Portland is about to join the tiki bar revival that’s been sweeping the country – just in time for winter, when a good strong rum runner cocktail can chase away the chill.

Jason Loring, owner of Slab and Nosh Kitchen Bar, and his business partners are constructing a new tiki lounge called Rhum in a subterranean space at 4 Free St., next door to the Arabica coffee shop. In a news release, Loring described his latest venture as “a refined take on tiki with a distinctly Portland, Maine flavor.” Loring and his partners, Mike Fraser and Nat Towl, hope to open Rhum before Christmas.

Most Americans think of tiki as the fruity, sugary drinks with umbrellas that they sip on cruise ships or in kitschy, ’70s-era Polynesian restaurants filled with tropical, thatched-hut decor. But tiki culture originated in the 1930s and 1940s as escapist fun, and took off after World War II when soldiers returned home from the South Pacific.

The original drinks, many mixed with lots of rum, were culinary cocktails with whimsical names like navy grog, fog cutter, and the famous mai tai, which was invented in 1944.

Tiki bars, including the famous Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber, started popping up in Hollywood and San Francisco. The tiki craze spread throughout the country and lasted about 40 years.

Eventually, even small-town America found itself downing drinks like the aku aku lapu (created in Las Vegas in 1960) or the cobra’s fang (invented by Don the Beachcomber in 1937) on a crazy Saturday night.

In Portland, there was the Hawaiian Hut, a restaurant and lounge located in the basement of The Eastland Hotel, which was open from 1963 to 1978.

The trend fizzled out in the late 1960s and early 1970s but started making a comeback on the West Coast in 2008.

There’s been a tiki bar revival in New York and other large American cities for several years now.

A few restaurants and bars in Portland have authentic tiki drinks on their menus, but the revival has not yet brought a real tiki lounge to the city.

In an interview, Loring said Rhum will not be like the “cheesy, hokey” tiki bars that were once so common in faux Polynesian restaurants across the country. It will, he said, “be the anti-tiki while still being very tiki.” That means, in part, paying homage to Portland’s rum-running days.

“It speaks to the pirate side of it a little bit,” Loring said. “It’s kind of the darker side.”

And he means that literally. Loring searched for an out-of-the-ordinary basement space in which to build the bar. For inspiration, he and his partners traveled to Chicago to visit two tiki venues, Three Dots and a Dash and Lost Lake.

“Three Dots and a Dash is completely underground,” Loring said. “Lost Lake is in more of a retail frontage space, but they’ve blacked out all the windows and it has the same kind of feel.”

But Rhum won’t be all mystery and darkness. The lounge will have an outdoor patio in the summer, Loring said.

Rhum will have an 8-foot raw bar with seafood from all over, including jumbo crab and periwinkles. The menu will also feature sashimi, California-style sushi rolls, ramen and other noodle dishes, and Rhum’s own style of pu pu platter.

The food is being described as a “refined take on tiki” with “elegant, modern translations of classic tiki dishes.”

Classic tiki food carries a heavy Asian influence and runs the gamut from coconut shrimp and pork buns to crab rangoon, which was on Trader Vic’s menu as far back as the 1950s.

The kitchen and bar will be run by Frank W. Anderson and Rebecca Ambrosi, chefs who have worked at such well-regarded restaurants as Animal in Los Angeles and in the kitchens of Thomas Keller and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Most recently, the couple ran a Maine underground supper club and catering company called The Hunter’s Bend.

The menu at Rhum will, of course, include a range of tiki-style cocktails such as the scorpion bowl, the classic tiki drink invented by Trader Vic in the 1950s.

“We’re going to go outlandish with garnishes and get crazy and have lots of fun, and we’re not going to take ourselves serious,” Loring said. “But we’re by no means going to make the sweet, all fruit juice kind of thing. They will be very well-crafted drinks.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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