Evolution of the South Pacific “Tiki” culture in the 1930s seems to be inspired by the travels of Ernest Raymond Beaumont Grant, who later became “Don Beach.”
Grant returned from the South Pacific with tales of an exotic, tropical paradise. The mystique of his grand experience cultivated his creation “Don the Beachcomber,” located on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. With flaming torches, bamboo furniture and flower leis, the bar emulated all his experiences.
A few years later, Victor Bergeron transformed his Oakland saloon into “Trader Vic’s” after returning from the South Seas himself; his restaurant ended up being an incredibly successful chain worldwide.
The cocktails at both locations were served in glassware that was said to be inspired by Tiki carvings and mythology, and were topped with exotic garnishes and flowers. Now famous cocktails such as the Mai Tai, Planters Punch and the Zombie pose some difficulty in finding their true origins, but both Victor and Don lay claim to being the creators of the original recipes.
Interest in the South Pacific blossomed again after the Second World War, when returning soldiers spoke of their travels and fond experiences they had during the war. At this time, James Michener wrote Tales of the South Pacific, which became a Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller in 1947.
Later in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Hollywood interest spawned a multitude of Hawaiian-themed films. Who can forget Elvis movies like “Blue Hawaii” in 1961? If you are too young to remember this, ask your parents or grandparents…they can tell you all about flowered shirts, ukuleles and rum-fueled hangovers.
Tiki cocktails traditionally include a combination of quality rum, fresh fruit, tropical fruit juices, sweet and spicy syrup like Don’s mix, cinnamon, abd nutmeg or Orgeat (almond syrup). Garnishes can be exotic fruits, swizzle sticks, tiny umbrellas, flowers, dry ice, or occasionally flames.
One can often be fooled by these exciting flavour combinations and exotic presentations – these cocktails pack a tasty punch!
Longtime Calgarians might remember our own Tiki bar in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. You may recall celebrating a birthday, anniversary or graduation at the Tiki Tiki Polynesian room? Pineapple passion, scorpion cocktails, and pu pu platters were on the menu, hula dancers were on the stage – yes, this was in Calgary.
Today our cocktail culture is expanding with great intensity; everything old is new again. Tiki cocktails can be found at the famous Tonga room in San Francisco, and in Chicago at the recently opened Dot Dot Dash. They are out there, you just have to search for them.
In Calgary you might have to create your own Luau-themed party, unless you want to check out Surf Rock Wednesdays at Cannibale, where our friend Mark Roeric is serving up Tiki cocktails all night long.