Tuesday, March 11, 2014
“If you can’t get to paradise, I’ll bring it to you.” – Don the Beachcomber
Maine is usually at least a couple of years behind on food-and-drink trends (think cupcakes, which were over just about everywhere else before they exploded here), and the current revival of Polynesian pop is no exception.
The current tiki bar revival started in the 1990s, and spread by the early 2000s to places like New York, London and Moscow. In Denver and Dallas, apparently, it’s still going strong. Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco – which opened in 2009 with unapologetically tacky tiki décor but undeniably authentic tiki cocktails – was named one of the Best Bars in America by Esquire Magazine this year.
There are even smart phone apps for tiki drinks now, including the one I have on my own phone, Beachbum Berry’s Tiki +, which puts at your fingertips recipes for drinks with names like “Blood of the Kapu Tiki” and the “Strip and Go Naked.”
Eventide Oyster Co. has some tiki-inspired drinks on its regular menu , but other than that the pickin’s have been slim around here.
Enter Portland Hunt & Alpine Club and its new monthly tiki night. I’m sure it was started to bring in customers on Sundays, a slow day of the week. That’s fine. I’ll take it.
And on weekends like this one coming up, after cooking for days and then braving the holiday shopping crowds, what could be better than easing your mental and muscle pains with a Suffering Bastard (ginger beer, gin, brandy, Rose’s Lime and Angostura bitters) or a circa 1950 version of the Zombie (lime juice, lemon juice, unsweetened pineapple juice, passion fruit syrup, light Puerto Rican rum, gold Puerto Rican Run, 151-prood Lemon Hart Demerara rum, brown sugar syrup and Angostura bitters)?
PHAC’s Tiki Sundays will be held on the first Sunday of every month. That means the next one is this Sunday, Dec. 1. The bartender, instead of Don the Beachcomber, is “John the Beach Comb-Over,” also known as popular Portland bartender John Myers.
I checked out Tiki Sunday the first week in November and will definitely go back, especially during the frigid weeks of February, when the sight of a little umbrella in your drink can help you daydream of sun on your skin and sand between your toes.
Tiki drinks are known for their use of multiple rums and dashes of unexpected flavors such as almond-flavored orgeat or falernum syrup. If all you’ve ever known is the red, cloyingly sweet version of a mai tai they serve on cruise ships, get yourself over the PHAC and ask John to make you a real one.
On the last Tiki Sunday, the bar served a selection of five tiki cocktails, all of them $9. There was the Corn + Oil, a simple concoction of blackstrap rum and falernum, and the Hawaiian Eye, a mixture of rums, lime and falernum created in Hollywood in 1963 by Tony Ramos for the TV cast of the series “Hawaiian Eye.”
Over the course of several hours (these drinks are strong, so you have to be careful), I sampled three of Myers’ tiki specials. First was the Jungle Bird – dark rum, Campari and pineapple – a drink the menu said had been traced back to the aviary bar in Kuala Lumpur’s Hilton Hotel by none other than Beachbum Berry. (You can read my interview with Jeff “Beachbum” Berry here.)
It was just what I needed on a chilly night, and the little umbrella made me smile.
Next, I tried a Montego Bay, which John said was made with blackstrap rum, absinthe, allspice and some other things. This is an original drink by Don the Beachcomber, who created it in the 1940s at his bar of the same name, a place “where good rum is immortalized and drinking is an art.”
I should have quit there, but couldn’t resist trying a Viking Fogcutter, made with brandy, gin, orgeat and citrus, and topped with a float of aquavit. This drink, according to the PHAC menu, was created in Seattle in 1955 at the Norseland Restaurant. It was good, but my least favorite of the three.
The bar is also serving some special food on Tiki Sundays. The night I was there they had spam deviled eggs on the menu, fluke ceviche, and shrimp and chorizo skewers served with green chili-roasted onions and plum-cherry sauce.
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.