Undoubtedly, it was a year many would rather forget – preferably by downing a few Mai Tais. If we take “hindsight is 2020” at face value, perhaps some day there will be positive lessons to be learned from last year’s many tragedies. Despite this, not all the news was negative in the modern Tiki revival. Dispensing with the bad news first, here are The Atomic Grog’s picks for the nine most newsworthy stories of 2020. Bonus recipe below:The Urban Archaeologist (tribute to The Book of Tiki 20th anniversary and commemorative mug)
1. CORONAVIRUS SHUTDOWNS
Of all the industries that were dealt a sucker punch by the pandemic, the bar and restaurant world is the one that seems to have suffered the most long-running impact. When the mandatory closings swept across the United States (and the world) in March and April, most were ill-prepared to deal with the consequences. Heroically, the majority were able to survive by pivoting to take-out and streamlined operations. Sadly, others have remained closed with still no ETA on reopening dates. The list of businesses that closed permanently is sobering. But as we look back at the year, we’re proud of the efforts everyone put forth to keep their Tiki bars and related companies alive against all odds. We will continue to pray for their survival and encourage everyone to help as best they can.
It’s hard for a community to thrive and survive when it’s stripped of its ability to congregate en masse to celebrate and boost each other’s spirits. This hit home in the Tiki world in early March, when Inuhele: Atlanta’s Tiki Weekend held the dubious distinction of being the last pre-pandemic event to take place. The summer season’s blockbuster festivals were forced to scramble. Some postponed, some went to a virtual format, others canceled altogether. But there was still no keeping the fervent followers from seeking out their friends and favorite events, even in stripped-down and online-only form. We tip our hat to the organizers who keep the faithful happy and their brands alive, along with their supporters who kept their heads up and their communities alive throughout the year.
In any other year, the closing of The Mai-Kai would undoubtedly be news story No. 1. But 2020 was no ordinary year, full of curve balls and unexpected twists. After closing during April and May, The Mai-Kai reopened under state social-distancing guidelines and was successfully navigating the pandemic through the summer and fall. An inventive take-out program was pushing boundaries and pleasing fans, while the historic restaurant was consistently filling its available seats with guests eager to watch the acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue. All that changed in late October, however, when massive rains flooded the kitchen and back-of-house after a roof collapsed during the storm. With no functioning kitchen, The Mai-Kai has closed until the extensive repairs can be done. The annual Halloween party became a drive-in movie event in the parking lot and online sales were stepped up. A family-run operation since 1956, The Mai-Kai faces perhaps its biggest challenge, possibly with a new partnership or ownership. Here’s hoping the grand reopening will top the list of 2021 news events. The Mai-Kai for sale:See the official statementNEW UPDATES: Owners vow to “preserve family legacy” while continuing take-out drinks and more events
In September, The Mai-Kai, its extended family and longtime fans mourned the death of Toti Terorotua, a founding member of the restaurant’s acclaimed Polynesian Islander Revue in 1962. “Toti was not only an outstanding musician and entertainer, he was a great friend and part of what made the Mai-Kai one great big family,” an official statement from the restaurant said. “Toti was a highly regarded musician in Tahiti before coming to the US, creating two classic Tahitian albums with his namesake band Toti’s Tahitians. You can still hear songs from his albums, along with his unforgettable voice, softly playing in the background on the Mai Kai’s nightly soundtrack.” Toti was discovered in the late 1950s by Donn Beach himself, who picked him to be part of his show at the Don the Beachcomber in Waikiki when it opened at the International Marketplace. Toti came to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai to be part of the original Polynesian show and never left. He retired 2000 after 38 years, but came back in 2006 to play drums at The Mai-Kai’s 50th anniversary at age 71. He continued to perform on stage for another decade-plus. In announcing his death, The Mai-Kai shared a tribute in Tahitian, translated to: “We will miss you so. But dreams will keep us near you. We know we’ll meet again. Farewell for just a while. For just a little while.” Listen:Buy or stream Lure Of Tahiti by Terorotua & His Tahitians
The world’s hospitality community is experiencing an unprecedented shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, with ramifications still undefined and the “new normal” still open to debate. As our favorite bars agonize over layoffs, and the lucky ones eke out a living via takeout and delivery, many of us have tried to help the best we can.
The Atomic Grog compiled a list of links to buy merchandise, donate to crowd-sourced fundraisers, and learn more about efforts to assist Tiki bars in need. This blog post focuses on the Tiki revival and adjacent rum bars, but we don’t want to forget all the others in the bar industry that also need assistance sooner rather than later. All deserve our support.
But we also need to blow off some steam and relax. In these days of social distancing (we prefer the term physical distancing) and stay-at-home orders, many are cranking up their home bars to 11, posting photos and recipes, hosting virtual happy hours, and more. While all of these are worthy pursuits, I’m focusing my efforts here on the bars and bartenders I most admire.
Rather than just repost their recipes, I thought it might be appropriate to pay tribute with something new … but also something old and comforting. So belly up to the home bar for Daiquiris of Hope (#daiquirisofhope), an attempt to put a small but loving spotlight on those influential establishments that are unfortunately dealing with a potential business disaster. Of course, this comes on top of all the personal toll the virus is taking.
But let’s focus on the positive: Those memorable and distinctive flavors that stay with us long after we’ve left the bar. The challenge is how to best translate that simply, with no fuss or muss. Not everyone is stocked to the gills in their home bar. But everyone at the very least should have access to rum, lime (or some other sour citrus) and a sweet ingredient of some sort. If you have bitters and other enhancements, all the better.
My hope is that others – enthusiasts and professionals alike – will join me in sharing photos and recipes on social media using the hashtag #daiquirisofhope in an effort to raise awareness for our friends in their time of need. Let them know we’re thinking of them as we spread the word via their great gift: A well-crafted cocktail.
The humble Daiquiri (rum, lime and sugar at its most basic) is a cocktail that transcends all eras, trends, styles, and social status. It’s the great equalizer behind the bar, often used as a litmus test to judge a bartender’s chops, but more often used as a stress-breaker and common denominator as perhaps the most ubiquitous “shift drink.”
For all those reasons and many more, we chose this classic Tiki template – embraced by both Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber and featured in some shape or form on every tropical cocktail menu over the past century – as the means to salute bartenders dealing with today’s state of affairs.
Of course, the history of this Caribbean standard goes back to the town of Daiquiri, Cuba, in the early 1900s, where it was reportedly invented by an American working there during the Spanish-American War. Others may beg to differ, and the drink’s origins are still hotly debated in Cuba’s prestigious cocktail bars.
Unlike the frozen, blended version (often flavored with fruit) that many mainstream drinkers may associate with the name, a classic Daiquiri is always shaken with ice and strained into a coupe or other small glass. Rum, lime and sugar are constants – though Victor Bergeron and Donn Beach kicked off an era of post-Prohibition experimentation that continues to this day.
While most bars and restaurants across the country (and world) are beginning to return to “normal,” more than a year of dealing with coronavirus restrictions has taken a heavy toll. Many establishments near and dear to us are still going through rough times. A few are still closed for indoor service.
We feel strongly about supporting the owners, managers and employees as they deal with this turbulence in their chosen profession. Please do all you can to help them out by whatever means possible. One easy way is to frequent their online stores, buy merchandise and gift cards, and put some cash in their coffers.
Also note that many areas of the country have made permanent the emergency rules that allow take-out and delivery of alcohol as well as food, so check with your local establishments for more info. It may be their lifeline. We’ve noted some of these services below.
We also urge you to also support the artists and merchants who are key parts of the industry, designing and producing many of the products listed below. You can find links to our favorites in the right rail of this blog post. You can also support them at events that are making a comeback around the world.
SUPPORT TIKI BARS ONLINE
The following establishments are offering online ordering. If you find any broken links, please let us know and we’ll update. Also, please send us any additions to this list via email or as a message on our social media pages (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram).
Archipelago, Washington, D.C. – The online merch shop for this island-themed neo-Tiki hotspot features a small but well designed assortment of glassware, including snifters and Mai Tai glasses along with a signature mug from Tiki Farm. Gift cards are also available. After operating outdoor patio seating for months, the bar closed in late December for a winter siesta. Takeout service resumed in February, followed by patio seating. In mid-June 2021, Archipelago resumed indoor seating after 452 days. Reservations are recommended.
Bahi Hut, Sarasota – This historic (est. 1954) but underappreciated Tiki landmark has shirts, pins and signature “Big Tim” mugs (created by Robo Tiki) available in its online shop.. Recognized as the oldest Tiki bar in Florida, Bahi Hut is also site of the annual Tiki Fever event, set for Sept. 30 through Oct. 3, 2021. The bar reopened in October 2020 with both indoor and outdoor seating. In January, a collector’s edition Tiki Fever mug featuring both Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and The Disasternauts was released, selling out quickly.
UPDATED:Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, New Orleans – The bar and restaurant owned and operated by author and Tiki revival pioneer Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and his wife Annene Kaye is well represented in the BeachbumBerry.com store, including syrups and barware. While you’re there, pick up the Bum’s books so you can make the hundreds of tropical classics at home. Latitude 29 will be reopening after closing in the wake of Hurricane Ida on Friday, Sept. 17. The menu will include all the cocktails plus some food. Hours and offerings will be adjusted as time goes by. “We appreciate your patience and good will,” a Twitter announement said. “Much love and looking forward to seeing you.” Before the storm, Latitude 29 had been open consistently since October 2020 in the wake of the pandemic
Clifton’s Pacific Seas, Los Angeles – Closed since the early days of the pandemic, the Tiki bar inside the legendary Clifton’s complex is represented in its parent company’s vast online shop, Exposition Marketplace of The Neverlands. There are tons of exclusive items available, including artifacts to “create your own Tiki paradise” (nautical anchors and bells, mixology tools and books, rope buoys, and much more). Check back regularly for new items. Clifton’s is planning on reopening around October 2021, according to the official website.
Esotico Miami – This tropical hideaway in the Magic City, led by noted Tiki mixologist Daniele Dalla Pola, offers mugs and shirts in its online store. Esotico also has a GoFundMe page that benefits its employees. The restaurant reopened indoor dining under social distancing restrictions in August 2020 after offering outdoor dining as well as takeout, curbside pick-up and delivery throughout the pandemic.
False Idol, San Diego – Consortium Holdings, one of the partners (along with Tiki bar guru Martin Cate) in this over-the-top throwback to classic Tiki hidden inside the Craft & Commerce bar, offers mugs and gift cards for sale online. False Idol has reopened at limited capacity, serving cocktails and food via reservations only. A full slate of events has been announced for the week of the annual Tiki Oasis in August. These include a fifth anniversary mug release as well as the release of a a new limited-edition glaze of Bosko’s Maori mug. Check the Instagram and Facebook pages for details.
Forbidden Island, Alameda, Calif. – You can buy apparel, mugs, and gift cards directly from one of the Tiki revival’s first shining beacons. After being closed for more than four months, Forbidden Island opened a socially-distant Tiki garden and patio for limited hours in late July 2020. New restrictions in December limited Forbidden Island to take-out service, but outdoor seating was fully open again in February. Indoor dining returned in March, when Forbidden Island announced the arrival of their long-awaited Turquoise Kapu mug, the eighth glaze in 15 years. Also from Tiki Farm, a limited-edition version (in brown and green) of the Tamuaki mug designed by carver and artist Benzart Davis, embossed with the FI logo. A new 15th anniversary limited edition mug designed by Brad “Tiki Shark” Parker and produced by Munktiki made its debut at a special event on May 23 before becoming available online in the official website merch store.
Frankie’s Tiki Room, Las Vegas – A wide variety of mugs, glassware and apparel fill the online store of this beloved Tiki bastion in Sin City. New mugs are released often, so check back. You can also pick up gift certificates and a copy of the 2013 book, Liquid Vacation, which features recipes for 77 of the bar’s famous cocktails. Frankie’s has returned to being the world’s only 24-hour Tiki bar, open seven days a week.
Fuchsia Tiki Bar, New Paltz, N.Y. – This small tropical escape hidden away in Ulster County, around 70 miles north of the Big Apple, survived the pandemic by offering merchandise, gift cards and cocktails to go. Fuchsia reopened in June 2020 with indoor dining and limited seating capacity. After closing in December for a short hiatus, the bar reopened at the end of January with a new menu and merch.
Hala Kahiki, Chicago – The historic Tiki bar and lounge, established in 1966 in the suburb of River Grove, has an extensive online menu available for pick-up. The family owned and operated establishment is open to guests with socially distant indoor seating plus a covered “tropical patio.” There is also a vast array of food and drinks on the to-go menu for hungry guests, along with many items from the in-house gift shop. Locals can pick up Hawaiian shirts, glasses and mugs, even an assortment of spirits. On June 6, the latest Lowbrow Aloha art show and sale allowed Hala Kahiki guests to pick up even more cool merch.
Hale Pele, Portland, Ore.– The Pacific Northwest’s long-running Tiki paradise has an array of merch in its online store, from mugs to glassware to shirts to pins to gift cards. There’s also a virtual tip jar for the staff. While you’re there, sign up for the email blast to get news and updates. After initially offering cocktail mixes for pickup, Hale Pele was finally permitted to sell take-out cocktails (with food) in January. Hale Pele re-opened with indoor dining in late May.
Hidden Harbor, Pittsburgh – This popular Tiki revival craft cocktail bar celebrated its fifth anniversary in June 2021 with the second and third editions of the Keeper of the Mug by artist Crazy Al Evans. The icing on the cake was the return of all bar seating (first-come, first-served). Previously, Hidden Harbor had launched the intimate Cobra’s Fang dining room (reservations required). Online sales ebb and flow, depending on new releases so check back often. Merchandise is also offered in the bar’s retail shop.
Laki Kane, London – The acclaimed craft Tiki bar from mixologist and author Georgi Radev has an online shop featuring a nice selection of mugs, plus signed copies of Radev’s Let’s Get Tropical. Laki Kane reopened in July 4 by reservation only under strict new guidelines, but was forced to close again on Dec, 16. It was allowed to reopen again for outdoor drinks, dining and takeaways on April 12, 2021.
Last Rites, San Francisco – Dubbed “Polynesian noir,” this unique and modern take on Tiki with a backstory revolving around a plane crash has had to battle its own takedown by coronavirus. After being down for more than a year, the bar reopened in June 2021. You can buy gift cards at LastRitesBar.com.
Lost River, Detroit – The Web store of this rum-focused tropical neighborhood bar on Detroit’s Eastside features gift cards, plus an assortment of merchandise (mugs and glassware, plus shirts and pins). There’s also an option to “tip your bartender.” While indoor service was closed, Lost River featured ambitious to-go cocktails, such as February’s Twilight Zone theme. In late January, a new limited edition lavender glaze of the bar’s house mug was released online. Lost River shut down in April but returned May 1 with a grand reopening. To-go drinks returned on May 20.