Minimalist Tiki

The Week in Tiki (May 11-17, 2015): Robert Drasnin, master of exotica, dead at 87

The Week in Tiki Sad news this week with the passing of Robert Drasnin, the exotica pioneer who composed the seminal Voodoo album. Other news includes special cocktail flights at The Mai-Kai, Tiki Kon’s Iron Tikitender competition, and Angry Birds fly the coop to a tropical paradise. Weekly features spotlight artist Miss Fluff, the Retro Roadmap website, El Capitan & the Band with No Name, and Tiki bar Forbidden Island in Alameda. The rums of the week, Gubba Silver and Gold, are featured in Trader Vic’s Molokai Mike cocktail.
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Exotica legend Robert Drasnin dies at 87


Robert Drasnin, one of the last greats of the mid-century exotica music scene and a prolific composer of TV scores, passed away on Wednesday, May 13, at age 87. Drasnin is perhaps best known for his seminal Voodoo albums released nearly 50 years apart.

Voodoo, which came out in 1959, was a touchstone of the mid-century exotica genre. After a new generation of listeners discovered Drasnin’s music in the early 21st century, he amazingly released a follow-up, Voodoo II, in 2007. A composer and performer (sax, clarinet, flute), Drasnin is considered to be one of exotica’s early masters, along with Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. His songs, such as Chant of the Moon, evoke an almost otherworldly vibe that transcends time and place.

When the Tiki revival brought a new generation of fans to Drasnin’s music, he embraced the attention. He performed at The Hukilau in 2005 and 2007
[Watch: Video1 | Video2] and at Tiki Oasis in 2008 [Watch: Video1 | Video2]. After his 2005 performance at The Hukilau, which included a 16-piece orchestra performing Voodoo for the first time since 1959, he was inspired to write and release Voodoo II.

Voodoo by Robert Drasnin

The outpouring from fans on Facebook was immediate:

“He was so wonderful, talented, selfless and a great friend,” said The Hukilau’s co-founder and organizer, Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White. “I’ll miss him and knowing he’s a part of this world. I’m glad The Hukilau made you smile … one of the greats.”

Vocalist Alice Berry, who sang with Drasnin and his orchestra during his revival shows, posted that it was “hard to express how meaningful it was for me to get to be Robert Drasnin’s vocalist. He lived 87 amazing years, filled with music and love ’til the end – which came all too soon yesterday.”

Born Nov. 17, 1927, in West Virginia, Drasnin moved to California as a youth. He served several stints in the Army in World War II and Korea, and received undergraduate and graduate degrees in music from UCLA. While still in college, he began a long career writing scores for films and TV. He also performed with some of the top big bands of the day, including the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.

Robert Drasnin performs at the 2009 West Virginia Music Hall of Fame ceremony
Robert Drasnin performs at the 2009 West Virginia Music Hall of Fame ceremony. (Photo: Michael Keller)

After college, he got a job at Tops Records, a label that was looking for a new exotica star to compete with Denny and Lyman. Drasnin rose to the challenge, composing the 12 original songs that would become Voodoo. Among the musicians who performed on the album was a young John Williams, a pianist who went on to fame as the composer of scores for Star Wars and Jaws.

Beyond his influence on exotica, Drasnin was also highly regarded as a TV and film composer. He composed or supervised scores for more than 200 TV shows and movies. His credits include such classic TV shows as Gunsmoke, Lost In Space, The Twilight Zone, and Hawaii 5-0. From 1977 to 1991, he was director of music at CBS. Later in his career, he became an educator, teaching at Cal State Northridge and his alma mater, UCLA.

Drasnin is surved by his wife of nearly 60 years, Marlene, and three children.

On the Web
* Robert Drasnin’s official website | Facebook
* Exotica and TV music legend Robert Drasnin passes (Reverberations Media)
* Video: Robert Drasnin interviewed about Voodoo II in 2007 (YouTube)
* Let Robert Drasnin inspire you to collect vinyl again (Ultra Swank)
* Buy Robert Drasnin’s music (Amazon)

Quick hits: Flights at The Mai-Kai, Iron Tikitender finalists, tropical Angry Brids

Flights at The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale will pay tribute to all the competitors in “The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown” held during February’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival with a special event on Saturday, May 23, featuring a flight of cocktails that competed in the contest. At press time, general manager Kern Mattei had yet to decide which three drinks will be offered in the $15 flight of small tastings, but I’d be surprised if The Mai-Kai’s own entry, the Molokai Swizzle, is not on the list. Winners in the contest were New York City’s Brian Miller (Judge’s Choice) and Miami’s The Broken Shaker (People’s Choice). The flights will be served in The Mai-Kai’s Molokai bar from 5 to 7 p.m., when you can also enjoy half-priced drinks and appetizers from the historic restaurant’s extensive menu of tropical libations and pupus. The event is being presented by the Gumbo Limbo chapter of the Fraternal Order of Moai.
* See the Facebook event
* Atomic Grog coverage: Emeril brings Tiki to South Beach | Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide

Iron Tikitender competition

One of the highlights of the annual Tiki Kon in the Pacific Northwest is the Iron Tikitender competition, a main-stage spectacle that pits some of the country’s top bartenders in a battle of creativity, knowledge, and showmanship. The three finalists have just been anounced for the July 11 showdown: Mike Treffehn from the Rum Club in Portland, Sierra Kirk from Hale Pele in Portland, and Justin Wojslaw from The Diller Room in Seattle. The three will battle to take home the title and $1,000 cash prize by competing in three rounds: (1) Who can make the most Mai Tais? (2) Garish Garnish Competition; and (3) the secret ingredient round. The reigning champ is Jason Alexander from Tacoma Cabana in Tacoma, Wash. [See story] The 13th annual Tiki Kon will be held July 10-12 in Portland and Vancouver, Wash.
* Official Iron Tikitender site

Angry Birds: Tropical Paradise

Admit it: You’re still hooked on Angry Birds. The always fun game for mobile devices now presents a new reason for you to keep playing with the release of a new “season” (or update) called “Tropical Paradise” featuring Tikis and Tiki bars in tropical settings. The addictive game’s new release in late April coincided with spring break, but I’m sure it can be enjoyed during any season, much like Tiki. The “storyline” features the birds taking off for a spring break vacation amid a lush Pacific island setting. But who should they run into? Pigs, of course. Much angry fun ensues. Just watch out for the hot lava. There are 26 new levels including Golden Eggs and Pig Days. It’s just 99 cents in iTunes.
* Official website | Download in iTunes

***** Links of the week*****
* Chelsea and Mike tie the knot — Tiki style — at The Mai Kai (Retro Renovation)
* Video: A tiny hamster holds a tiny Tiki party (Laughing Squid)
* Five places around Los Angeles to get your kitschy Tiki fix (Curbed)
* The best things I’ve eaten at Tiki bars – Part 1 (The Tiki Chick)
* Can the Piña Colada be saved from syrupy flavors and sappy lyrics? (Washington Post)
* Ed Hamilton’s essential rums (Imbibe)
* Zane Lamprey launches Monkey Rum in Miami (New Times)

Miss Fluff, Claudette Barjoud
Miss Fluff, Claudette Barjoud

(aka Claudette Barjoud)

“Girly glamour” and “sassy cuteness” are normally words not associated with Tiki, but Los Angeles artist Claudette Barjoud may change all that. Her bread and butter is her limited edition merchandise (purses, bags, wallets, etc.) featuring her distinctive hand-drawn artwork and designs available for the past decade via her website and at retro retail outlets around the world. But Barjoud, who is inspired by an array of vintage styles from the ’20s through the ’60s (pinup, mid-century modern, Art Deco, Japanese), is also a rising star in the fine art scene. The first Miss Fluff solo exhibition, “Return to the Tropics,” was featured on opening night of Tiki Caliente at the historic Caliente Tropics Hotel in Palm Springs on Thursday, May 14. She showcased 15 new Tiki-themed paintings at the exhibit presented by M Modern Gallery, where all of her previous paintings that have been exhibited have quickly sold. Barjoud will also be part of the “Tiki Repeat” group exhibition at the hotel on Friday, May 15, along with such Tiki art heavyweights as Bosko, Shag, Derek Yaniger, John Mulder, Sam Gambino and Joe Vitale.
* Find Miss Fluff: | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Fine Art America
* See past artists of the week

Mod Betty shares her passion for mid-century culture with Retro Roadmap
Mod Betty shares her passion for mid-century culture with Retro Roadmap. (From

Retro Roadmap

To say Beth Lennon, aka Mod Betty, is a fan of retro culture would be an understatement. Dismayed at the disappearance of mid-century motels, dinners and other vintage establishments across the country, Betty took her passion for finding and sharing these “cool old places” to the next level with the Retro Roadmap website. It’s a treasure trove of information and photos, presented in a modern, well-designed site. Search by category or state and check out the roadmap to find classic businesses near you. But it’s not enough to simply find these establishments. They also need your patronage to survive. Betty is helping raise awareness even more this week at her first major event, Vintage Tiki Weekend at the Caribbean Motel in Wildwood, N.J.
* | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pintrest | YouTube
* See past websites of the week

El Capitan & the Band with No Name
El Capitan & the Band with No Name (From YouTube)

El Capitan & the Band with No Name

This Atlanta-based instrumental surf ensemble led by James Freeman is an enigmatic and evolving group, popping up at major festivals such as The Hukilau and this week’s Instro Summit in Chapel Hill, N.C. Attendees at the surf-themed summit are promised a special “Super Deluxe Spaghetti Surf” version of the band, similar to the incarnation that opened for Dick Dale in April 2013 [See video]. The band has also opened for the Reverend Horton Heat, Big Sandy and other national touring acts when they hit Atlanta. The group has finally released an album, Death of a Tiki, but it’s almost as hard to find as an official website. Regardless, this band needs to be seen live to be appreciated.
* Interviews and music: Dick Dale and El Capitan & the Band with No Name (AM 1690)
* El Capitan on the Southern Surf Stomp podcast
* See past bands/music of the week

Instro Summit

Don’t miss: Instro Summit runs Friday through Sunday (May 15-17) at the Cat’s Cradle Back Room in Carrboro, near Chapel Hill, N.C., with many of the region’s top surf bands: Blood Red River, The Mystery Men?, Aqualads, Arrows Out, El Capitan & The Band with No Name, Astronaut Sex Pants, The Electra Kings, The Out of Limits, Moonbase, Atomic Mosquitos, Insect Surfers, Crazy Aces, 9th Wave, The Monterreys, Killers From Space, The Surge!, Phatlynx/I’m Branded contest/Rumble Jam, Gemini 13, The Tsunami Experiment, The AmpFibians, Krektones, Mike Krause’s Shadows Tribute, Beech Benders, The Del Rios, Genki Genki Panic, El Mirage, The Lyndes, and Killer Filler.
* Audio: Hear many of the bands on the latest Southern Surf Stompcast
* Story: Carrboro’s Instro Summit brings surf rock offshore (Indy Week)

Forbidden Island recently celebrated its ninth anniversary
Forbidden Island recently celebrated its ninth anniversary. (From

Forbidden Island

Launched in 2006 by Tiki cocktail savant Martin Cate, this well-themed lounge in Alameda in the San Francisco Bay area foreshadowed the current new wave of craft Tiki bars by nearly a decade. Cate amiably split with partners Michael and Manny Thanos to open Smuggler’s Cove in 2009, but his influence is still felt in the well-crafted drinks – both traditional and original – as well as the impeccable theming. Credit to the look and feel also goes to legendary artist and builder Bamboo Ben. Forbidden Island is also a hotbed for special events, from movie nights to live bands to DJs. Artist Brad “Tiki Shark” Parker will be appearing this Sunday (May 17). Tiki Oasis founder Otto von Stroheim has a long-running DJ night on the first Thursday of every month. Click here for more on the May and June events. Happy hour is celebrated all night Monday, and Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 7 with discounted drinks and appetizers.
* Official website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
* Birth of a Tiki Bar: Transformation of Lincoln’s Address to Forbidden Island (YouTube)
* Critiki profile, photos | Tiki Central discussion
* See past Tiki bars of the week

Gubba Rum

Gubba Silver and Gold

These artisanal, organic rums are the brainchild of Steve Gubb, who became enamored with cane spirits while traveling in the Caribbean. Inspired to create his own high-quality product, he turned to a distiller in Colorado who produces these unique, hybrid rums. They’re not quite a spiced rum, not quite a full-fledged 80-proof rum, but they’re definitely distinctive and have won medals at multiple rum and spirits festivals. As all-natural, sugar-cane based products, they’re much superior to your average flavored rum. But the taste is subtle. The 70-proof silver rum contains a small amount of natural coconut, while the gold rum contains natural vanilla. The white can serve as a fine mixing rum in cocktails or highballs that don’t need a powerful punch. It has hints of fruit and spice, along with coconut underpinnings. The gold rum (also 70 proof) is rich, sweet and complex with vanilla and light spices up front and just a mild heat. Not even two years on the market, Gubba is already making its mark in the rum world. Distribution is coming soon outside of Gubb’s home base of Massachusetts. Next on the agenda: Florida, Rhode Island and Maine.
* Official sites: | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube
* Interview with Steve Gubb (Like Your Liquor)
* See all past rums of the week

Don’t miss: Gubba Rum will be pouring samples of its rums in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale from Thursday, June 11, through Saturday, June 13. Gubba will also be at Tales of the Cocktail in July.

 Molokai Mike featuring Gubba Silver and Gold rums
Molokai Mike featuring Gubba Silver and Gold rums. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

(From Trader Vic’s Tiki Party)

Bottom layer:
* 1 ounce light rum
* 1/2 ounce brandy
* 1 ounce fresh orange juice
* 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
* 1/2 ounce orgeat
Top layer
* 1 ounce gold rum
* 1 ounce grenadine
Pulse blend bottom layer with 1/2 cup of crushed ice for 1-2 seconds (do not fully blend). Pour into a hurricane or other specialty glass. Blend top layer with 1 cup of crushed ice until smooth. Gently pour onto the bottom layer (pouring over a barspoon helps). Garnish with umbrella and tropical fruit.

One of Victor Bergeron’s many signature tropical drinks, this distinctive two-layer concoction combines classic Trader Vic’s flavors on the bottom with a sweet and slushy top to create a refreshing summer treat. The Gubba rums work well here since they’re not too harsh but add some complex and subtle flavors. The gold rum rears its head at the very end of the drink, letting you know it’s there. Try to use real pomegranate grenadine (bottled or homemade). Instead of plain brandy, try apricot or peach brandy for a smoother, sweeter drink.
* See all past cocktails of the week

SAVE THE DATE: Upcoming events

Vintage Tiki Weekend

***** In Florida *****
* June 10-14 – The Hukilau at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 hotel and The Mai-Kai restaurant, Fort Lauderdale. The world’s most authentic Tiki event. [Atomic Grog coverage]
* Oct. 1-3 – Ohana: Luau by the Sea, Fort Lauderdale. A weekend of ohana in sunny South Florida.

***** On the Eastern Seaboard *****
* May 15-17 – Vintage Tiki Weekend at the Caribbean Motel, Wildwood, N.J.
* May 15-17 – Instro Summit, Chapel Hill, N.C.
* June 25-28 – Ohana: Luau At The Lake at The Tiki Resort, Lake George, N.Y.
* July 15-19 – Tales of the Cocktail, New Orleans, La.

Tiki Caliente

***** Across the U.S. *****
* May 14-17 – Tiki Caliente, Palm Springs, Calif.
* July 10-12 – Tiki Kon, Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash.
* Aug. 7-8 – Hot Rod Hula Hop, Columbus, Ohio.
* Aug. 8Surf Guitar 101 Convention, Garden Grove, Calif.
* Aug. 13-16 – Tiki Oasis, San Diego, Calif.
* Sept. 12 – California Rum Fest, San Francisco.
* Dec. 4 – Midwest Rum Fest, Louisville, Ky.

***** Worldwide *****
* May 23-25 – RhumFest Paris, Paris, France.
* June 18-21 – Surfer Joe Summer Festival, Livorno, Italy.
* June 26-28 – Tiki Pop Fever, Saint-Tropez, France.
* Oct. 3-4 – German Rum Festival,, Berlin
* Oct. 17-18 –
The RumFest: London, United Kingdom
* Nov. 6-7 – Caribbean Rum & Beer Festival, St. Maarten

Keep us informed: If you have news or events to report, simply e-mail [email protected] and let us know what’s happening, along with any appropriate links. Feel free to send photos and flyers. You can also send a message via the Facebook page. If you post news or updates on a regular basis, let us know how to follow you (website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

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