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Try tiki / Recipes & more

This escapist way of cocktailing dates to the 1930s


Cocktail trends have moved away from the circa 2016 moody ryes and cocktails that take no fewer than thirteen minutes to construct and toward the bright colors and flavors of Tikiland. Even if you don’t have a closet full of Hawaiian shirts or a taste for rum, these drinks take you to a different place. It would be nice to think that the tiki movement is coming back as a result of our emotional reinvestment in quality ingredients, but another reason could be that consumers want to escape the current abrasive political discourse. Tiki drinks are approachable; the flavors are complex, bold, and go down easy (which is both blessing and curse).


Buffalo has yet to see a dedicated tiki bar, but a few mixologists have taken an interest in the art of tiki and work on perfecting the mai tai every day. They include Danny Dispo from Buffalo Proper and the new tiki bar pop-up, The Veiled Pear; Thomas Daulton, bar manager at Winfields Pub; and Nick O’Brien, bar manager at Craving. All three have gained reputations for their tiki-inspired originals and their renditions of the classics. SEE THEIR COCKTAIL RECIPES HERE> While speaking with them, a common thread emerges: O’Brien observes, drinkers love tiki for “the faux exotism, escapism, and seeming freedom of boundaries in creating tiki drinks.”


Society’s fascination with tiki culture and art entered mass popularity in the 1930s, immediately after Prohibition, as Americans started to rediscover the world of cocktails. Polynesian art became a staple for tropical restaurants and tiki bars around the world. The first of its kind was opened in 1934 by Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, a young man from Texas who had sailed the South Pacific. He changed his name to Donn Beach to match the name of his restaurant, Don the Beachcomber, and a legend was born. The restaurant featured exotic rum punches, flaming torches, flower leis, and Cantonese cuisine inspired by the flavors Beaumont-Gantt had found in his travels.


After soldiers returned home from WWII in the 1940s, another chain of “tiki” restaurants was introduced, and the trend really took off.  The popular Trader Vic’s featured tropical fabrics, rattan furniture, and flaming torches, a style later dubbed Polynesian Pop. Founder and creator Victor Bergeron, better known as Trader Vic, created a place in Oakland that sounded familiar notes to soldiers returning home from the South Pacific. They were already familiar with the cuisine and décor, so it didn’t take long for the style to infiltrate other businesses and even private homes throughout the United States. Trader Vics went on to become a worldwide chain. Rum-based drinks like the mai-tai and zombie flowed freely, lasting as long as the disco era of the seventies.


Beach is credited with having created the tropical genre singlehandedly. He was the first to mix flavored syrups and fresh fruit juices with rum. These drinks were known as Rhum Rhapsodies and put Donn’s restaurant on the map. It must be noted that these bars and restaurants made no pretense to being authentically Polynesian. Both Beach and Bergeron claim to have invented the mai tai, considered to be the quintessential tiki cocktail. The origin of the cocktail is still unclear. If you taste both recipes, you can tell Donn’s recipe is more complex; also, the recipes call for different types of rum.


How important is to know the history of tiki? Dispo of Proper comments, “Without knowing the history you run the risk of cultural appropriation. You can’t just slap a tiki face on a stool, build a straw hut, give out plastic leis, go on a boat ride and call that proper tiki.” Do you need to know its history in order to make tiki drinks successfully? “As far as knowing the classic recipes, it’s important in the same way knowing the history of other classic cocktails is important,” Dispo explains. “You really shouldn’t be making a riff on a sidecar until you know how to make a sidecar. You should probably be able to create a proper Suffering Bastard before you try to do variations on a Suffering Bastard. You don’t have to know that Joe Scialom created it in Egypt in 1942, supposedly for a soldier who had over-imbibed the night before, but it certainly makes for a more interesting exchange when the guest you just made it for asks about the origins of the drink.”


Winfields’s Daulton says, “I think a creative spin with reasonable ambition for an ode to the originals is just fine. I sometimes do refer to my style as a ‘punk tiki’ outlook.”


Although tiki cocktails feature tropical fruits and flavors, they’re entirely an American invention. It’s as though an amalgamation of all the colors, sights, flavors, and sounds of a culture have been put together in a blender. “Its about Caribbean rums, American mixology, and Polynesian iconography,” as Dispo puts it. It’s all about recreating that feeling of an escapist tropical vacation. It’s about leaving stress behind and living the island lifestyle.  The panopoly of tiki style encompasses a South Pacific mish-mash of bamboo, wooden masks, and carvings, lava stones, hula girls, sailor tattoos, and Magnum P.I.


It’s gone mainstream, and it’s here to stay.    


Thomas Daulton’s Original Recipe:



3/4 oz Blueberry Rooibos Infused Wray and Nephew white rum *

3/4 oz Cognac

1/2 oz Aperol

1/2 oz Ruby port wine

1/2 oz Winfields Grenadine**

3/4 oz fresh lime juice


Chill a coupe or stemmed glass with ice and water. Pour all of the listed ingredients into a shaker. Add a fair amount of ice as to really get things frosty while shaking, and shake for about ten seconds vigorously. Dump your chilling ice from your coupe or stemmed glassware, and use a hawthorne strainer. 

Skin a kiwi fruit using a serrated knife, and cut whole wheels with a slit to the center. Place a kiwi wheel on the rim of your finished cocktail glass. Using a slightly underripe kiwi fruit makes this process a bit easier as it will be more firm than a fully aged kiwi. 

If you choose, peel a lemon without grabbing too much pith of the skin, and gently squeeze over the cocktail to add essential oils to the top. We all like to set stuff on fire, but this one does not need the whole lit lemon peel shebang, just the oils.


*To make the blueberry Roobios infused Wray and Nephew, simply buy a bottle of Wray and Nephew overproof white rum, a box (or loose leaf) Blueberry Roobios tea from Wegmans/Orchard Fresh/Trader Joes, and cold brew the tea into the rum as if you were making regular tea. I usually make sure if it is loose leaf, to use a coffee filter or two. Keep refrigerated for about 3 or 4 days and strain.

** Winfields grenadine consists of 4 parts POM juice, 1 part fresh OJ, 2 skins of a fresh orange, salt and pepper, 1 part water, and 2 parts white refined sugar. I add splashes of cognac as it cooks down boiling on a stove, and then simmer for an hour or two as it thickens. Strain twice and keep cold.



Danny Dispo’s Original Cocktail:

Beachnik’s Brunch


2 oz Champagne 

1 oz lightly aged Puerto Rican rum 

1 oz Aperol

2 oz Veiled Pearl House Mix*


Combine Aperol, rum, and mix into a shaker 2/3 filled with ice cubes. Shake and pour into a snifter or double rocks glass over ice and top with champagne, garnish with two slices of orange. This drink also forms a great base for a party punch, just multiply the recipie proportions by the number of guests. 


*Veiled Pearl House Mix: To make one quart, combine 4 oz each mango juice, guava nectar, unsweetened pineapple juice, and freshly squeezed orange juice; 2 oz each of Honey Syrup (1:1) and Orgeat; and 12 oz of fresh lemon juice. 

Feel free to play around with your own house mix, as this can work with many different combinations of juice and syrup, just make sure to keep the acid and sweetness balanced. 



Nick O’Brien’s Original Cocktail:

The Deep End


1 dash Angostura bitter

1 drop of salt water (or just a tiny pinch of kosher salt)

3/4 oz simple syrup

3/4 oz lime juice

1/4oz curacao

3/4 oz cognac

1 1/2 oz Plantaion 3 Star rum


Shake and pour unstrained into a rocks glass or short tiki mug, garnish with a thinly sliced lime wheel.


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