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.

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

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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Miami festival showcases a never-ending variety of rums, but what does the future hold?

The Miami Rum Renaissance Festival celebrated its fifth birthday last month, drawing thousands of industry reps and enthusiasts to a weeklong celebration of one of the world’s most popular spirits.

The April 15-21 event marked the occasion with an impressive new venue, some informative and entertaining expert speakers and, of course, hundreds of product samples available at the weekend Grand Tasting events.

Some of the many product samples awating the expert judges at the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in April 2013
Some of the many product samples awating the expert judges at the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in April 2013. (Official event photo by Tatu Kaarlas, RefinedVices.com)

The tastings were the big draw, attracting large crowds to the Miami Airport Convention Center (MACC) for every rum under the sun, from Abuelo (Panama) to Zaya (Trinidad & Tobago). It’s this great diversity that has always made rum special, as devotees well know. Unfortunately, a dark cloud threatens to mar rum’s renaissance, but we’ll save that buzzkill for later. First, a few highlights of The Atomic Grog’s experiences during the fest.

The first five days featured the VIP parties and product judging that draw the bulk of the rum industry movers and shakers to South Florida. I caught some of Tuesday’s party at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale and rubbed elbows with a few notables from the Tiki world. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it down to Miami Beach for one of the Broken Shaker’s daily happy hours. This highly acclaimed bar in the Freehand Miami hostel is on my short list of South Florida cocktail hotspots I need to explore in depth.

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Rum’s best and brightest stars take center stage at annual Miami festival

South Florida is about to become the epicenter of the rum world, at least for a week, with experts from around the globe descending for the fifth annual Miami Rum Renaissance Festival next Monday through Sunday (April 15-21).

2013 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival: Monday, April 15, through Sunday, April 21, at the Doubletree by Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. For tickets and schedule, go to RumRenaissance.com.
Previous story: Rum festival’s ascension mirrors explosive growth of cane spirit

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

Large portions of the event are geared toward industry representatives (rum tastings, VIP parties, etc.) but there are two very big reasons for ordinary enthusiasts of the cane spirit to be excited:

* First and foremost, there are the Grand Tasting events held from 2 to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, April 20-21, at the Doubletree Miami Airport Hotel Convention Center. For your $50 admission (plus $5 parking charge) per day, you’ll have the opportunity to taste samples from among more than 200 fine rums, including high-end sipping rums and craft cocktails. In addition, there will be island-style food and vendors selling tropical clothing and decor. Keep an eye out for free giveaways from the rum companies. For the price of three or four trendy cocktails elsewhere in Miami, you’ll enjoy a five-hour total immersion in rum culture and learn a whole lot about what makes the spirit great.

Continue reading “Rum’s best and brightest stars take center stage at annual Miami festival”

How big a punch can Tiki Month take?

Every February, Tiki cocktail bloggers gather for Tiki Month at The Pegu Blog to share cocktail recipes, tips, tricks and musings about the state of tropical mixology. Why February? It has something to do with an escape from Mother Nature’s frigid wrath, but I don’t really grasp that concept having been marooned in Fort Liquordale for more years than I can remember.

Martin Cate (right) supervises Rum Rat Pack members Wayne Curtis (left) and Stephen Remsberg as the punch begins to take shape at The 2011 Hukilau at The Mai-Kai
In go the mixers: Martin Cate (right) supervises Rum Rat Pack members Wayne Curtis (left) and Stephen Remsberg as the punch begins to take shape at The 2011 Hukilau at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Media.com)

Not a bad place to be marooned, however, especially when The Hukilau rolls into town every year. There’s also a little restaurant called The Mai-Kai. Both serve as a beacon, summoning the greatest minds in the Tiki world to an annual bacchanalia of rum and revelry.

The single event that perhaps reached the pinnacle of rum and revelry was the appearance of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s “Rum Rat Pack” at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in June 2011, which brings us back to Tiki Month. This year’s blog contributions have been entertaining and informative, covering such esoteric topics as homemade ginger syrup, garnishes made from ground coconut and orange peel, and more drink recipes than you can shake a shaker at. There was also something about geeks who re-create recipes they’ve never actually tasted, if you can imagine that.

Lost in all these intricate tropical concoctions is a common conundrum: How do you handle a thirsty mob who can’t wait for you to carefully fillet an orange or toast coconut? The Rum Rat Pack’s Rumposium demonstrated how to solve that problem with style and flair. In one fell swoop, they whipped up a Tiki punch for 200, featuring 240 ounces of six different rums, a jaw-dropping bowl filled with 630 ounces of deliciousness.

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Mai-Kai cocktail review: If you’re ‘Passionate’ about tropical drinks, this one’s for you

The Mai-Kai cocktail review: If you're 'Passionate' about tropical drinks, this one's for you

Updated October 2019

See below: Our Piña Passion review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe NEW
Related: What says ‘Tiki’ better than a drink served in a pineapple?
Mai-Kai cocktail guide

One of the most iconic images of the tropical drink is a vessel made from a hollowed-out pineapple. This over-the-top cocktail experience has been perfected at The Mai-Kai with the classic Piña Passion.

The Mai-Kai's Piña Passion, served in The Molokai bar in June 2016 with a 60th anniversary swizzle stick. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Mai-Kai’s Piña Passion, served in The Molokai bar in June 2016 with a 60th anniversary swizzle stick. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

The Piña Passion is served in a fresh pineapple that guests can take home. The one exception is during happy hour in The Molokai bar, when you’ll have to settle for having the drink in an old fashioned glass.

If you ever get a chance to take a peek into The Mai-Kai’s main service bar, tucked way behind the kitchen and hidden from guests, you’ll find cases of pineapples awaiting their fate. [See photo]

Drinks in pineapples were staples on tropical-themed cocktail menus across the country during Tiki’s heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. You can still find them at old-school establishments such as San Francisco’s Tonga Room (est. 1945) and Chicago’s temple of Witco, Hala Kahiki (est 1966). In the Hawaiian language, a pineapple is called “hala kahiki.”

A postcard shows a server in the early years of The Molokai bar holding the welcoming Piña Passion. (MaiKaiHistory.com)
A postcard shows a server in the early years of The Molokai bar holding the welcoming Piña Passion. (MaiKaiHistory.com)

Even in the dark days of Tiki in the 1970s and ’80s, pineapple drinking vessels remained essential on cruise ships and resorts in exotic locales. They go hand-in-hand with the concept of a tropical paradise.

They’re not as easy to find at today’s smaller Tiki and craft cocktail bars, which tend to favor traditional glassware and ceramic mugs. But this is changing in a big way thanks to a new breed of craftsmen who are taking Tiki hospitality to a whole new level.

At Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, one of the most popular events presented by owner Martin Cate and his team is Domingo de Piña (Pineapple Sunday), which features a selection of cocktails served in pineapples. We recommend Cate’s book – Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki (2016) – for more in-depth info and recipes for several tasty drinks served in pineapples.

There's nothing more welcoming than a server in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai with a tray full of exotic cocktails, including a Piña Passion. (The Palm Beach Post / 2005 file photo)
There’s nothing more welcoming than a server in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai with a tray full of exotic cocktails, including a Piña Passion. (The Palm Beach Post / 2005 file photo)

Italy’s Daniele Dalla Pola, who built upon the success of his Nu Lounge Bar to open Esotico Miami in August 2019, is also a big proponent of the spiky fruit. His new exotic bar and restaurant features both food and drink served in fresh pineapples. At The Hukilau 2017, he presented two Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy classes called “Pineapple Paradise” with information and advanced techniques on using the hospitable fruit in tropical drinks.

Of course, the pineapple is iconic as the worldwide symbol of hospitality. It was so sought-after in colonial times that people would rent them for a day to use as a party decoration. Considered the world’s most exotic fruit, pineapples were brought back to Europe by Columbus and other explorers. George Washington praised the fruit in his diary, noting that among his favorite foods, “none pleases my tastes” like a pineapple.

Because of their scarcity and high price, pineapples were typically served only to prestigious guests, and even those who could not afford them picked up on the image to share the sentiment of a special welcome. Towns, inns and households began displaying images of the pineapple to convey a sense of welcoming. You can find pineapple images on historic buildings around the world.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: If you’re ‘Passionate’ about tropical drinks, this one’s for you”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Hot Buttered Rum is a heart-warming winter classic

Updated Feb. 24, 2020
See below: Our Hot Buttered Rum review | Tribute recipe UPDATED
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

What could be more comforting on a chilly winter night than some warm rum and spices with a big dollop of butter? The holiday season would not be complete without a traditional Hot Buttered Rum.

From The Mai-Kai's 1956-57 menu
From The Mai-Kai’s 1956-57 menu.

Like the milk punch, Hot Buttered Rum is a seasonal classic that dates back to colonial times. According to the American Heritage Cookbook, the drink even “found its way into domestic politics.” Candidates would ply their constituents with it to influence their vote. If only today’s politicians would try this method instead of the usual dirty politics.

Drinks using the key ingredients – rum, butter and hot water – were documented during the early days of mixology in cocktail pioneer Jerry Thomas’ mid-19th century bar guides as Hot Rum and Hot Spiced Rum. The Mai-Kai’s version is not very different than the traditional Hot Buttered Rum and was no doubt influenced by Don the Beachcomber’s early Tiki classic.

Hot Buttered Rum and the lesser known Hot Rum Grog were staples on Donn Beach’s early menus. A menu from the 1940s includes this description of the Hot Buttered Rum: “Rums from the islands of Jamaican and Barbados. Mulled with cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, sweet butter and hot water. This will rekindle the fires in your heart.”

The Hot Buttered Rum recipe from the Aku-Aku restaurant in Las Vegas, as published in Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari
The Hot Buttered Rum recipe from the Aku-Aku restaurant in Las Vegas, as published in Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari.

By the 1950s, Donn’s copycats were experimenting with the traditional recipe, adding creme de cacao (Pub and Prow Hot Buttered Rum), along with maraschino liqueur and black tea (Volcano House Hot Buttered Rum). We can thank tropical cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry for these, which he published in Beachbum Berry Remixed (2010) and the Total Tiki app.

Mahalo to the Bum and his 10th anniversary edition of Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari in 2017, we have perhaps the most reverent Hot Buttered Rum recipe to Donn’s original (rum, honey butter mix, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon). Berry gleaned it from a 1969 issue of the Stardust Hotel’s in-house magazine, but those who follow Tiki history will know that the Aku-Aku restaurant, which operated from 1960 to 1980 in the iconic Las Vegas landmark, has a direct connection to Don the Beachcomber. Beach consulted on its creation and undoubtedly contributed his recipes to the cocktail menu. Sippin’ Safari is a must-read for many great stories about Donn and the Aku-Aku.

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Hukilau 2011 video preview: A Tiki-lover’s dream event

The 10th anniversary Hukilau – featuring four days of music, art, cocktails, vendors, symposiums on Tiki culture and much more – takes place Thursday through Sunday, June 9-12, in Fort Lauderdale. Go to TheHukilau.com for the full schedule and more information on all the performers and guests.
* Related: A decade of The Hukilau (video) | Mixologists vie to build a better Barrel

All history lessons should be this fun

Now entering its 10th year, The Hukilau has become not only the largest Tiki-themed event on the East Coast, but also a museum of Polynesian Pop and mid-century modern art, culture, music and much more.

The Hukilau

Most of the weekend’s events celebrate and honor the history of the original Tiki movement, which began in the 1930s and was fueled by vets returning from the Pacific after World War II in the 1940s, the statehood of Hawaii in the 1950s, and the boom of cocktail culture in the 1960s.

What had once been a vibrant culture lay dormant for several decades until it was rediscovered in the 1990s by the retro-loving underground art, music and cocktail scenes. By the turn of the century, a revival was in full swing and events such at The Hukilau were launched.

Now, 10 years down the road, the word “revival” may no longer be relevant as a whole new generation of artists, musicians and mixologists has evolved. With much due respect to the past, they’ve put their own modern spin on Tiki culture and will be showing off their talents at The Hukilau.

A day-by-day preview of events …

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