Plus, the Vietnam War quelled the enthusiasm for the South Pacific. “When you went to Steve Crane’s Kon-Tiki [chain of] restaurants and there are all these people wearing coolie hats, then you get shipped off to Vietnam and are being shot at by people in those hats, the naiveté dies down,” says Smuggler’s Cove’s Martin Cate. The aesthetic also didn’t fly with the generation of hippie-counterculture kids. “Going to these places and listening to Martin Denny was what your parents would do,” says Berry. “You smoked pot and went to rock concerts.” As tiki went out of fashion, recipes were lost, and what was left were the “blue-collar places that served cheap knockoff versions of the drinks,” says Berry.
All this led to the artisanal tiki drink becoming a lost art by the mid-’70s/early ’80s. “Nobody was making the drinks anymore. It was white wine spritzers and chocolate martinis,” says Berry.
TIKI’S SHERLOCK HOLMES
Credit for rescuing and decoding many of the lost tiki drink recipes goes to the aforementioned tiki sleuth Jeff Berry. Around the mid-’80s, as the last few holdout tiki bars were giving up the ghost in Los Angeles, he started trying to piece together the recipes for the lost drinks. In 1998 he published Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log, and in 2002 followed it up with Beachbum Berry’s Intoxica! But Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari in 2007 was the real culmination of his historical research and decoded recipes, such as the long-lost Donn Beach Zombie. “Once I published them, it opened a lot of eyes, and people realized they really weren’t crap drinks. They were culinary, and even more challenging than some of the classic drinks,” says Berry.
With the early ’90s swing/rockabilly trend, a few people started opening new tiki bars, but “they got the look and didn’t follow through to the next step: to do the drinks right,” says Martin Cate. Meanwhile, a few original tiki joints weathered the storm—such as the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, Florida—and folks like Blair Reynolds, maker of the Trader Tiki’s line of artisan cocktail syrups, were doing tiki revival nights at various bars.
Now, with bartenders very much into exploring the world of rum, it looks like tiki drinks—real, artisanal versions—are going to keep the spirit of fun flowing through bars. And this time they are going to be a hell of a lot better documented: Dutch Kills’s Richard Boccato says they will be publishing an online database of all their cocktails.
Blair Reynolds sees tiki snowballing this year. “As it gets a better sense of legitimacy, and people understand how much it can be enjoyed, it will keep growing,” he says. “Tiki is ready to take its place again, for people to be welcomed around the volcano bowl.”
Images courtesy of beachbumberry.com