The Tiki Torch Shines On: The 21st Century Resurgence of Tiki Culture

You may have noticed an island influence creeping into your local cocktail bar in recent years. Tiki drinks have stealthily invaded cocktail menus across America. And some cities are lucky enough to host bars wholly dedicated to the niche drinking culture.

But what accounts for the resurgence of these bygone boozy concoctions? The origins of the first tiki trend helps explain its rebirth.

In 1934, with Prohibition over but the Great Depression still gripping America, former bootlegger Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt opened the Hollywood bar Don The Beachcomber. In addition to serving drinks, it served as a kind of museum for the treasures Gantt had collected traveling and working in Tahiti and greater Polynesia. He offered patrons tropical-style, multi-layered drinks that really packed a punch (get it?). It was a huge hit and tiki mania spread across the country, with tiki-themed bar franchise Don Vic’s boasting 25 U.S. locations at its peak.

So besides fruit-adorned libations and tiny paper umbrellas, what makes tiki so tempting?

Consider the state of the country and the world during the rise of tiki. With the Great Depression and the geopolitical tensions that would boil over for World War II, the news induced as much anxiety as it does today. They couldn’t escape the global rise of fascism or the lingering effect of the last throes of the Great Depression, but they could take themselves (and maybe a date) on a mini-vacation in a tiki-themed bar. Sipping Mai Tais surrounded by grass skirts and kitschy glassware helped customers forget the troubles of the world for a few hours, which perhaps is just what their grandchildren are aiming for in 2019 when they belly-up to bars like New York City’s Mother of Pearl and Chicago’s Three Dots and a Dash.

Many bartenders and expert mixologist, excited over the creative possibilities of tiki drinks, are helping fuel the tiki resurgence. “There’s still so much to be discovered within the tiki realm because during its prominence, the recipes were kept a secret” explains tiki aficionado Gary Wallach, Food & Beverage Director of A.L.B. (Arlo Lobby Bar) and Arlo Hotels. “Tiki drinks give bartenders an opportunity to be creative and put together entertaining cocktails. It’s an exciting time to have them on serious craft cocktail menus.”

Having a hard time finding a tiki drink in your town? Want to mix one (or four) next time you host a party? Try out the Times Square Swizzle. Wallach passed the recipe on to us and it’s sure to help you sip away your troubles.

Times Square Swizzle

From A.L.B. (Arlo Lobby Bar) in Arlo SoHo, New York City.
.75 oz. Parce 3 -Year Rum
.75 oz Jack Daniels Rye
.75 oz Hennessy Cognac
.75 oz Ancho Chile Tropic Cordial
.25 oz mint syrup
.75 oz lime juice
.25 oz pineapple juice
2 dashes angostura bitters
8 mint leaves

Add all ingredients to a small tin with some crushed ice. Shake until the ice has melted and dump into glass. Continue to add ice and create a cone on top. Garnish with a mint sprig, slice of dehydrated pineapple and powdered sugar.