: Beachbum Berry’s Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit.

See below: Putting the ice cones to the test | Vintage Navy Grog recipe
Related: Jeff Berry proves he’s never too busy to be a ‘Beachbum’
Mai-Kai cocktail review: Even landlubbers can appreciate a strong ration of Yeoman’s Grog
* Buy the Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit now from Cocktail Kingdom

The Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit from Cocktail Kingdom
The Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit from Cocktail Kingdom. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2013)

The Navy Grog (aka Yeoman’s Grog, Captain’s Grog, et al.) “was one of the most popular drinks until the Mai Tai came along,” Berry said during a symposium at The Hukilau in June 2013. “It’s a lovely combination of three rums, two fruit juices, a little spice, a little syrup.” But just as much as its taste, it’s distinguished by a cone of ice protruding from the glass, neatly encasing a straw. The cocktail emerged in the early 1940s and was a mainstay of Tiki bars well into the 1970s. But as mixology in general, and Tiki cocktails in particular, devolved during the ensuing decades, the ice cone disappeared.

When Berry began gathering recipes for his first book, this technique had been long forgotten. As far as Berry knew, only the historic Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale was still serving a drink with a traditional ice cone (a descendant of the Navy Grog called the Yeoman’s Grog) when he put together Grog Log, released in 1998.

Some 15 years and five books later, Berry teamed up with Cocktail Kingdom to create a metal mold that perfectly re-creates a vintage ice cone. The finished product works not only in the Navy Grog, but any drink that fits in an 8-ounce rocks glass as well as a larger Mai Tai glass.

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Cocktails reach new heights of creativity at Miami Rum Festival

Miami Rum Festival Cocktail WeekFueled by the first Miami Cocktail Week, mixologists upped their game at the 2014 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in April, presenting new and classic drinks with a modern flair. From the full week of events hosted by area bars, to the three-day Grand Tasting exhibits attended by more than 10,000 enthusiasts, there were plenty of opportunities to sample some of the best rum drinks being created today.

This story covers my search for the tastiest and most creative cocktails of the entire week. Click here for an overview of the festival and reviews of the best rums.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival was held April 25-27 at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Miami Cocktail Week was April 21-27 at venues throughout South Florida.
See recipes below: Don Q Cocktail | Miami Swizzle | Passion Fontaine | Good Head
Jump below: The Grand Tastings | The Top 10 cocktails
Related coverage: Upstart spirits share spotlight with major players at Miami Rum Fest
Atomic Grog photo gallery | RumXP International Tasting Competition results

Matt Robold pours Plantation Rum as he mixes up Caña Rum Bar cocktails
Matt Robold pours Plantation Rum as he mixes up Caña Rum Bar cocktails at The Broken Shaker on Monday, April 21. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

THE PRE-PARTIES: Cocktail Week kicks off

It’s fitting that the first event of the week was held at Miami Beach’s The Broken Shaker, one of the most acclaimed cocktail bars in South Florida. But this was not just an ordinary evening at the funky indoor/outdoor bar, which would have been just fine. I did manage to squeeze in one of the establishment’s carefully hand-crafted rum cocktails before I left, but the main attraction of the evening was the pop-up bar sponsored by Plantation Rum and featuring mixologists from Caña Rum Bar in Los Angeles. [See the flyer]

There were four complimentary drinks [see menu] expertly mixed by Daniele Crouch and Matt Robold, aka Rumdood. This was no easy task considering the temporary bar set up on the patio, not far from the pingpong table and quite a distance from any traditional bar fixtures and plumbing. But the drinks were spot-on, made to order and consummately garnished. This pair deserves an award for most impeccably produced drinks under strenuous circumstances. I noticed Rumdood sweating in the Miami heat, but he and Daniele never lost their cool. My only complaint would be that they ran out of their homemade peach cordial before I could try the Gypsy Cab cocktail, which got high marks from the folks I talked to.

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Mai-Kai cocktail review: Tiki Swizzle bows out, joins list of ‘lost cocktials’

Updated June 2018
See below: Our Tiki Swizzle review | UPDATE: Official recipe
Related: New cocktail menu unveiled at anniversary party | Mai-Kai cocktail guide
NEW: The Mai-Kai updates bar menu, adds classic ‘lost’ cocktail

In 2014, when The Mai-Kai rolled out the first major update of its classic menu of tropical drinks in decades, it also made the rare introduction of a new cocktail. The Tiki Swizzle also held the distinction of being the only drink on the menu to feature spiced rum.

The Tiki Swizzle in September 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Tiki Swizzle in September 2016. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Unfortunately, the Tiki Swizzle’s a run on the menu didn’t last long. It was removed during the next major menu update in May 2018, replaced by the iconic Suffering Bastard.

While four years may be a long run on a menu at a modern craft cocktail bar, it’s merely the blink of an eye at The Mai-Kai. Most of the drinks have been on the menu for decades, and a majority date back more than 60 years to the restaurant’s 1956 inception.

The Tiki Swizzle now joins a small group of “lost cocktails” that were removed from the menu over the years. While certainly not as iconic as the Demerara Float or Liquid Gold, it does have a back-story and history that connects it to the current Tiki revival.

The drink was introduced at The Hukilau in June 2013, created by The Mai-Kai for Kahakai Tiki rum. It was promoted in the months that followed on special table cards in The Molokai bar and proved to be so popular that it made its way onto the revamped menu.

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Historic Mai-Kai celebrated, new cocktail menu unveiled at anniversary party

Updated Jan. 20, 2014
NEW: The new cocktail menu made its public debut on Jan. 17. Check out our review and recipe for the new drink, the Tiki Swizzle.

**********

The Mai-Kai celebrated its 57th anniversary with a customer celebration party that not only recognized the landmark Polynesian restaurant’s storied past, but also looked ahead to the future.
* See below: New tropical drink menu sneak preview

The Mai-Kai's new cocktail menu (right) harkens back to its 1956 original (left), with all the drinks displayed on an impressive centerspread
The Mai-Kai’s new cocktail menu (right) harkens back to its 1956 original (left), with all the drinks displayed on an impressive centerspread. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

There was much to celebrate at the Saturday, Dec. 28, event: The recent historic designation by the city of Oakland Park, the 50th anniversary of a longtime employee, and the screening of a new PBS documentary filmed at The Mai-Kai. But attendees were also given a sneak peak at what’s to come: The first major redesign of the Tiki palace’s iconic cocktail menu in more than 30 years.

The celebrating actually started on Friday night, with a rare South Florida performance by instrumental surf band The Novarays in The Molokai bar. The Orlando band ripped through three sets of classic covers and original tunes. On Saturday, the bar was nearly full at 1:30 p.m. for an early happy hour to kick off the day’s special events.

The several hundred guests then filled the main dining room, which sits beneath the original, awe-inspiring A-frame structure built in 1956 by brothers Bob and Jack Thornton, a couple upstart restaurateurs from Chicago who envisioned the world’s grandest Polynesian palace in Tiki’s mid-century heyday.

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Beachbum Berry’s ‘Potions of the Caribbean’ cruises back to the birthplace of Tiki cocktails

Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them (Cocktail Kingdom), hardcover, 317 pages, $34.95.
* Order now: Cocktail Kingdom (U.S.) | Amazon | More info on BeachbumBerry.com
Jump to recipes below: Rum Pot | Witch Doctor | Planter’s Punch

Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them

Like a fine barrel-aged rum, the new magnum opus from Tiki cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry benefited from years maturation, developing a rich depth of flavor and nuance. When Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them is finally uncorked next week, it will undoubtedly be savored to the last drop by a growing legion of fans.

It could also quite possibly be Berry’s last call as a self-proclaimed “layabout” author. While the carefree image will likely remain, Berry’s other much-anticipated project could soon make him a much busier Bum. The former screenwriter, whose six books since 1998 have sown the seeds of the Tiki cocktail revival, will be embarking on a new career next year when he opens his own bar in New Orleans.

These plans are accelerating, Berry confirmed in an e-mail this week, and he hopes to sign a lease at an undisclosed location by the end of the year. That would put him on track to open his Tiki bar (in partnership with Mrs. Bum, aka Annene Kaye) as early as spring 2014. They already have a designer, architect and key staff lined up. In the meantime, Berry’s solo career as a literary figure will reach its peak with the release of Potions of the Caribbean.

Berry’s sixth book on tropical drinks and the fascinating stories behind them, Potions of the Caribbean could be considered the sequel to Sippin’ Safari (2007), both in style and substance. Berry’s first three books were mainly spiral-bound drink recipe compilations, and his previous (Beachbum Berry Remixed, 2010) was a redesigned and expanded re-release of the first two.

Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them

But with Sippin’ Safari, Berry used his seemingly endless supply of vintage recipes, photos and artwork to embellish the stories of the bartenders, restaurant owners and other pioneers of the early days of Tiki. The result was a wonderful read – a beautifully illustrated cocktail guide, history book and retro culture travelogue all rolled into one. The new book follows this same format, with the stories taking a starring role and the recipes enhancing the narrative.

The rich history of the Caribbean and its role in the Tiki cocktail movement was actually supposed to be an additional chapter of Sippin’ Safari. A subtitle near the end of the book’s final chapter, which tells the story of Mariano Lucidine and The Mai-Kai, introduces the Potions of the Caribbean name while very briefly mentioning the birthplace of rum and its role in Tiki cocktails.

Berry explained his dilemma on the Oct. 29 episode of The Quiet Village podcast. “I was trying to cram all this stuff into one chapter,” he told host Digitiki. “After we talked about The Mai-Kai, I was just going to go down to Cuba and Jamaica. But I realized there was just way, way too much stuff to do that, so it became its own book, five years later.”

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Take 5: Martin Cate, owner of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco and rum cocktail maestro

You may have seen Martin Cate igniting flaming bowls of fun on the Cooking Channel or entertaining attendees at Tiki and rum events around the world. If you’re a cocktail or rum enthusiast, you’ve certainly heard of Smuggler’s Cove, his San Francisco lair that has redefined the modern rum cocktail and has been acclaimed as one of the world’s best bars, period.

Smuggler's Cove
Smuggler’s Cove

He’s also somewhat of a hero to the Tiki home bartending community, quickly rising from hobbyist on the Tiki Central message board to bartender at the Trader Vic’s flagship San Francisco location in 2005, to Forbidden Island, his first acclaimed Tiki bar in Alameda in 2006. He sold his interest there and opened Smuggler’s Cove in 2009.

In April, while Martin was in South Florida for an appearance at the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, we cornered him in the gardens at Fort Lauderdale’s Mai-Kai, one of his favorite places in the world to enjoy classic Tiki cocktails. Following is our latest “Take 5” interview featuring five random questions, plus a special bonus.
See below: Bonus recipes for Martin Cate’s Mai Tai and 2070 Swizzle
More Take 5: Jeff “Beachbum” Berry | The Mai-Kai’s Kern Mattei

Interview with Martin Cate by Jim “Hurricane” Hayward – April 19, 2013

1. Are you a Trader Vic’s or Don the Beachcomber man, and why?

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Take 5: Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Tiki cocktail author and historian extraordinaire

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is extremely passionate about Tiki, tropical drinks and The Mai-Kai. In April, we caught up with the author of such essential Tiki cocktail bibles as Grog Log and Sippin’ Safari in his natural habitat (The Mai-Kai gardens) and posed the following questions.

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry (right) and Hurricane Hayward enjoy their classic Mutiny cocktails in The Mai-Kai gardens
Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (right) and Hurricane Hayward enjoy their classic Mutiny cocktails in The Mai-Kai gardens. (Photo by Susan Hayward, April 2013)

Interview by Jim “Hurricane” Hayward

1. If you could transport yourself for one night back in time to any Tiki bar or restaurant, what would it be and when?

That would be Don the Beachcomber’s in 1934: Ground zero, the big bang, the creation of the Tiki bar as we know it – by Donn, right after Prohibition. I would have loved to have seen what that was like.

2. If Food Network or the Travel Channel came to you and said, “Pitch us a show about tropical drinks,” what would you suggest?

I would suggest that they just take their suggestion and shove it. Because none of those channels, none of those hosts, none of that garbage is about what these places are about. What these places are about is “aloha,” it’s about the spirit of true hospitality, of welcoming, of making you feel important, of making you feel good. All of these TV channels traffic in all of this competition bullshit, where restaurants are not places to go to relax and unwind. Where you get stressed out and compete against your fellow chefs or bartenders. I hate all that. That’s the antithesis of the true spirit of hospitality, of genteel camaraderie, of going to a place to exchange confidences and emotions, and happy experiences with people that you either know or you’ve met at these places. It’s not about competition, it’s not about who’s the best, it’s not about some guy with spiked hair telling you about the awesomeness of the food. That’s just artificial garbage. … All these people are self-appointed experts. They don’t know anything about anything.

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