Take a seat at the bamboo bar, loosen up your tie, and let a tiki guru demonstrate
how to transform your boat or backyard into a tropical cocktail pleasure cove.
Meeting mixologist Tom Brown at Herrington Harbor Marina would have been perfect. That’s where he keeps his
26-foot 1979 Chrysler sloop, and we could have discussed tiki cocktails while sailing around the Bay. Instead, the interview took place on a hot sticky day after I stewed in downtown traffic and battled throngs of pedestrians. But, busy guys like Tom aren’t flush with free time, so we convened at Slipstream, the new DC location where he is sowing the seeds of tiki-infused libations.
Noticing sweat on my temples from the sweltering urban heat, Tom points to a drink on Slipstream’s menu entitled “Tiki Coffee – Booze, stuff that makes you happy with nitro draft coffee on ice.” He pours iced coffee, pineapple juice, and other magical elixirs into a metal shaker, mixes them vigorously, and hands me the glass. “You can’t really talk about tiki drinks if you don’t have one in your hand.” After my first sip, the thick humidity and congestion vanish behind an imaginary mirage of palm trees and gentle island winds.
He was right. Everything felt better. Tom knows the healing power of tiki.
Raised in Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay, Tom is the mastermind of hip, tropical-themed pop-up restaurants in DC. One was Hogo, a nuevo tiki rum bar that set a new standard for Polynesian funk. Another was New York Avenue Beach Bar, where he filled a parking lot with 70 tons of sand, food wagons, and a cocktail bar to create an oasis of beachy fun near the convention center.
Why bring tiki to the pressed-shirt world of Washington, DC? “People work so hard that they need to decompress and forget about a long day at the office. They meet friends at bars to unwind and escape the daily grind. Tiki is fanciful, with a sense of the exotic. I bring the beach to them, and they get a brief vacation from the mundane,” says Tom.
Since the 1940s when Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic spread Polynesian Pop across the country, Tahitian cocktails have represented a release from every-day routines and helped Americans experience a small slice of the South Pacific. Today’s tiki drinks are less sweet than the previous generation’s, but they continue the tradition of serving cool beverages to dispel the heat.
It’s hard to go wrong when you mix good rum with island ingredients such as pineapples, limes, coconuts, oranges – even nutmeg and vanilla. “The flavors are refreshing and unexpected. At Hogo, we even garnished one rum drink with flaming pirate ships made of orange peels,” says Tom. Once it left the bartender’s hand, everyone in the place wanted one.
Bringing a tropical feel to your boat or backyard is easy. Just keep in mind that high-octane boozy drinks aren’t the best idea. When people spend time in the sun sipping fruity rum drinks, they can forget that they’re consuming greater amounts of alcohol. And you don’t want friends getting behind the wheel after putting back too many mai tais or rum punches.
Other advice from our tiki connoisseur: Advance planning before boarding your boat is key. Choose your tiki cocktail recipes, mix them at home and pour them into a thermos, either with or without ice. Save time by cutting the garnishes ahead of time, because only pirates should wield knives on the high seas. And when people get island inspired, their shoes often comeoff. So, resist the temptation to use glass tiki mugs that could shatter on the boat or deck. Your goal is fun without injuries.
A Trinity of Tahitian-Inspired Drinks
These three tiki cocktails are simple to make, easy to transport outdoors, and are guaranteed to elevate guests to an island state of mind. Most important: It’s all about fun. If you get stressed while making drinks, then you’re doing something wrong. Relax and enjoy the tropical vibe.
Tahitian Rum Punch
Say aloha to summer fun! For the ultimate tiki party drink, mix all these ingredients together in a punch bowl or thermos with plenty of ice and float cut fruit on top. If you want to give it a glowing crimson color, add a few drops of red food dye.
- 1 cup Dark Rum
- 1 cup Light Rum
- 1 cup Fresh Coconut Water (not milk)
- 2 cups Orange Juice
- 1 cup Pineapple Juice
- 1 1/2 liter Ginger Ale
- 2 oz Rose’s Lime Juice
- 1 oz Grenadine
- Garnish with maraschino cherries, fresh pineapple rings, orange slices, and a little paper umbrella
Don the Beachcomber’s Navy Grog
This cocktail was invented around 1941 by the founder father of American Tiki Culture. It’s a breeze to make and expand into larger batches. A favorite among seafarers and landlubbers alike. Give all the ingredients, except the club soda, a good shake and pour over ice. Then top it off with the soda and your choice of fruity garnishes on a skewer.
- 1 oz Light Puerto Rican Rum
- 1 oz Dark Jamaican Rum
- 1 oz Demerara Rum
- 3/4 oz Fresh Lime Juice
- 3/4 oz Fresh Grapefruit Juice
- 3/4 oz Warm Honey
- Club Soda to taste
A retro cocktail that is a sure hit at tropical shindigs. Using gin instead of rum, this Polynesian refresher requires little more than a hearty shake and ample amounts of ice. Add soda water on top before sipping, then kick back and dream of exotic lands.
- 2 oz Gin
- 3/4 oz Cherry Heering
- 2 tsp Benedictine
- 2 tsp Cointreau
- 2 oz Pineapple Juice
- 3/4 oz Fresh Lime Juice
- 2 dashes Pomegranate Grenadine
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
- Soda water
- Garnish with maraschino cherries, pineapple wedges, and orange slices