Food & Drink

Experience a Slice of the South Pacific - Tahitian-Inspired Drinks

The Healing Power of Tiki

Elnicki Wade

Take a seat at the bamboo bar, loosen up your tie and let a tiki guru demonstrate how to transform your boat or backyard. 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. But busy guys like Tom aren't flush with free time, so we convened at Slipstream, the new D.C. 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 D.C. 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? "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 everyday 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.

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. Also, resist the temptation to use glass tiki mugs that could shatter on the boat or deck, and don't let your friends get behind the wheel of their boat or car after putting back too many mai tais or rum punches.

Tahitian-Inspired Drinks

Tiki cocktails are simple to make, easy to transport outdoors and are guaranteed to elevate guests to an island state of mind.

Tiki Coffee

  •  1 1⁄2 oz dark Rum
  •  5 dashes angostura bit- ters
  •  1 oz pineapple Juice
  •  3⁄4  oz almond Milk
  •  1 oz strong coffee chilled

Shake all the ingredient well with ice and serve in a Collins glass, topped with nutmeg

Bookless Mule

  • 1 oz dark Rum
  • 1 oz Light Rum
  • 1 oz Grapefruit Juice (use Aperol and St. Germain with lime juice in equal parts, to make your own grapefruit juice)3 oz Ginger Beer

Build all the ingredients in a Collins glass with ice.

Tom's House Cocktail

  • 2 oz Rye Whiskey
  • 4 oz pineapple

Shake vigorously; sip slowly. Top with Angostura bitters.

Death in the Afternoon

  • 1 oz absinthe
  • 1/2 oz Lemon Juice

Shake well and strain into a flute, then top with champagne.

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