Modern Caribbean Rum

The Week in Tiki (July 27-Aug. 9, 2015): Tiki Oasis blasts off, plus Summer event recaps, more rum and cocktail news

The Week in TikiThe summer Tiki event season reaches its climax this week with the big kahuna, Tiki Oasis in San Diego. We have a full preview, plus a recap of many other recent happenings: Texas Tiki Week, Hot Rod Hula Hop, the Surf Guitar 101 Convention, plus Shag at Disneyland and Tiki Night in Hollywood. There’s also news on the upcoming Mai Tai Festival in Hawaii, a Trader Vic’s rum tasting, and lots more. Our regular features spotlight Tiki mug creators PopTiki; the otherworldly music of Man or Astro-man?; the Bali Hai Restaurant in San Diego; and the website of Americana ambassador Charles Phoenix. The rum of the week, Angostura 5, is featured in The Morning After cocktail.
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EVENT PREVIEW: Tiki Oasis takes guests back to the retro future

Tiki Oasis

San Diego becomes the center of the Tiki universe when the 15th annual Tiki Oasis presents “Yesterday’s Future Today” on Aug. 13-16 with four whirlwind days of 20 live bands and 20 DJs, 35 educational symposiums, art, mixology, book signings, a 100-vendor marketplace, 20 burlesque performers, comedy, vintage cars, fashion, food, kids events, and more. If you can’t find something to enjoy at Tiki Oasis, you’re following the wrong pop culture subgenre.

As a testament to the popularity of Tiki Oasis, it’s pretty much sold out. Organizers announced Monday that limited tickets will be available for Thursday night’s Bali Hai party starting at 6 p.m. And those with hotel room reservations will still be able to buy two tickets if they haven’t already. Otherwise, you’re out of luck. However, the festival marketplace, car show, and an assortment of other activities are free and open to the public.

King Kukulele leads kids in a sing-along
King Kukulele leads kids in a sing-along. (Tiki Oasis photo)

Thursday’s’s Meet and Greet takes place at the legendary Bali Hai Restaurant on Shelter Island, while ground zero for the rest of Tiki Oasis is the Crowne Plaza Hotel (formerly The Hanalei Hotel). Though it has suffered through renovations, the hotel still features waterfalls, lava rock pools and eight-story glass elevators, plus classic tikis featured in Sven Kirsten’s The Book of Tiki.

In keeping with the theme, many events are centered around mid-century modern primitivism (think the jet age meets Tiki). Musical acts include spacy surf band Man or Astroman?, out-of-this-world rockabilly band The Phenomenauts, and ’60s garage legends The Chocolate Watchband. Other notable bands include The Phantom Surfers, Tikiyaki Orchestra, Clouseaux, and Project: Pimento.

Symposium educators include original Mothers of Invention keyboardist Don Preston, Rodenberry Entertainment CEO Rod Roddenberry, author and Tiki historian Sven Kirsten, and mid-century historian and entertainer Charles Phoenix. The art show features more than 30 top Tiki artists from around the world. The first San Diego Tiki Bartenders Challenge will be held during a beefed-up Sunday schedule that also features a special garage band showcase.

Don the Beachcomber room parties at Tiki Oasis

Guests always get in on the fun, so look for lots of retro and mod fashion, and appropriate Tiki space age decor for the famous room parties. Of course, everything is bigger at Tiki Oasis, including the Friday-Saturday room crawl. For example, Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach is hosting a two-night bash featuring live music from The Hula Girls and the Jimmy Psycho Experiment. New Las Vegas bar The Golden Tiki will also host a massive room party with live music and the owner himself DJing in his suite at the Crowne Plaza. Branden Powers is actually no stranger to the hotel, having DJ’d a weekly lounge event called Taboo 20 years ago when it was still the Hanalei Hotel.

Tiki Oasis is also a collector’s and shopper’s paradise, with some 100 vendors selling hand-crafted Tiki art, vintage clothing, records, collectibles and more. The marketplace is free and open to the public for most event hours Friday through Sunday at the Crowne Plaza. The vintage car show, also free, is held Saturday and Sunday in the hotel parking lot.

Here’s a day-by-day preview of all the headlining entertainment:

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (July 27-Aug. 9, 2015): Tiki Oasis blasts off, plus Summer event recaps, more rum and cocktail news”

Minimalist Tiki

Lost cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Classic Daiquiri lost favor when Cuba fell, but influence endures

Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Classic Daiquiri lost favor when Cuba fell, but influence endures

Updated August 2023
See below: Cuban Daiquiri review | NEW: Official Mai-Kai recipe
Related: The Derby Daiquiri: The Mai-Kai’s ‘$100,000 drink’ is worth its weight in gold UPDATED
* The story of the Floridita Daiquiri rivals any novel
More Mai-Kai Daiquiris: Special Reserve Daiquiri | Banana Daiquiri | Strawberry Daiquiri
* Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails”
* More Daiquiri recipes | Cocktail Recipes, A through Z

The humble Daiquiri is arguably the most definitive rum cocktail, perhaps even the prototype for the 20th century tropical drink explosion. It influenced Don the Beachcomber, Trader Vic, and countless others who followed in their footsteps.

Cuba’s most famous cocktail can be traced back to the late 1800s, but the simple combination of rum, lime and sugar was not groundbreaking. Martinique and Guadeloupe had the Ti Punch while Jamaica had its Planters Punch. An argument can be made that this intoxicating combination was invented on the high seas in the 1700s, when the British Navy introduced Grog to its sailors.

A vintage image from a Don the Beachcomber menu.
A vintage image from a Don the Beachcomber menu.

In this pantheon, the Daiquiri is distinctive for its precise craft and the clean, crisp rum of its homeland. In Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them (2014), Jeff “Beachbum” Berry praised the Daiquiri as the most perfectly balanced of all the rum-lime-sugar proto-cocktails.

Though deeply linked to Cuba, the Daiquiri was actually invented by an American engineer, Jennings Cox, who ran a mining company in the small village of Daiquiri during the Spanish-American War. The original was more like a punch, batched and served over crushed ice. It was not reconfigured into a single cocktail, strained into an empty coupe, until around 1913, after Cox’s death

That’s when the Daiquiri really began to take off. Its popularity grew from a local favorite to a destination drink for tourists who flocked to the Caribbean island’s legendary bars such as Havana’s La Floridita, especially during Prohibition. It also caught the attention of Facundo Bacardi, who used the simple drink to promote his expanding rum empire.

A vintage Bacardi ad from Cuba. Havana's La Floridita and owner/bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert became known worldwide for perfecting the craft of the Daiquiri.
A vintage Bacardi ad from Cuba. Havana’s La Floridita and owner/bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert became known worldwide for perfecting the craft of the Daiquiri.

It’s likely that both Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (aka Trader Vic) ran across the Daiquiri during their travels in the Caribbean before opening their bars in California that kick-started the Tiki cocktail craze in the 1930s.

Their menus are loaded with Daiquiris, much like The Mai-Kai. Open since 1956, the South Florida historic landmark still features many drinks that can be traced back to Donn Beach, such as the Special Reserve Daiquiri.

There’s also a blended classic (Floridita Daiquiri) and an acclaimed original creation of mixologist Mariano Licudine, the Derby Daiquiri.

Of all the Daiquiris that appeared on a Mai-Kai menu, the Cuban Daiquiri is the only one that faded into the history books. It was an opening-day drink in 1956, but it likely became a victim of the era’s political upheaval, not to mention the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba that began in 1960 and lasts to this day.

The Mai-Kai's 1956-57 menu, which featured the Cuban Daiquiri (upper right).
The Mai-Kai’s 1956-57 menu, which featured the Cuban Daiquiri (upper right).

Before the 1958 revolution, Mai-Kai owners Bob and Jack Thornton were known to take weekend jaunts to the island aboard a private plane. They brought back rare bottles of Cuban rum, which can still be found displayed in the restaurant’s back bar (see photo below).

The Derby Daiquiri took the Cuban Daiquiri’s place on the menu in 1959. It was revived during a menu expansion in the early 1970s, but it was removed for good in the 1980s and became largely forgotten.

The Daiquiri was sullied during the cocktail dark ages of the late 20th century by cheap imitations and dreaded frozen slushie-style machines. But the classic recipe maintained a quiet dignity. The traditional Daiquiri has seen an amazing resurgence during the 21st century craft and Tiki cocktail revival.

Continue reading “Lost cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Classic Daiquiri lost favor when Cuba fell, but influence endures”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: The story of the Floridita Daiquiri rivals any novel

Updated July 2014
See below: Our Floridita Daiquiri review | Official Mai-Kai recipe
Related: Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Short-lived daiquiri disappared when Cuba fell
The Derby Daiquiri: The Mai-Kai’s ‘$100,000 drink’ | Mai-Kai cocktail guide

The Floridita Daiquiri, the legendary cocktail born in Cuba and reportedly consumed by author Ernest Hemmingway in prodigious numbers, is one of history’s most debated rum drinks. One thing not open for debate, however: The Mai-Kai’s version has become a classic in its own right after more than 50 years on the Fort Lauderdale restaurant’s menu.

Ernest Hemingway at El Florida with bartender Constantino Ribalaigua.
Ernest Hemingway at El Florida with bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert.

Stories about La Floridita Daiquiri, as it was known at Havana’s El Florida bar (later known as El Floridita), are varied and many. One thing’s for certain: It was created by legendary mixologist Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, who spent nearly 50 years at the bar until his death in 1952. He started as a bartender and later owned the place. According to our favorite bum, cocktail historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Vert was known as “El Rey de los Coteleros” (“The Cocktail King”) and reportedly squeezed 80 million limes and poured 10 million daiquiris in his lifetime.
* Rum Connection: Watch bartender Alejandro Bolivar make a daiquiri at El Floridita

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: The story of the Floridita Daiquiri rivals any novel”