For a thousand bucks, you can have an island adventure in the Caribbean. For $15, you can take a mini-vacation in a glass. That is the idea behind tiki cocktails: to escape the doldrums of everyday life with an extravagant, fruity rum drink adorned with so many paper umbrellas and garnishes that you need a three-foot straw to reach the precious nectar in the glass. Tiki is meant to be over the top, to be a little silly, and most of all, fun.
The tiki bar craze began in the 1930s and ’40s because of two men: Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic. Their Polynesian-themed bars in California whisked people away from their daily troubles, if only for a while, to bask in a tropical oasis of grass skirts and delicious drinks. The crab Rangoon dish that your grandmother probably made at dinner parties was invented by Trader Vic.
So put on your Hawaiian shirt (admit it, you have one in the back of your closet) and sip your way through a nocturnal island escape in five cocktails.
Pusser's Navy rum, coconut cream, pineapple juice, orange juice — Painkiller recipe
This cocktail was invented by bartender Daphne Henderson in the British Virgin Islands. She kept the recipe a secret, and it was only when Pusser's founder Charles Tobias reverse engineered the drink that the recipe became known to the world. Thank you Charles, for spreading the wealth (and rum).
Rum, coconut cream, heavy cream, pineapple juice — Pina Colada recipe
It's festive but not too crazy, boozy but not outrageously so. The Pina Colada has proven itself to be a tropical go-to cocktail since the '50s (or '60s, depending on whose story you want to believe). Once you have a Pina Colada at a great tiki bar, you'll never be able to go back to the pre-made mix you buy at the grocery store. Ever. So satisfyingly sweet and creamy, a winner every time.
This is the quintessential (and most controversial) tiki cocktail, the big daddy of sugary rum escapism. Two of the founding fathers of tiki, Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic, both claim to have invented the Mai Tai, though the recipes are quite different. There is a long and on-going debate about the true inventor of the Mai Tai (read about it here, if you're interested). If you're really curious, ask your local tiki bartender what he or she thinks.
Gin, cherry heering, orange liqueur, Benedictine, pineapple juice, lime juice, grenadine, Angostura bitters — Singapore Sling recipe
Somehow this gin-based cocktail has made its way into the rum-dominated canon of tiki drinks. The recipe is a little complicated, but when someone takes the time to make it right, the Singapore Sling is so delicious!
Light rum, gold rum, dark rum, 151-proof rum, apricot brandy, pineapple juice, papaya juice, grenadine — Zombie recipe
No controversy here, this cocktail was definitely invented by Don the Beachcomber and it will definitely kick your ass if you're not careful. This drink disguises its alcohol well — so well, in fact, that Don wouldn't let his customers order more than two a night. Variations of this drink abound, all deadly and most delicious.