Modern Caribbean Rum

Beyond Esotico Miami: Kaona Room and Daniele Dalla Pola’s cocktail and rum adventures

Beyond Esotico Miami: Kaona Room and Daniele Dalla Pola's cocktail and rum adventures

The tropical drinks world became a less exciting and flamboyant place earlier this month when Italian master mixologist Daniele Dalla Pola closed up shop at Esotico Miami after nearly 5 years of crowd-pleasing cocktails and cuisine.

Daniele Dalla Pola puts on a show while making his signature cocktails during the final night at Esotico Miami. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / March 2, 2024)
Daniele Dalla Pola puts on a show while making his signature cocktails during the final night at Esotico Miami. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / March 2, 2024)

But his influence and creative flair will live on at the adjacent Kaona Room, which will continue to be operated by his son while Dalla Pola sets off on his next adventure. The remaining partners will transform the Esotico space into a new bar and restaurant concept, but the vintage Tiki-themed speakeasy remains open and serving some of the best exotic cocktails (and food) in Miami.

Dalla Pola’s exit was sudden but not unexpected under the circumstances. Legal issues with his work visa make it necessary for him to leave the United States and return to his native Italy, among other destinations, in the coming months. He eventually plans to return to help run the Kaona Room with Billy Dalla Pola when he can legally do so. But in the meantime, he has multiple projects in the works.

Full coverage below: Closing night at Esotico
The Kaona Room keeps torch burning | Dalla Pola’s further adventures
Photos, video: Esotico Miami memories
Cocktail recipe: Esotico Rum Cup

Esotico (left) has closed its doors but its secret speakeasy, the Kaona Room, will continue with its intimate and authentically Tiki vibe and decor. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / March 2, 2024)
Esotico (left) has closed its doors but its secret speakeasy, the Kaona Room, will continue with its intimate and authentically Tiki vibe and decor. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / March 2, 2024)

Esotico opened on Aug. 15, 2019, a joint venture between Dalla Pola and Miami’s Graspa Group. At 3,400 square feet, it took up a huge space in the ground floor of the Canvas Condominiums in downtown’s Arts & Entertainment District. [See opening photos]

It closed March 2, a little more than 6 months shy of its 5-year mark. Dalla Pola posted a heartfelt farewell on his Instagram page:

Aloha! Closing the bar today and writing these words is not easy, but this is a step I take because it’s time for a change, time to refresh, time to rethink, and to build something new. I step out from my project Esotico Miami which will move on under a new concept led by my trusted partners, Graspa Group.

Although I will leave Miami for some time, my son Billy Dalla Pola, will continue what I’ve started at The Kaona Room. … As I move forward, I’ll be excited to announce something new, hopefully very soon. Stay tropical!

Daniele Dalla Pola didn't waste any time hitting the road after the closing of Esotico Miami
Daniele Dalla Pola didn’t waste any time hitting the road after the closing of Esotico Miami.

Esotico was the next evolutionary step for the acclaimed bar owner, who made his name in the drinks world with Nu Lounge Bar in Bologna (in which he remains a partner). Dalla Pola first came to the United States more than 25 years ago, and his son was born in Miami in 1999.

Dalla Pola represented rum giant Bacardi while bartending in Miami before establishing himself as a force on the worldwide beverage scene. His presentations on Tiki cocktails have always been well received. Besides the bar in Italy, he owns a piece of the Alamea brand of liquors, which was founded in 2016 and is now distributed in 14 countries.

His career now comes full circle as he once again hits the road to attend events and spread the gospel about rum, cocktails and Tiki culture. His first stop after leaving Miami was Shanghai for the Asian Bar Awards, followed by more appearances across China sponsored by Bacardi.

We’ll detail more of his upcoming plans below, including a new signature rum and a cocktail book. But first, here’s what’s been happening in Miami.

Continue reading “Beyond Esotico Miami: Kaona Room and Daniele Dalla Pola’s cocktail and rum adventures”

Minimalist Tiki

LIVE COVERAGE & REVIEW: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success

LIVE COVERAGE & REVIEW: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success

If there were any doubts that the inaugural “next gen” Don the Beachcomber restaurant and tropical bar would not live up to the high standards of its namesake, they were quickly put to rest during last week’s grand opening in Madeira Beach on Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast.

Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach looked immaculate before opening to the public at 11 a.m. on Feb. 23 (left). By the evening, nearly every indoor seat was filled. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach looked immaculate before opening to the public at 11 a.m. on Feb. 23 (left). By the evening, nearly every indoor seat was filled. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

In-depth coverage below
* Menus and overview: Cocktails | Food
* Decor, music & more | Tips and guidance
Bonus cocktail recipe below: Doctor Funk
Previous: Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida
BREAKING NEWS: Don the Beachcomber announces new bar concept, three upcoming locations in Florida (April 2024)

The first location in a planned national rollout of escapist establishments inspired by the founding father of faux Polynesian cocktails opened to the public on Friday, Feb. 23, after three days of private parties for friends, family and VIPs. Owned and operated by Tampa- based 23 Restaurant Services, the vast 298-capacity restaurant was firing on all cylinders from the get-go.

“We are thrilled with our opening weekend, starting with a largely attended VIP party on Thursday evening,” Marc Brown, president of 23 Restaurant Services, said via email Monday. “We had over 1,200 guests join us Friday through Sunday.”

“We continue to be so excited to be a part of this community and look forward to sharing our amazing vibe and delicious food and drinks with you all,” he said, noting the huge social media reaction and “overwhelmingly positive” reviews.

The vintage booths at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, seen before the grand opening on Feb. 23, were designed by Tiki Diablo with contributions from others in the Tiki community. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The vintage booths at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, seen before the grand opening on Feb. 23, were designed by Tiki Diablo with contributions from others in the Tiki community. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

We attended Thursday’s pre-opening party as well as lunch and dinner seatings during Friday’s service, witnessing a nearly flawless launch by every measurable standard. The well-trained staff of managers, greeters, servers, food-runners, bussers, and bartenders operated like a well-oiled machine. And if there were any culinary or mixological misfires from the kitchen or bar, they were few and far between.

When we arrived late for the first official dinner service, all but one of the 20 tables and booths inside the highly immersive restaurant was full, and all of the 30 or so bar seats were taken. On the patio under a large thatched roof, at least a third of the tables were full despite a steady drizzle. Our Uber driver said he had been taking passengers there all day.

Customers were three deep at the bar for hours during the peak of service, beverage director Marie King told us later. “It was a good night.” And the crowds kept coming. The restaurant was just as packed when we left hours later, around 10 p.m.

The outdoor patio at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach has a different feel during daytime and evening hours. The huge poles were carved on-site by Tiki Diablo and his crew. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / Feb. 22-23, 2024)
The outdoor patio at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach has a different feel during daytime and evening hours. The huge poles were carved on-site by Tiki Diablo and his crew. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward / Feb. 22-23, 2024)

Managing partner Sebastien Amoruso seemed very satisfied while surveying the scene and monitoring first-day operations. “It’s a good day,” he said during dinner service. “I’m happy. For the first day, we’re doing great.”

Amoruso estimated that 500 guests would be seated on opening day, but this might not include many who bellied up to the bar and didn’t register in the computerized point-of-sale system. I counted roughly 112 seats inside and 115 outside, plus lots of room for standing near the bar.

More seats could be added if needed, Amoruso, said. If opening weekend is any indication, that may be necessary. Saturday night was even busier than Friday, reported Donn Beach biographer Tim “Swanky” Glazner, who attended both.

The elaborately themed bar at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach is prepped and ready to go before the grand opening on Feb. 23. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)
The elaborately themed bar at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach is prepped and ready to go before the grand opening on Feb. 23. (Photos by Hurricane Hayward)

But the venue never seemed crowded, with plenty of room for guests to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. Amoruso cited the expertise and experience of 23 Restaurant Services.

Continue reading “LIVE COVERAGE & REVIEW: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success”

Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida

BREAKING NEWS: Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida

Updated Feb. 28

Nearly 100 years after its namesake founder developed and popularized the Polynesian-themed restaurant and bar concept, the Don the Beachcomber brand is re-launching this week with the first of multiple locations scheduled to roll out in Florida over the next several years.

LIVE COVERAGE & REVIEW: Don the Beachcomber grand opening in Florida is a smashing success
Bonus cocktail recipe below: Sunakora Zombie
Previous coverage: First new Don the Beachcomber location on track to open in early 2024

The indoor dining areas at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla., include booths plus table and bar seating.  (Don the Beachcomber photos)
The indoor dining areas at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla., include booths plus table and bar seating. (Don the Beachcomber photos)

The restaurant in Madeira Beach, between St. Petersburg and Clearwater, is scheduled to open to the public on Friday, Feb. 23. Private events for friends, family and VIPs were held in the days prior. Partygoers no doubt will hoist a birthday toast Thursday to the Tiki bar pioneer.
* More Don the Beachcomber history

Ernest Raymond Gantt, who later changed his name to Donn Beach and opened the first Don the Beachcomber as a speakeasy during Prohibition in 1932, was born on Feb. 22, 1907, in rural Texas. His colorful life story will be documented in an upcoming book (Searching for Don the Beachcomber) and film The Donn of Tiki).

The new restaurant occupies an indoor-outdoor space at the Cambria Hotel at 15015 Madeira Way. It will be open seven days and nights, operating from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays through Wednesdays, and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays.

“We’re fully staffed and ready to go” with more than 100 team members, said Lisa Longest, the director of marketing for Don the Beachcomber and other brands owned by Tampa-based 23 Restaurant Services. Friday’s grand opening will include a ribbon-cutting attended by city dignitaries right before the 11 a.m. opening, she said in a phone conversation Thursday.

A view of the interior and a vintage Chinese tile at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla., in January 2024. (Facebook photos)
A view of the interior and a vintage Chinese tile at Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla., in January 2024. (Facebook photos)

Call (727) 870-8454 or go to DonBeachcomber.com for more information. They are currently not taking reservations, so it’s first-come, first-served.

Originally planned for late 2023, then pushed to early 2024, the restaurant finally cleared all the bureaucratic hurdles and passed its final inspection, clearing the way for the grand opening. “We had to do a full build-out,” Longest said of the large space on the ground floor of the hotel. “It took time to get all the permits.”

This is a far cry from Don the Beachcomber’s tiny original bar in Hollywood. The restaurant has a total capacity of 298 with 92 seats inside and 120 outside.

Preview the food and drinks

The restaurant’s food is inspired by the faux Polynesian flavors pioneered by Don the Beachcomber, but the menu will also feature “elevated dishes that will appeal to all,” Longest said in an email following our phone conversation. Dishes will include a pupu platter featuring hand-made crab rangoon, chicken satay and sticky rib skewers, plus signature wings. “We will also feature tempura cauliflower, a variety of fried rice options, fresh grouper, and an array of gourmet burgers,” she said.

A sneak preview of the food menu at the new Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla.
A sneak preview of the food menu at the new Don the Beachcomber in Madeira Beach, Fla.

We got a sneak peek at the food and drink menus, which were designed by 23 Restaurant Services creative director Justin Peterson. The offerings are sure to please every taste – from hardcore Tikiphiles, to adventurous locals, to the hotel guests who simply stumble upon this slice of paradise. In fact, the main menu’s cover is emblazoned with Donn Beach’s mantra: “If you can’t get to paradise, I’ll bring it to you.”

Continue reading “Revived Don the Beachcomber brand opens first location in southwest Florida”

NEW RECIPES: A frightening flight of deadly cocktails for Halloween 2023

NEW RECIPES: A frightening flight of deadly cocktails for Halloween 2023

Updated Nov. 3

The pursuit of dangerous Zombies and other potent libations served in ominous mugs is a year-round pursuit for many of us. But the Halloween season is prime time for mixologists to conjure up creative new potions for the not-so-faint of heart.

To meet that challenge, we offer up a flight of three deadly drinks with a dark and foreboding flair. And, of course, more than a touch of Tiki.

Go directly to the recipes
Round 1: The Black Magic Cocktail
Round 2: Shrunken Pumpkin Head
Round 3: Return of the Zombie Dolphin NEW

Hulaween on hiatus: Relive 12 years of madness at The Mai-Kai
Hulaween on hiatus: Relive the madness at The Mai-Kai
With the Tiki temple closed for refurbishment, take a look back at 12 years of Halloween events in The Molokai bar.

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First, let’s warm up with a new twist on the ever-popular classic from The Mai-Kai Polynesian restaurant

The Black Magic Cocktail
(A tribute to The Atomic Grog’s tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Black Magic)

The Black Magic Cocktail at The Atomic Grog, October 2023. The Mai-Kai Shrunken Head mug by Tiki Tony and Eekum Bookum for The Hukilau 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Black Magic Cocktail at The Atomic Grog, October 2023. The Mai-Kai Shrunken Head mug by Tiki Tony and Eekum Bookum for The Hukilau 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

• 1/4 ounce fresh orange juice
• 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
• 1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
• 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
• 3/4 ounces freshly brewed and chilled coffee
• 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum (Mai-Kai blend or substitute)
• 1 ounce gold (lightly aged) Spanish-style rum
• 1/2 ounces dark rum
• 1/4 ounce Mariano’s Mix #7
• 1/2 teaspoon allspice dram
• 1-2 dashes Angostura bitters

Pulse blend with 1 cup of crushed ice for 5 seconds. Strain into a chilled 6-ounce cocktail glass.

There’s a symphony of flavors packed into this small sipper. It’s rich and heavy on the spice and coffee, even more so than its big brother. Without the ice in the glass, it stays robust to the last drop. The bitters and allspice balance the sweet and sour notes, leaving the rums to form a solid but not overwhelming backbone.

Continue reading “NEW RECIPES: A frightening flight of deadly cocktails for Halloween 2023”

The Mai-Kai’s deadly Halloween quarts and gallons, plus more great moments in Zombie cocktail history

The Mai-Kai's deadly Halloween quarts and gallons, plus more great moments in Zombie cocktail history

We’re sorely missing The Mai-Kai’s beloved Hulaween party for the second year in a row, but luckily fans of potent Tiki cocktails will be able to drown their sorrows with a distinctive drink that hasn’t been served since the historic restaurant closed for refurbishments in October 2020.

See below: How to pour a Mai-Kai Zombie at home (VIDEO)
* 5 greatest moments in Zombie history

Halloween 2022 cocktails from The Mai-Kai

The Zombie, which traces its roots all the way back to tropical drink pioneer Don the Beachcomber, is available for a limited time as part of The Mai-Kai’s periodic takeout cocktail program. You can order the deadly classic by the quart and gallon, the perfect addition to weekend Halloween gatherings.

Pickup dates are Friday, Oct. 28 (4-6 p.m.) and Saturday, Oct. 29 (10 a.m.-noon). Call public relations director Pia Dahlquist 954-646-8975 to place your order.

Consume with caution, however, since this is one of the strongest cocktails ever created. Donn Beach’s original 1934 recipe included 4 ounces of three different rums, including overproof, and he famously limited guests to two drinks per visit.

Halloween 2022 cocktail menu from The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai’s version, created by former Beachcomber bartender Mariano Licudine for the restaurant’s 1956 opening, is more balanced and accessible yet still packs a potent punch (and a healthy dose of 151 rum). It replaced the equally strong Jet Pilot on the “Gallons To Go” menu for Halloween and is priced accordingly (gallon $156, quart $44).

Also on the menu are three other popular standbys: Barrel O’ Rum (gallon $95, quart $30), Black Magic (gallon $95, quart $30), and Mai Tai (gallon $142, quart $40). Click on the links for our comprehensive reviews and recipes for all the cocktails.

All are among the most acclaimed libations in our Mai-Kai cocktail guide, but the top-rated Zombie is a rare treat. It’s complex and a little difficult to execute in large batches, so it hasn’t been offered as part of the popular to-go initiative, which launched early in the pandemic and has continued during the closing.

The Mai-Kai's Zombie back from the dead for Halloween

It also requires some care for guests to pull off the perfect Zombie at home. Luckily, manager Kern Mattei and former Molokai bar server Claudia Marmolejo showed us how to mix up the perfect Halloween treat in a recent Facebook video:

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai’s deadly Halloween quarts and gallons, plus more great moments in Zombie cocktail history”

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

After the suffering bastard of a year that was 2020, we were primed and ready for some relief and positive Tiki vibes. If 2020 was a house of horrors, then 2021 was a roller-coaster ride. But while we’re still mired in pandemic-related disruptions, many things achieved a “new normal” over the past 12 months.
RELATED: The Year in Tiki 2021 – A look back at the year’s top live and virtual events

We remain thankful for every bit of good news. While a few of the stories below are frustrating (No. 4) or bittersweet (No. 1), they’re far out-numbered by the explosions of creativity and collective talent that drove most of the year’s activity. For that, we toast the entire Tiki community with a new cocktail and The Atomic Grog’s picks for the 10 most newsworthy stories of 2021.
Bonus recipe below: The Tiki Lover

1. ALOHA AND FAREWELL, OCEANIC ARTS

Oceanic Arts closing after 65 years

As sure as the sun rose in the east and set in the west, there was one enduring creative force over the past six decades of Polynesian Pop style. In November 2021, there was a total eclipse and extended period of mourning when it was announced that Oceanic Arts would be closing its doors as its 80-something-year-old founders embark on a well-deserved retirement. Established in 1956 in Southern California by Robert Van Oosting and LeRoy Schmaltz, the company was always the go-to provider of original and imported pieces of South Seas art and decor for everyone from home enthusiasts to theme park giants including Disney (the doors to Trader Sam’s in Disneyland are Schmaltz’ handiwork). Art and woodwork originating from Oceanic Arts has been featured in nearly every legendary Polynesian palace, from Don the Beachcomber to Trader Vic’s to The Mai-Kai. The company put together movie set pieces and provided the distinctive style of many of the mid 20th century’s Tiki-themed hotels and motels, bowling alleys, and countless other establishments. Buoyed by the Tiki revival, the small shop in Whittier became a mecca for Tikiphiles from around the world and inspired a new generation of carvers and artists in the 21st century.

While the closing seemed to have come out of the blue, Van Oosting and Schmaltz had been planning their retirement for some time. They joined forces with longtime friend Jordan Reichek, owner of Peekaboo Gallery in nearby Montrose, for an epic career-spanning retrospective coming in 2022. In the spring, look for what’s being called an “experiential Tiki exhibition” featuring art and artifacts from Oceanic Arts paired with special events that include live music and performances, panel discussions, an “epic Tiki bar,” and more. The events will culminate with the “ultimate Tiki auction” art show and sale. In the meantime, the gallery is taking pre-orders for a mammoth Oceanic Arts history book compiled and written by Reichek, who worked closely with Van Oosting and Schmaltz. Oceanic Arts: The Godfathers of Tiki is a 500-page opus that documents the rich history of Oceanic Arts via thousands of photos, original artwork and historical documents from the archives. After 65 years, Oceanic Arts leaves an indelible mark on pop culture that is likely to last for many more decades to come.

PeekabooGallery.com: Pre-order the book now
Get social media updates: Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
News: Whittier’s Oceanic Arts, the delight of tiki lovers around the world, is closing
Online tribute: Quiet Village podcast dedicated to Oceanic Arts

Past coverage
* Video: Inside the Desert Oasis Room | A Moment of Tiki
Randomland | Huel Howser
* Van Oosting and Schmaltz on the Inside the Desert Oasis Room podcast
* The enchanting tikis of Oceanic Arts (Disney History 101)

2. PARADISE SAVED: NEW OWNERS REVIVE THE MAI-KAI

The entire Tiki community heaved a sigh of relief in September when the announcement came that The Mai-Kai – the historic, 65-year-old restaurant in Fort Lauderdale that has been closed due to storm damage since October 2020 – was saved from extinction by a new ownership team that will pump millions of dollars into a restoration and refurbishment. The year started with much concern after press reports emerged about the roof damage that destroyed the kitchen. A “Save The Mai-Kai” petition gathered more than 10,000 signatures in less than a month as devoted fans united online to share their support and concerns. The skeleton crew of owners and staff continued to offer regular takeout cocktails and began a series of events in the expansive parking lot. The highlights were The Mai-Kai’s first-ever Tiki Marketplace in April featuring vendors, entertainers, cocktails, rum tasting and more. A follow-up event in July kept the momentum going while behind-the-scene negotiations were likely starting to ramp up.

The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening
The Mai-Kai fans rejoice as new partnership paves way for reopening

The big announcement came in September, just after hundreds of Tikiphiles from around the country finally returned to Fort Lauderdale for the 19th edition of The Hukilau. Then, a week later, the long-awaited news dropped. The founding Thornton family released details on social media on Sept. 28, outlining the joint venture with a South Florida-based real estate investment and development company known for working with legacy businesses. Its sister hospitality company already operates several vintage venues in Miami’s Little Havana. “We’re looking forward to working closely with the Barlington Group and Mad Room Hospitality to sustain The Mai-Kai the world has come to know and love,” the announcement said. “We’re excited to bring back The Mai-Kai better than ever before — and for you to be a special part of it!” Check out links to our in-depth report above and latest updates below.

Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022
UPDATES: Latest news on The Mai-Kai renovations and reopening in 2022
When will the historic Polynesian restaurant be welcoming back guests? We’ll keep you updated with the latest news.

3. LET’S TIKI! THE RETURN OF LIVE EVENTS

The crushing blow of the pandemic was not easy to overcome for event organizers, but we slowly came out of our homes in 2021 and began to gather again in safe and physically-distanced environments. Longtime online meet-ups – most notably Tiki Trail Live and Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour – continued to thrive. But many longed for live human interaction, and a handful of key (mainly outdoor) events delivered that experience in the year’s early months. Then, when vaccines became widely available, we saw the return of several major Tiki events starting with Arizona Tiki Oasis on April 22-25. Carefully organized by Baby Doe and Otto von Stroheim, the event paved the way for an active summer, including the couple’s flagship Tiki Oasis on July 28 -Aug. 1 in San Diego. Momentum slowed in the late summer and fall as the first of several coronavirus variants emerged, but Tikiphiles still flocked to scaled-down events including Ohana: Luau At The Lake in upstate New York, The Hukilau and Tiki Fever in Florida, and Tiki Caliente in Palm Springs, Calif. Rum aficionados around the world also were able to get back into the swing of tasting events, from the Jamaica Rum Festival in March to the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival in November. See the full list of major 2021 events below.

The Year in Tiki 2021: Take a look back at the year's top live and virtual events
The Year in Tiki 2021: Take a look back at the year’s top live and virtual events
Recap the year’s top happenings, including official artwork and links plus photos and video.

Continue reading “The Mai-Kai sale, Oceanic Arts closing among top Tiki stories of 2021”

Feeling like a zombie? Here are three new holiday cocktails to raise your spirits

Feeling like a zombie? Here are three new holiday cocktails to raise your spirits

Updated Dec. 22, 2022

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: There’s no better time for imbibing festive and flamboyant cocktails than the Christmas season.

Jump directly to recipes below
Christmas Creeper | Uncle Ed’s Elixir | Rudolph’s Red Rum Swizzle
RELATED: The Barrel Before Christmas tribute recipe

The Atomic Grog home bar is ready for the 2021 holiday season. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)
The Atomic Grog home bar is ready for the 2021 holiday season. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)

If you’re in a cold climate, you can curl up in front of the fire with a warm and comforting mug of holiday cheer. If you’re fortunate enough (like us) to hail from closer to the Equator, there are plenty of cool and refreshing concoctions to scratch your tropical itch. Hell, why not enjoy all of the options no matter where you live?

As this season’s wildly popular pop-up bars – most notably Miracle and Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Santa – continue to prove, there’s no shortage of demand for creative and well-themed Christmas cocktails. Beyond the big dogs, there are also one-off themed overlays in bars across the globe that are also worth checking out.

We make no claim to the expertise of those fantastic folks in the trenches, but it’s always fun to experiment with holiday flavors like a spoiled kid in a toy store. Joining The Atomic Grog’s pantheon of winter cocktails are three new creations, including our first seasonal Zombie ….

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This time of year is not all snowmen and mistletoe. There are some elements of the season that make us feel like the walking dead. What better way to deal with the holiday hubris than a nice, stiff Zombie …

CHRISTMAS CREEPER
(By Hurricane Hayward, The Atomic Grog)

Christmas Creeper by The Atomic Grog. Zombie glassware and swizzle by Brian Rechenmacher, aka B-Rex. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)
Christmas Creeper by The Atomic Grog. Zombie glassware and swizzle by Brian Rechenmacher, aka B-Rex. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)

* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 ounce cranberry juice
* 1/2 ounce brown sugar syrup
* 1/4 ounce pomegranate grenadine
* 1 teaspoon ginger syrup
* 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon syrup
* 1/2 ounce Kirschwasser (cherry brandy)
* 1 ounce gold Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Demerara rum
* 3/4 ounce 151-proof Demerara rum
* 4-6 drops absinthe
* 1 dash allspice bitters

Pulse blend with 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice for 6-9 seconds. Pour into a Zombie glass, adding more ice to fill. Garnish with mint and swizzle stick.

Tasting notes

This looks like a Zombie and tastes like a Zombie, but it’s also full of sweet and tart holiday cheer. The potent rums and lime-cranberry combo hit you hard, but the spice and anise notes creep up on you. As will the alcohol content, so consume with caution or risk becoming a holiday party story your relatives will retell with relish.

Endorsed by creepy Santas everywhere: Christmas Creeper by The Atomic Grog. Zombie glassware and swizzle by Brian Rechenmacher, aka B-Rex. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)
Endorsed by creepy Santas everywhere: Christmas Creeper by The Atomic Grog. Zombie glassware and swizzle by Brian Rechenmacher, aka B-Rex. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)

Ingredient, mixing tips

* The cranberry and pomegranate, combined with the fresh lime, provide an enveloping underlying tartness that serves as a great base for the bold rums, anise and unique punch of the kirsch. We recommend a high-quality (or homemade) grenadine and natural cranberry juice. We didn’t try this, but it might also be worth swapping the grenadine for a cranberry simple syrup.

* Brown sugar syrup is easy to make by heating 1 part dark brown sugar with 1 part water on the stove until it starts to boil, then cooling in the fridge. We also make our own ginger and cinnamon syrups, and there are quite a few recipes available online. But if you’re not adventurous, we also recommend the bottled options, from B.G. Reynolds and Real Syrups.

* Kirschwasser, aka kirsch, is a colorless brandy that originated in Germany and is made from fermented cherries. It’s usually bottled at 80 to 90 proof and has a distinctive bitter cherry flavor that works well in a Zombie. It’s traditionally drunken neat as a digestif, but you can also find it in cocktails. It can also be used in festive holiday cakes, candies and the flaming cherries jubilee dessert. It’s relatively easy to find in liquor stores and worth seeking out for this distinctive cocktail. It works well with the rums and the traditional cocktail spices, absinthe and allspice. For the latter, we chose the subtle touch of a bitters (such as Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters) but a very small dash of pimento dram would work as well.

Continue reading “Feeling like a zombie? Here are three new holiday cocktails to raise your spirits”

Recipe: A new Zombie becomes final challenge for The Hukilau villagers

Recipe: A new Zombie is final challenge for The Hukilau villagers

Updated Sept. 22

Upon completion of The Hukilau this weekend at the Beachcomber Resort and The Mai-Kai, event attendees had one additional challenge: Sunday’s “Hereafter Party” dubbed The Final Destination at Death or Glory in Delray Beach. To bring the theme full circle, The Atomic Grog presented a Zombie to end all Zombies.

See recipe below: The Final (Destination) Zombie
RECAP: See photos from the event NEW
Previous coverage: Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party

The Hukilau: Final Destination at Death or Gory

This was not your typical Tiki party. Death or Glory was transformed into “Death or Gory” for the Halloween season, complete with full-on decor and a themed food and cocktail menu. Sunday’s festivities took place in the graveyard (the outdoor Tiki bar and patio) and feature the instrumental stylings of Skinny Jimmy Stingray, himself no stranger to sinister surf songs.
The Hukilau 2021 recap: Daily social media photos

Similarly, the cocktail below is not your typical Zombie. Sure, The Final (Destination) Zombie may look like a Zombie and act like a Zombie, but I don’t recall ever seeing a version of this deadly classic featuring mezcal. The pungent agave spirit is right at home in this new concoction, and Mexico’s Day of the Dead tradition makes it a natural fit.

Some of the many spirits conjured up by Death or Glory in Delray Beach. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Some of the many spirits conjured up by Death or Glory in Delray Beach. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

This hybrid Zombie was crafted with the help of the Luau Lads from Jacksonville. This bartending duo made some of the best cocktails at The Hukilau in addition to presenting a fascinating symposium on the history of Tiki in the Sunshine State.

Continue reading “Recipe: A new Zombie becomes final challenge for The Hukilau villagers”

The Hukilau update: Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party

The Hukilau update: Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party

Updated Sept. 21

Since 2013, the traditional way to wrap up The Hukilau has been a Sunday afternoon party at The Mai-Kai featuring surf guitarist Skinny Jimmy Stingray, the perfect way to bring the Tiki weekender to a close with a bang. And while The Molokai bar is sadly unavailable this year, the finale has been resurrected with a ghoulish twist by one of the event’s longtime bar partners.

A new Zombie becomes final challenge for The Hukilau villagers
UPDATED: A new Zombie becomes final challenge for The Hukilau villagers
Upon completion of The Hukilau, villagers had one Final Destination: the “Hereafter Party at Death or Gory in Hellray Beach.” To bring the theme full circle, The Atomic Grog presents a Zombie to end all Zombies.
>>> Event overview, photos, more
NEW RECIPE: The Final (Destination) Zombie

Get ready for The Hukilau: Final Destination, the 2021 event’s “Hereafter Party at Death or Gory in Hellray Beach” on Sunday, Sept. 19, from 3 p.m. until whenever the spirits decide it’s time to leave. Yes, this year’s finale will take a demonic twist thanks to the creative folks at Death or Glory, the acclaimed craft cocktail bar and restaurant in Delray Beach.
UPDATED: The Hukilau 2021: Social media photos

The Hukilau: Final Destination at Death or Gory

Skinny Jimmy and his three-piece band will rock the outdoor Tiki bar and patio (aka graveyard), which has been decorated spooktacularly for the Halloween season. There’s plenty of space outside for both Hukilau guests and the general public, who are also invited to this free event. The band starts around 4 p.m., so don’t be late.

The Death or Gory theme extends to the food and cocktails, which include deadly libations such as The Buddy of Christ Zombie and Dead on Arrival. Sponsors Don Q and Plantation will also bring plenty of rum to the party, and you might even be able to taste an Atomic Grog cocktail as we return to host and promote the after-party for the eighth time and celebrate our 10th anniversary at The Hukilau.

Death or Gory, aka Death or Glory, in Delray Beach. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September 2021)
Death or Gory, aka Death or Glory, in Delray Beach. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, September 2021)

The Final Destination is about 20 miles due north of the Beachcomber Resort & Club, The Hukilau’s headquarters in Pompano Beach. But thanks to the generosity of Plantation Rum, a code will be available for villagers to get free round-trip rides via Uber. Death or Glory is at 116 N.E. Sixth Ave. in the northeast corner of Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue dining and bar district.

A full menu will also be available for lunch and dinner. Indoor dining and bar seating is available for small parties. Visit DeathorGloryBar.com or call (561) 808-8814.

Death or Glory will also be participating as a pop-up bar during The Hukilau events at the Beachcomber, so be sure to sample their drinks and meet the bartenders. Over the past several years, guest bartenders from visiting Tiki establishments across the country have made Death or Glory their own final destination on Sundays. They often jumped behind the bar for special guest shifts, a tradition we expect to see continue this year.

Skinny Jimmy Stingray and his band perform in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in June 2108. (Photo by Heather McKean)
Skinny Jimmy Stingray and his band perform in The Molokai bar at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau in June 2108. (Photo by Heather McKean)

Skinny Jimmy Stingray has been a fixture at The Hukilau, rocking The Molokai during the weekend with his reverential classic surf tunes and select covers. With longtime cohorts Frenchy on stand-up bass and Kevin on drums, the trio has also performed at bars and clubs around the region. Jimmy has also opened for legends such as Dick Dale, the Surfaris, and Los Straitjackets. Check out the music on Bandcamp and YouTube.

Halloween started early in “Hellray Beach” with Death or Gory kicking off on Sept. 6 this year. It’s the fourth year of the spirited seasonal pop-up, inspired by the bar’s success with the Miracle concept during the winter season. Death or Glory has transformed into the kitschy Christmas bar every year since 2017, with 2021 in the works.
* Past Atomic Grog coverage: Miracle expands in South Florida
Miracle cocktails reviewed and ranked

The Buddy of Christ Zombie and the Death or Gory cocktail menu. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Buddy of Christ Zombie and the Death or Gory cocktail menu. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Open since April 2017, Death or Glory was nominated for Best New American Cocktail Bar at the Spirited Awards at Tales of the Cocktail in 2018. It’s known for its inventive cocktails and food, including many vegetarian and vegan options. It has an extensive spirits menu, including dozens of gins, mezcals, tequilas, and whiskeys. The rum collection tops 100 and is the largest in Palm Beach County, including many rare and premium options.

Continue reading “The Hukilau update: Death or Glory scares up spooktacular Sunday after-party”

Take a trip down the Tiki Trail for a lethal new Zombie recipe

Take a trip down the Tiki Trail for a lethal new Zombie recipe

Updated July 3

It was an honor to create the signature Tiki Trail Zombie and appear on the long-running online meet-up last Tuesday to mix it up for an enthusiastic audience. We hope the drink lives up to the high standards of past mixologists on Tiki Trail Live and knocks everyone dead.
* Go straight to the recipe

If you truly want to get into the spirit of the drink – as well as support the Tiki Trail – you can also pick up a great collection of merchandise featuring artwork by The Boozy Doodler in honor of the cocktail:

Tiki Trail Zombie merchandise / artwork by The Boozy Doodler

TIKI TRAIL ZOMBIE COCKTAIL IPHONE CASE ($19.95) – Protect your most important device from scratches, dust, oil, and dirt. It has a solid back and flexible sides that make it easy to take on and off, with precisely aligned port openings. Available in sizes that fit 13 different iPhone models, this case features a solid back and flexible sides so it’s easy to take on and off. Featuring precisely aligned port openings, the case is made of BPA-free hybrid thermoplastic polyurethane and polycarbonate material.

TIKI TRAIL ZOMBIE COCKTAIL T-SHIRT ($28.95) – Be the envy or your horde with this 100% cotton men’s heavyweight shirt featuring The Boozy Doodler artwork on the front and the Tiki Trail Zombie cocktail recipe on the back for easy reference. Shirts are available in six colors (maroon, black, navy, sand, natural, and white) and eight different sizes (from small to 5XL).

STAINLESS STEEL WATER BOTTLE ($28.95) – Stay hydrated or take your Zombie on the go with this versatile bottle that’s perfect for both the apocalypse or everyday bar crawls. This 17-ounce, high-grade stainless steel vacuum flask features double-wall construction plus odorless and leak-proof cap. It’s insulated for both hot and cold liquids and uses a patented coating for vibrant colors.

Click on the links above to see details and order each item. Or go here to see all the merch in the Tiki Trail store. You can find past Tiki Trail goodies including the Lost Canteen of the Kanaloa Kid and “Peace, love and Tiki” T-shirts.

Scroll below for the backstory and recipe for Tiki Trail Zombie.

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In the cinematic Zombie apocalypse, there are certain trails you should avoid if you hope to stay alive. In the real world, there are more appealing paths that lead to deadly (but delicious) tropical cocktails. For the latter, there’s no better route than the Tiki Trail.

Tiki Trail Zombie artwork by The Boozy Doodler
Tiki Trail Zombie artwork by The Boozy Doodler.

* Jump straight to the recipe below:
Tiki Trail Zombie

Tiki Trail Live, which happens every Tuesday at 6 p.m. Pacific time (9 p.m. Eastern), is the longest-running weekly online gathering of Tiki culture enthusiasts. After surviving the entire coronavirus pandemic (so far), what’s a little Zombie infestation?

The Tiki Trail Zombie, created by The Atomic Grog in honor of the horde of Tikiphiles who religiously meet up every Tuesday, will make its debut on the show this week (June 29). Check out the recipe below and be ready to join us in mixing up our latest 10th anniversary Zombie before enjoying interviews with artists and musicians from across the Tiki universe. The Zoom meeting ID is 724 724 4576.

Host Jeff Ballard, creator of the TikiTrail.com website and Tikicomber app, has guided the show though 64 weeks of Zoom meet-ups since March 2020 with just one week off (election night in November). His indispensable assistant, Sam, never fails to come up with an intriguing lineup of guests. Familiar names are complemented by new faces nearly every week, displaying the diversity and worldwide reach of the Tiki scene.

Tikicomber appWhile most of the gatherings over the past year have been hosted in Ballard’s home bar in Southern California, he has begun venturing out as COVID restrictions are eased. Last week, he took Tiki Trail Live to the cocktail bar Marie’s Tek Tec in Long Beach, where bartender Julio Gutierrez (from Tiki pop-up Chuntikis) mixed up two enticing tropical libations. Featured artist Danielle Mann of Black Lagoon Designs joined live from Australia.
* See past Tiki Trail Live guests, promos: Instagram | Facebook
* Live video: Select past shows on YouTube

It’s not unusual to see artists and musical guests dialing in from far-flung continents on Tiki Trail Live, one of the show’s most endearing features. It shows how truly worldwide the Tiki scene has become. The regular attendees are also an eclectic bunch, often hanging out for “after-show” discussion and fun. It was during one of these after-parties two weeks ago that I reached out to the regulars for their input on a namesake Zombie for the show. The Tiki Trail Zombie is truly a crowd-sourced recipe. This will be The Atomic Grog’s second “Pour-Along” on the show, a follow-up to the Jet Pilot episode in September.

After we mix up the Zombie, sit back and relax as Ballard welcomes a wide assortment of guests. I’m looking forward to enjoying the musical stylings of Lono Calls
Continue reading “Take a trip down the Tiki Trail for a lethal new Zombie recipe”