Sir Eddy Trenidad from the award-winning Bricks cocktail bar in The Hague shares a quick guide to the roots of the style of cocktail that we know and love as ‘tiki’.
The name 'tiki' comes from the culture of Polynesia – a myriad of islands and archipelagos scattered around the southern pacific including Hawaii, Easter Island, Tahiti and New Zealand.
Across Polynesia the term relates to the carved idols and statues that these island cultures crafted to represent their gods. Meanwhile, the Maori people of New Zealand believe that the God-like figure ‘Tiki’ was either was the first human on Earth or the creator of man.
The tiki that we know and love today, whilst inspired by this iconography, is clearly not a true representation of these cultures but rather a melting pot of exotic tropical kitsch: from bamboo furniture to 50s surf boards through to quirky carved mugs to fake palm trees and floral garlands
The tiki bar style derives from how Americans in the 1930s saw island culture across the globe – from the Caribbean to Tonga – as a fairly homogeneous mass of sandy beaches, coconut palms, grass-skirted natives and balmy sunsets. And this style was defined by Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, who later took the name Donn Beach.
Following the repeal of prohibition in the US in 1933, and excited and inspired by his travels in the South Pacific, in 1934 Gantt opened Don the Beachcomber, a tropical-themed bar and restaurant in Hollywood. As the venue photos from the time show, the interiors were a splendidly over-the-top theatrical set of Polynesian quirkiness.
Meanwhile, Don the Beachcomber's drinks were heavily rum-focussed to accompany the tropical fruit flavours, and the food menu had a Cantonese twist. Gantt can pretty much claim credit to be the first to layer rum with juices and liqueurs, a drinks style that we all today understand to be tiki. Some of Gantt's cocktails are still bar favourites today, including the incredibly potent Zombie.
The tiki bar and cocktail style slowly but surely took off, helped in no small part by Hollywood stars and industry moguls frequenting Don the Beachcomber. Other entrepreneurial bartenders were taking note of Gantt's success including soon-to-be industry legend “Trader” Vic Bergeron. Bergeron owned a bar called Hinky Dinks in Oakland, San Francisco, and had a tropical island refurbishment and changed the name from Hinky Dinks to Trader Vic’s. The rest is history, with Trader Vic's now being the most recognised tiki bars in the world with branches across the US, Europe, the UAE and as far away as Japan. Trader Vic’s also claim to have served the first Mai Tai, perhaps the most famous tiki cocktail, in 1944.
World War II helped the emergence of rum in North America, not only because of it historical maritime and navel connections. Due to warfare in the Atlantic, European spirits and wines were increasingly difficult to get hold of, so rum from the Caribbean became the default pour for many bars. Mexican tequila and the ubiquitous margarita cocktail weren't far behind.
But rum remains the star act of tiki cocktails, and with so many rums now on the market – Havana from Cuba, Bacardí from Puerto Rico, Don Papa from the Philippines, Zacapa from Guatemala plus innumerable craft rums from across the world – rum is really starting to give gin, whiskey and vodka a run for its money.
Across the cocktail bar scene, innovative bartenders are not only embracing traditional tiki cocktails but they are also having fun with their own twists to explore the boundaries of tiki culture. Embrace the kitsch and embrace the taste of this iconic style of cocktail.
Sir Eddy's Mai Tai recipe: the most famous of them all!
30ml Dark Jamaican Rum
30ml Bacardi Ocho
15ml Orange Curacao
22.5ml Lime juice
10ml Orgeat syrup (Monin)
10ml Simple syrup (Monin)
Add all ingredients in a shaker n shake what ya mama gave you.
Strain into a tumbler over crushed ice.
Garnish with mint and lime shell
Sir Eddy’s top tiki dudes:
Tiki Big Daddy Georgi Radev from Laki Kane (London)
Jeff The Beachbum Berry from Latitude 29 (New Orleans)
Daniele Dalla Pola from Esotico Miami (Miami)
Martin Cats from Smuggler’s Cove (San Francisco)
Carl Tjong-aTjoe from Vavoom! (The Hague)