Minimalist Tiki

Top 10 Tiki stories of 2022 include legends lost, hope for the future

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse than 2020 or 2021, along came 2022. The past three years have been rough, any way you slice it. But for the Tiki community, things turned tragic last year with the devastating loss of multiple legendary figures. But rather than mourn their passing, let’s take the opportunity to remember and reflect on their great impact. And while we’re at it, let’s also give thanks for the positive news that made it into our annual list of the most impactful stories of the year.
Related: The Year in Tiki 2022 – Take a trip back to the year’s top events
Bonus recipes below: Harry Yee’s Tropical Itch | Stephen Remsberg’s Planter’s Punch


Oceanic Arts celebration and auction

The top story of 2021 – the retirement of Robert Van Oosting and LeRoy Schmaltz – continued into 2022 with the epic events that marked the true end of an era. Spread over three weekends in April, Aloha Oa! 65 years of Oceanic Arts Celebration took place at the Whittier, Calif., headquarters of the longtime purveyors of South Seas decor. Tikiphiles from around the world came to pay tribute to these two men and their legacy, which can be found in not only Tiki bars and restaurants but also in theme parks, hotels and motels, apartment complexes, and countless other venues built over the past half century. It’s heartening that both were able to be there to see the appreciation for their decades of work on behalf of an artistic style that often is overlooked. Thousands attended the events that featured live music and entertainment, presentations and history lessons, plus an array of tropical libations. And, of course, the opportunity to meet Bob and LeRoy and peruse their vast warehouse of historic Ocean Arts lamps, floats, carvings, and many more items that were cataloged for auction.

Part 2 of the extravaganza was The Oceanic Arts Vintage Tiki Collection Auction, held April 23-24 and featuring likely the most extensive collection of mid-century Polynesian inspired decor and artwork ever offered for sale at one event. Curated by Jordan Reichek, a longtime friend and owner of nearby Peekaboo Gallery, the auction drew bidders large and small seeking to take home a piece of Tiki history. A portion of the proceeds from the event were donated to humanitarian aid and relief for Tonga, which was hit by a volcanic eruption and tsunami in January.

The monthlong celebration proved to be a fitting farewell for Oceanic Arts, providing both great memories and a unique opportunity to pick up items that will never be made again. For those who couldn’t make it to Southern California, three was a gigantic 500-page book compiled by Reichek featuring artwork from the auction along with archival photos and insightful conversations with Van Oosting and Schmaltz. Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki tells the story of not just the small studio that influenced generations of artists, but also the entire Polynesian Pop movement in America.


Modern Caribbean Rum
LeRoy Schmaltz, 1935-2022

Less than two months after the Oceanic Arts celebration, the Tiki world lost a legend when carver and artist LeRoy Earl Schmaltz passed away on June 17, not long after celebrating his 87th birthday. The amount of art and woodwork created by this one man was awe inspiring. The Paul Bunyan of Tiki will loom large for generations to come. Schmaltz joined with business partner Robert Van Oosting in 1956 to create Oceanic Arts – a bar, restaurant and entertainment design firm that continued to have an over-sized impact on the industry, even after the pair retired in late 2021.

While Van Oosting ran the business and guided its creative efforts, Schmaltz did the heavy lifting with the workmanlike precision of a lumberjack but the sensibilities of a fine artist. The men had a true affinity for authentic Polynesian art, traveling there often for inspiration in their youth. They also imported and sold the work of artists from across the Pacific Rim. But it was the original works created by Schmaltz (and the many other artists Oceanic Arts employed) that drove the company forward though lean times. Eventually, new fame (and business) arrived with the Polynesian Pop revival in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Beyond Tiki-carving, Schmaltz was proficient in many other disciplines: Mosaic work, watercolor, pastels, charcoals, assemblages, sculptures, architectural design, and much more. Always a humble artist, when Schmaltz was asked what his greatest accomplishment was, he answered without hesitation: “My family.” He was a devout and church-going family man who left not only an artistic legacy but also a vast clan including six children, 10 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren.


Brother Cleve made several apperances at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in recent years as a guest mixologist (2018) and DJ (2018, 2019). Credits (left to right): The Atomic Grog, Jim Neumayer, Vincent Minervino
Brother Cleve made several appearances at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in recent years as a guest mixologist (2018) and DJ (2018, 2019). Credits (left to right): The Atomic Grog, Jim Neumayer, Vincent Minervino.

The influence of Brother Cleve was as vast as his interests. When the craft cocktail pioneer died suddenly in September at age 67, the tributes poured in from across the entertainment world. As a testament to his importance and status as a fixture on the East Coast scene, he was eulogized by writers from the Boston Globe, New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal,.

According to The Journal, Cleve (born Robert Toomey) was in Los Angeles to appear at a Tiki-themed bartending event when he died of a heart attack. His first claim to fame was music as a keyboardist in the 1980s. He played in countless bands, including stints touring with the Del Fuegos and Combustible Edison. Then, he had a revelation. As the obituary tells it: “One day in the mid-1980s, at a diner in Cleveland, he noticed scores of cocktails listed on the menu. He began searching thrift shops for cocktail-recipe books and learned to mix and tweak classic drinks.”

His interest pre-dated the modern cocktail revival, and he became a mixologist at the forefront of the national trend and an icon in his native Boston. He became an ambassador for numerous brands, and at the time of his death he was a partner in Lullaby, a cocktail lounge that opened in early 2022 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Fittingly, the bar hosted and raucous wake in his honor, attended by a who’s who of the East Coast cocktail scene.

As a music historian, Brother Cleve contributed liner notes to – and later produced – innumerable reissues of catalog music. He collaborated with and managed Mexican bandleader/composer Juan Garcia Esquivel. His interest in exotic and obscure music led to regular gigs as a DJ at clubs and special events around the world. He made the rounds at nearly every major Tiki event, where he also often lectured on cocktails and the modern Tiki revival. His knowledge of (and participation in) every obscure nook in pop culture history was his calling card and his legacy.


Trader Vic's at the London Hilton, relatively unchanged since the 1960s, was considered to be among the most vintage mid-century Polynesian restaurants in the world. It was forced to shut down when its lease was terminated at the end of 2022. (Photo from
Trader Vic’s at the London Hilton, relatively unchanged since the 1960s, was considered to be among the most vintage mid-century Polynesian restaurants in the world. It was forced to shut down when its lease was terminated at the end of 2022. (Photo from

Despite all the new openings in 2022 (see No. 6 below), the year ended on a sad note with the loss of one of the most venerable Tiki establishments: Trader Vic’s in London. The oldest continuously operating Trader Vic’s in the world served its last Mai Tai at a New Year’s Eve party Dec. 31, just a few months shy of its 60th anniversary. The restaurant opened along with the London Hilton on Park Lane in 1963, when mid-century Tiki culture was at it’s peak. For the opening, company founder Victor Bergeron created the London Sour, a distinctive twist on his original Mai Tai featuring blended Scotch.

In the early years, VIP guests included Marlon Brando, George Harrison and Elton John. Rocker Warren Zevon paid tribute with the memorable 1978 song Werewolves of London, which includes the line: “I saw a werewolf drinkin’ a Piña Colada at Trader Vic’s. His hair was perfect.”

The news broke in late November, when Frommers reported that the manager of Trader Vic’s notified staff that the lease was not being renewed by Hilton. This has been an unfortunate trend over the years as Hilton has slowly shed many of the chain’s restaurants from its hotels. Aside from a handful of outposts in the U.S., Europe and Asia, most of the current Trader Vic’s locations are clustered in the Persian Gulf, including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

The reaction across the Tiki world was immediate. A Save Trader Vic’s London group on Facebook amassed 1,600 members, and a petition on gathered 7,861 signatures and many heartfelt comments. Wrote historian and author Sven Kirsten: “There is no place like this historic Tiki bar in all of Britain. It is a classic example of a unique style like no other. Losing it would mean an irreplaceable loss for the local and international community in London.”

Hilton, however, was not swayed. The CEO of Trader Vic’s, Rhett Rosen, said in a statement on Instagram that the hotel “decided to renovate, and unfortunately (for now), we will be shutting the doors.”

Rosen gave Trader Vic’s fans hope in a later post (see below) in which he assured them that “this is not the end for Trader Vic’s in London, and we will update you with our plans soon.” He also had nothing bad to say about Hilton, adding: “We value the strong relationship we have with Hilton and look forward to sharing more news about the exciting projects we are working on together.”


The renovation and restoration of The Mai-Kai started gaining momentum in 2022, welcome news for fans of the historic South Florida restaurant that closed in 2020 following a catastrophic roof collapse. The subsequent sale to a new ownership team in September 2021 set the stage for the reimagination of the sprawling 2.7-acre property in Oakland Park, north of Fort Lauderdale.

We covered the progress extensively on the blog, beginning with January’s hiring of “Typhoon Tommy” Allsmiller as creative director and designer of the project. Takeout cocktails returned in April to spice up holiday weekends, continuing all year and into 2023. The first major news on the ambitious plans came in late April, when The Mai-Kai owners and design team revealed their plans in an online presentation for the city and neighborhood residents.

The Mai-Kai's renovation plans include reimagined entryway, new event space
The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans include reimagined entryway, new event space

The new managing owner, Bill Fuller, elaborated on the plans during a packed presentation at The Hukilau in June. Guests at the annual Tiki weekender also enjoyed two exclusive Mai-Kai cocktails that had not been available since the closing, plus a special oceanfront performance featuring members of the Polynesian Islander Revue.

The stage show – choreographed by the matriarch of The Mai-Kai’s founding family, Mireille Thornton – will return along with all the other signature elements, Fuller promised. “We like to see the project as if we were in Bob and Jack Thornton’s shoes,” he said. “Or as stewards and curators of their original vision. When doing any new creation or new aspect of the venue, it’s all about: How would Bob or Jack have seen this?”

The Mai-Kai's new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau 2022
The Mai-Kai’s new owner reveals renovation plans during The Hukilau

The first steps were to repair the aging roofs and modernize of the venue’s air-conditioning and electrical systems. Once this was done, Typhoon Tommy began work restoring the interior in July. His many projects included bringing The Molokai bar and the dining rooms back to their vintage glory while overseeing work in the outdoor gardens along with plans for a new event center. His intricate work restoring the countless hanging lamps is simply amazing.

In late summer, work began outside on the porte-cochère and roof thatching, though both projects had to be put on hold for approval by the city’s Historic Preservation Board. The Mai-Kai is both a national and local historic landmark, making the refurbishments a complicated, and time-consuming effort.

Former Mai-Kai waitress Claudia Marmolejo posed for some publicity photos on the roof during the installation of new thatch. She couldn't resist returning to The Molokai to lend a hand to Typhoon Tommy. (Mai-Kai photos)
Former Mai-Kai waitress Claudia Marmolejo posed for some publicity photos on the roof during the installation of new thatch. She couldn’t resist returning to The Molokai to lend a hand to Typhoon Tommy. (Mai-Kai photos)

Meanwhile, manager Kern Mattei had his hands full juggling everything from the takeout cocktails (including the return of the Zombie for Halloween) and spearheading the development of a new rum blend, to overseeing the creation of new mugs and merchandise. He’s also supervising a project to restore nearly 200 table lamps, originally designed by Oceanic Arts in the 1970s.

Work continued unabated though the end of the year, though all the major projects had to wait until January for final approval from Oakland Park. While a projected opening date continues to be pushed back, there are many reasons to be hopeful that 2023 will mark the grand reopening of the historic Tiki temple.

Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening
The Mai-Kai turns 66 as work progresses on multiple renovation projects

Latest Mai-Kai updates
* New details on The Mai-Kai renovations, new merchandise revealed at Inuhele 2023 in Atlanta
* Historic preservation board approves The Mai-Kai’s renovation plans, clearing way for project to move forward


The proliferation of Tiki and neo-Tiki bars featuring themed decor and/or well-crafted cocktails has been building for more than a decade. The COVID pandemic temporarily squashed this momentum, but Tiki roared back in 2021 with at least 11 new bar openings (noted in last year’s No. 6 top news happening of the year).

Cane Tiki Room

While our observations are anecdotal, it appears that a trend from 2021 has intensified in 2022. Not only were there more Tiki or Tiki-adjacent bars opening across the country, but they now seem to be moving into smaller and smaller markets. Of the 16 new establishments we took note of and list below, many have popped up in off-the-beaten path locales such as Springfield, Ore., and Newburgh, N.Y. In our opinion, this is a natural evolution as craft cocktails and carefully curated bar experiences trickle down from the bigger cites. While some of these new venues have much smaller budgets than their big-city brethren, we feel that as long as the quality remains high, it’s an encouraging trend.

Here’s our recap of the 2022 openings by month:

* FEBRUARY: Shrunken Head Tiki Bar in Colorado Springs, Colo. (at the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains, 70 miles south of Denver).

The Sorrow Drowner

* MARCH: Cane Tiki Room in downtown Paso Robles, Calif. (in wine country about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco). Swaylo’s Tiki in Longmont, Colo. (33 miles north-northwest of Denver). The Monkey’s Paw in downtown Springfield, Ore. (a suburb of Eugene). The Sorrow Drowner in Wilmington, N.C. (a port city that’s ninth most populous in the state).

* APRIL: Tiki Bar DelRay in Alexandria, Va. (just south of Washington, D.C.). The Space Pad in San Diego, Calif.

* MAY: South Seas in Louisville, Ky. Pete’s Tiki Tiki in Rosemont, Ill. (attached to Pete’s Dueling Pianos in the Chicago suburbs).

Dead Man's Isle

* JUNE: Delirio Tiki Bar in Miami Beach (an offshoot of the adjacent Swizzle Rum Bar & Drinkery).

* AUGUST: Mothership in San Diego, Calif. Dead Man’s Isle in Astoria, Ore. (from Tiki mug designers Munktiki in the northwest corner of the state).

* SEPTEMBER: The Jet Set in Newburgh, N.Y. (60 miles north of New York City, 90 miles south of Albany). Sunken Harbor Club Bermuda (in the Cambridge Beaches hotel).

Kaona Room is the brainchild of Daniele Dalla Pola and his team at Esotico Miami. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, Feburary 2023)
Kaona Room is the brainchild of Daniele Dalla Pola and his team at Esotico Miami. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, Feburary 2023)

* OCTOBER: Trader Vic’s in the Hilton Dubai Palm Jumeirah on Palm West Beach.

* NOVEMBER: Kaona Room in Miami, a speakeasy-style hidden Tiki bar from master mixologist Daniele Dalla Pola. You can find it next to Esotico Miami via an unmarked door

One other trend to note is the flurry of bars themed to space and air travel (The Space Pad, Mothership, and The Jet Set). On top of all the new bars, UnderTow opened its second location in October in Gilbert, Ariz., southeast of the original location in Phoenix.


Harry Yee of the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki

It was quite unusual for bartenders from the middle 20th century to achieve any sort of fame, nevermind continue to be remembered and honored a half-century later. But Harry Yee was not just any bartender. Celebrated as the creator of the renowned Blue Hawaii cocktail at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki in the 1950s, Yee died Dec. 7 at the age of 104. But Yee was no one-trick pony. He created better drinks, such as the Tropical Itch (see recipe below), and helped popularize the use of distinctive garnishes such as orchids, wooden backscratchers, and tiny paper parasols. When you hear the term “umbrella drink,” you can thank Yee.

Even without those notable achievements, Yee had an illustrious bartending career. A child of Chinese parents born in Honolulu in 1918, he served in the Chinese Air Force in World War II. A confirmed teetotaler, he started mixing drinks at a local cafe because he was having trouble finding work. He then developed his tropical drink skills at Trader Vic’s before moving on to the massive Hawaiian Village in 1952. He remained there as head bartender for three decades, working into the 1980s and retiring in his late 70s. Yee is still remembered fondly at what is now the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. “Harry was a creative genius who brought about a whole new category of tropical cocktails, and yet his accomplishments were combined with a humble and soft-spoken demeanor, ” the resort’s managing director, Debi Bishop, told the Honolulu Star-Advertister.

He came up with the Blue Hawaii in 1957, reportedly at the behest of the liquor company Bols seeking to spotlightht their blue curacao. The name was likely inspired by the Bing Crosby hit song from the 1937 movie Waikiki Wedding. The drink’s popularity skyrocketed after the 1961 release of the Elvis Presley movie of the same name. His other notable cocktails created for the Hawaiian Village include the Catamaran, Chimp in Orbit, Diamond Head, Guava Lada, Hawaiian Cooler, Hawaiian Eye, Hawaiian Village Sunset, Hot Buttered Okolehao, Hukilau, Naughty Hula, Scratch Me Lani, and Tapa Punch. Yee’s daughter told The New Yorker that he started adding unique garnishes to his drinks because he despised the traditional stalks of sugarcane used at the bar. Guests would chew on them and leave the sticky mess in the ashtrays for the staff to clean up.

The Tapa Punch enjoyed a revival recently with the release of a recreation of the drink’s iconic mug and yet another unique garnish, the hanging Chinese lantern pick. After releasing the picks in 2020, the Kon-Tigo Tiki Bar, a small manufacturer of Tiki-themed goods, commissioned the mug from artist David Outline, who sculpted it based on the illustration on the 1959 Hawaiian Village menu. In tribute to Yee, the manufacturers donated 25 percent of the proceeds to Advancing Justice, which helps victims of hate crimes aimed at the Asian American Pacific Islander community.

Listen: Influence of mixologist Harry Yee on signature Hawaii cocktails (Hawaii Public Radio)
Bonus recipe below: Harry Yee’s Tropical Itch


Stephen Remsberg was in his element at The Mai-Kai, whether it was perusing the vintage rum collection (left), teaching guests of The Hukilau about cocktails (center), or just enjoying drinks with friends (right, Huricane Hayward and Beachbum Berry). (Atomic Grog photos)
Stephen Remsberg was in his element at The Mai-Kai, whether it was perusing the vintage rum collection (left), teaching guests of The Hukilau about cocktails (center), or just enjoying drinks with friends (right, Huricane Hayward and Beachbum Berry). (Atomic Grog photos)

Stephen Remsberg – lovingly remembered as a “collector, historian, admirer, and imbiber of rum” – died Dec. 31 at age 75 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. A retired maritime attorney, Remsberg spent decades amassing what became known as the world’s largest private rum collection in his New Orleans home. His love of rum and rum cocktails began in the 1970s, when he was a regular at Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber restaurants. He began to collect vintage rums to recreate drink recipes of old, according to his obituary in The Times-Picayune.

Over time, Remsberg became a preeminent expert on vintage rum, earning him the nickname The Professor and invitations to judge competitions and lecture at events around the country. “He often hosted enthusiasts who came to his home to meet him, learn, and sample the collection. Drinkers of light rums and spiced rums were not welcome,” noted his obit, nailing his dry sense of humor. He was known as a hilarious storyteller and history buff, as well as a loyal friend. “Steve will be remembered for his brilliant wit, his cocktails and gourmet cooking, and his love for his family,” the obituary says.

The Professor was unrelentingly generous. Longtime friend and colleague Jeff “Beachbum” Berry said Remsberg “thought nothing of pouring out his most prized possessions for his guests.” And oh, that collection. He began in 1973 and never stopped, filling shelf after shelf with rare and vintage rums. True to his benevolent spirit, he often kept two bottles: One for the shelf, the other for sharing with guests.

Remsberg was an essential source when Berry began researching and writing his influential cocktail books. He was crucial in not only helping Berry identify the rums that may have been used 50 or more years ago, but actually knowing what the drinks tasted like. The Professor’s knowledge and photographic memory were legend. I met and befriended both gentlemen in South Florida in the early 2010s during events at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau, the long-running Tiki event.

I’ll never forget those times, including their participation in several memorable 2011 events: the Master Mixologist Rum Barrel Challenge and the “Rum Rat Pack” symposium. In 2013, Remsberg joined Berry on stage at The Mai-Kai for a symposium on “The Wild West Indies,” introducing us to the secret mix of legendary Jamaican bartender Jasper LaFranc (aka Jasper’s Mix). Afterward during dinner, I learned that Remsberg’s favorite cocktail at The Mai-Kai was the Special Planters Punch. He said it reminded him of the Planter’s Punch served at Don the Beachcomber back in the 1970s.

In 2019, I was privileged to have The Professor as my co-host of what would be his final appearance at The Hukilau. “The Rums of The Mai-Kai: The Classic Tiki Template,” our Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class held at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, was a sold-out event featuring a slideshow of the restaurant’s historic rum collection and Remsberg’s running commentary on those rare bottles. He also brought a half-dozen or so vintage rums with him to share, and the students were happy to indulge. Let’s just say that nobody left that classroom either uneducated or sober. That’s just the way it was when you spent any amount of time with Stephen Remsberg. Rest in peace, compadre.

Rum collector Stephen Remsberg shares stories of tasting mid-century rums and cocktails during "The Rums of The Mai-Kai" class hosted by Hurricane Hayward and The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2019. (Atomic Grog photos)
Rum collector Stephen Remsberg shares stories of tasting mid-century rums and cocktails during “The Rums of The Mai-Kai” class hosted by Hurricane Hayward and The Atomic Grog at The Hukilau 2019. (Atomic Grog photos)

Tributes to The Professor
* The rum life of Stephen Remsberg by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (Difford’s Guide)
* Remembering Stephen Remsberg (Robert Simonson)
Bonus recipe below: Stephen Remsberg’s Planter’s Punch


Tiki Central

When the online message board that helped unite the Tiki revival community for 20 years went offline just before the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, many feared that it was gone forever. Like many websites from the early 2000s, it was in dire need of modernization and its code had become unstable. Founder Hanford Lemoore was forced to take it down and try to figure out the best way to make the leap in the 2020s. All the data was safe, he assured us, but the resurrection of Tiki Central took a bit longer than expected.

Fortunately, a white knight named Leevi Graham emerged and Tiki Central 2.0 launched in March 2022 with the same look and feel but a much more robust back-end system. Most importantly, it’s still “open 24 hours” and still “celebrating classic and modern Polynesian Pop.” The site has some new features, such as a mobile version, bigger images, and profile avatars. Graham did a yeoman’s job in rewriting the code and developing a platform to ensure that the boards survive for another 20 years.

Social media and other competing sites took a lot of wind out of Tiki Central’s sails, but it remains an invaluable resource for its vast archive of material from over the decades. The next time you get frustrated with the noise on Facebook or other platforms, take a break and enjoy the simple joy of perusing (and contributing to) Tiki Central. Like a classic cocktail, it never goes out of style.


The Alibi in Portland

One of the world’s longest running Tiki bars celebrated a milestone anniversary on Aug. 27 with a 75th anniversary luau. The Alibi, a divey and kitschy icon in Portland, Ore., threw an all-day party featuring live music, vendors, special merchandise, and much more. There was Hawaiian dancing and hula lessons, “mechanical surfing,” games for kids and burlesque for the adults, plus a dunk tank featuring “Portland Elvis.” None of this is out of character for the laid-back bar that has survived every trend since opening in 1947, continuing to thrive with something for everybody: nightly karaoke; solid food and drinks; happy hour, brunch, dinner and late-night hours; and definitely no pretension.

The location has a fascinating history going all the way back to the late 1800s, when it was a “chat-n-nibble” stop for horses and buggies as they traveled up and down the dirt trail that later became North Interstate Avenue. It later became a tavern known as Max Alibi before its third owner renamed it The Alibi in 1947. Roy Ell decorated the place with Polynesian decor, adding more elaborate artwork over the years. The Alibi expanded into a full restaurant and lounge in the 1950s. It has changed hands several times since the 1980s, but it remains relatively unchanged as a mid-century time capsule featuring a carefree vibe, exotic cocktails and tropical escapism at its finest.

FYI, the only surviving Tiki bars that pre-date The Alibi are Trad’r Sam’s (1937) and The Tonga Room (1945), both in San Francisco. The latter didn’t receive its Polynesian theming until the 1960s. The Tiki-themed dive bar Bikini Lounge in Phoenix also opened in 1947.



While there was much we lost in 2022, there is also much to remind us of those creative forces, from the artwork and creativity of LeRoy Schmaltz to the cocktail and musical influence of Brother Cleve. It’s also nice to toast those we lost with a nice stiff drink, so we chose two of our favorite (and most potent) drinks from Harry Yee and Stephen Remsberg to spotlight here. Consume with reverence, but also a bit of caution.

(By Harry Yee / Hawaiian Village, Waikiki)
In honor of the legendary Hawaiian bartender, who passed away in December 2022 at age 104

Harry Yee's Tropical Itch by The Atomic Grog,  December 2022. Inexpensive backscratchers are not hard to find online
Harry Yee’s Tropical Itch by The Atomic Grog, December 2022. Inexpensive backscratchers are not hard to find online.
  • 8 ounces passion fruit juice or nectar
  • 1 1/2 ounces amber 151 proof rum
  • 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
  • 1 ounce Bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce orange curacao
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

Fill a large hurricane glass with crushed ice, add all ingredients, and swizzle until well chilled. Garnish with a pineapple stick, a mint sprig, an orchid, and a wooden backscratcher.

This is very passion fruit forward, but the 3 1/2 ounces of booze, plus bitters and curacao, help balance things out. It can be a refreshing thirst-quencher poolside on a hot day, but equally dangerous if you try to knock back too many.

This circa 1957 recipe, published in Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s Intoxica (2003) and Remixed (2010), was widely copied by coutless bars during the heyday of Tiki cocktails. It’s easy to spot with its unique backscratcher, which Yee sourced from his family’s native China, to give the drink a distinctive look.

A spinoff called the Backscratcher has become an enduring classic of its own for 50 years at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort in Orlando. Check out our tribute recipe.

Mixing tips

  • Yee was way ahead of his time in combining Bourbon with rum, including a robust shot of 151. It’s hard to know exactly which brands this drink was created with, so feel free to experiment. Instead of amber 151, I like to use a more flavorful and smoky dark 151 Demerara rum from Guyana, which pairs well with dark Jamaican rums (such as Coruba or Myers’s). But you could also go in a funkier direction with something like Hamilton or Smith & Cross. There are more and more great Jamaican rums hitting the market these days. Combined with the wide array of Bourbons available, the possibilities for experimentation are endless.

  • Once you find your favorite spirits mix, I would dial back the passion fruit by a few ounces, or until you find that perfect balance.

  • I love to use an authentic swizzle stick (aka le bois lélé), but a professional barspoon would work just as well. A quick pulse blend in a spindle mixer would accomplish the same thing with less fuss and muss.

(By Stephen Remsberg / Beachbum Berry Remixed)
In honor of the New Orleans rum expert and collector known as “The Professor,” who passed away in December 2022 at age 75

Stephen Remsberg's Planter's Punch by The Atomic Grog. Glass from The Hukilau 2017 featuring artwork by Tiki Tony. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2023)
Stephen Remsberg’s Planter’s Punch by The Atomic Grog. Glass from The Hukilau 2017 featuring artwork by Tiki Tony. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2023)
  • Juice of half a large lime (around 3/4 ounce)
  • 1 ounce sugar syrup
  • 3 ounces Coruba dark Jamaican rum
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters

Place all of the above in a large tall glass (preferably a 14-ounce Zombie glass). Fill glass with crushed ice and swizzle vigorously until well-chilled. After swizzling the ice will settle, so add more to fill. Garnish with a mint sprig. “I am not offended by an orange slice and a cocktail cherry,” allows Stephen.

According to Berry in Remixed, “Stephen’s predilection for Jamaica’s rums eventually led him to Jamaica’s national drink.” He told the Bum: “I’ve played with the Planter’s Punch for 20 years. Ten or 12 years ago I became satisfied that I’d found nirvana, and stopped experimenting.”

Mixing tips

  • I would not touch the specs on this one, deferring to The Professor on all things Planter’s Punch. The exact sugar syrup is not specified, so you could experiment with 1:1 and 2:1 syrups, or a Demerara or turbinado sugar syrup for more body. In Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them, Berry touted a 1:1 “cold process” white sugar syrup in a classic Planter’s Punch recipe, so I tend to go in that more simple direction.

  • Unless you absolutely can’t find Coruba in stores or online, I would stick with Remsberg’s rum preference. Not only out of respect to the master, but because it tastes so damn good in this recipe. With 3 ounces to contend with, you don’t want something that’s overpowerly funky or high proof. If you lack Coruba, my advice would be to split the 3 ounces into two or three different Jamaican rums to come up with a nice blend to suit your tastes. It’s a great time to be a Jamaican rum lover. On that, I’m sure The Professor would agree.

Okole maluna!




The Year in Tiki 2022: Take a trip back to the year's top events
The Year in Tiki 2022: Take a trip back to the year’s top events
Relive the year’s top happenings with photos and video, social media posts, plus promotional artwork and links to official sites.


The Mai-Kai sale, Oceanic Arts closing among top Tiki stories of 2021
The Mai-Kai sale, Oceanic Arts closing among top Tiki stories of 2021
It was a landmark year thanks to all the talented people in the Tiki community.

Year in the rearview: The Top 9 Tiki stories of 2020
Year in the rearview: The Top 9 Tiki stories of 2020
Not all the news was negative in a year many would rather forget.


Atomic Grog Cocktail Recipes, A through Z
Atomic Grog Cocktail Recipes, A through Z

A comprehensive list of every recipe we’ve posted on the site.

Okole Maluna Society: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide
Okole Maluna Society: The Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide

Hurricane Hayward reviews and rates the historic restaurant’s current and past tropical drinks, plus reveals a treasure trove of ancestor and exclusive tribute recipes.

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