With the upcoming release of Beachbum Berry’s Remixed about a month away, the Careless Navigator had the chance to talk to the Bum about his work and the new book
l am more than a bit excited for the opportunity to have my questions answered by the Bum, but still l will try to stick to the facts.
CN. From the outset what is the correct term…Tiki cocktail, exotic tropical drink or is there a better name?
BB. Today everyone calls them Tiki Drinks, which is a retro term — they weren’t called that originally. Back in the day they were called Exotic Drinks, or just Exotics. Also Tropical Drinks, but since most of them were invented in Hollywood, a better term is “Faux Tropicals.” But since so many people are now calling them Tiki Drinks, I do too — it’s just easier to swim with the tide.
CN. At what stage did you think some one should be compiling these recipes and stories before they are lost?
BB. After I’d sampled my first great Tiki drinks, at the few places left in L.A. that still made them properly, I went looking for bar guides that might have the recipes. Aside from Trader Vic’s books, there was absolutely no printed information anywhere about these drinks — old or new. When the places serving them went out of business — which they were doing all the time back then — I knew that their undocumented secret recipes would die with them, but the drinks were so good that this couldn’t be allowed to happen.
CN. When did you decide it should be you?
BB. It was in the late 1980s — the night I discovered the Tonga Hut. It was a perfectly preserved 1950s Tiki bar, with an Easter Island moai carving out front, a running waterfall inside, and lots of thatch and bamboo. But there was a disconnect: Everybody in the place was drinking Budweiser, and the jukebox was blasting Black Oak Arkansas. I asked the bartender, who was wearing a Guns N’ Roses T-shirt, if she knew how to make a Mai Tai. “Sure,” she said. “What’s in it?” I told her, ending the list of ingredients with “the juice of one lime.” Before I could stop her, she threw a whole lime — intact, uncut, rind and all — into the blender and switched it on. Not wanting to appear ungrateful, I drank the whole thing. That’s the moment when I decided to write The Grog Log, my first book about how to make vintage tropical drinks.
CN. First Bartender you interviewed for the books?
BB. Ray Buhen, who was then still mixing at the Tiki-Ti, the bar he’d opened in 1961 in East Hollywood. He was almost 90 years old then, but he still remembered his early days working at Don The Beachcomber’s in 1934. He wouldn’t divulge any recipes, though!
CN. What long lost Rum or ingredient do you wish you could still get?
BB. There are so many! I’d love to have a bottle of Don Beach’s secret Spices #2, to see if I came close with my own reconstruction. And, of course, Wray & Nephew 17-year rum, which Trader Vic used to create his Mai Tai in 1944. And the Holy Grail of rum collectors: Myers’s Mona, a 30-year-old rum that nobody alive today seems to have tasted, let alone seen.
CN. Favorite drink at the moment?
BB. Donn’s 1934 Zombie. Takes a while to throw together, but worth the trouble.
CN. If you had a time machine…which Polynesian Restaurant/bar of the past would you visit?
BB. I can think of around a hundred of them! But definitely Don The Beachcomber’s in Hollywood in the 1930s, and on Waikiki in the 1940s. The Luau in Beverly Hills in the 1950s too.
CN. What is your current favorite Tiki establishment?
BB. Best bar: The Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles. Best restaurant: The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, Florida — it’s the last of the great midcentury Polynesian palaces, and it looks the same as it did in 1956,
CN. Remixed has all the same info. from Grog Log and Intoxica as well as the newly discovered stuff, right?
BB. Yep. All the info — but updated, revised, expanded, and annotated. With full-color vintage and new photography. It’s the book I would have written instead of the Grog Log and Intoxica, if I knew then what I know now.
CN.What would it take to get you to visit Australia?
BB. An invitation!
I’d love to go, been meaning to for years … but hey, I am a bum, after all.
CN. Is there anything else you would like the people to know.
BB. I used to think I was the only person in the world who was interested in this stuff. It’s so cool to see sites like The Careless Navigator spreading the word to new tropaholics all over the world. So, everyone, keep reading … and keep drinking!
The Careless Navigator thanks the Bum for being so generous with his time.
You can pre-order REMIXED from Amazon.