Tropical Drinks, Tiki Mugs, Bongo Music & Hawaiian Shirts
Such a firm believer in the Tropical Home Bar experience am I, that I feel an entire Mr. Booze article devoted to the pleasures of warm weather and rum drinks is called for. Spring is in the air, and that’s kick-off as far as I’m concerned. This celebration of the Island way of life can run from April through September, as long as the barbeque grill is still out and the mosquitoes buzz playfully ‘round the back of your neck. Weekends devoted to yard work and shuttling kids from one swim meet to another can be pleasantly fun-filled if punctuated by evenings out on the patio with something appropriate on the stereo, something smoky on the grill, and a coconut-pineapple spiced drink cooling your palm.
Let’s Start With Music (gotta’ set that mood)
As you may have gathered from perusing our music picks, I’m a fan of most tunes old. Music from the 40’s, 50’s & 60’s can permeate a cocktail hour or two with mood so appropriate one can almost consider it a member of the party. Exotica, Mambo, Lounge, Swing…these genres beguile the bash with a sense of time out of place. You’re no longer quaffing back a brewskie in 2010, worrying about how to pay for braces on your kid’s teeth, you’re transported to a Havana evening, circa 1954, making witty banter with a baroness in some tropical bar. This is the music to sip a drink by, close your eyes and get lost with. Look, I have no aversion to modern music, but when you’re sipping potent rum concoctions out of chilled totem-tiki mugs, a little something thick with age and instrumentation, something with bongos and melodic tempos, will take you deeper into that leafy jungle and closer to that tropical beach, albeit just in your head for the evening. Take a chance, and even if you’re just drinking alone or with a pal, get lost in the breezy combination of exotic libation and exotic music. Here are six solid picks, which will up the “exotic” level of your tiki party or barbecue:
Mambo With Tjader – Recorded back in the fall of 1954, this Mambo record debuted at the near pinnacle of the tiki wave. I became hypnotized by this album’s cover (just look at this cat, he’s definitely caught the fever), but went on to discover that Cal Tjader had caught lightening in a bottle. It’s like the artist combined the cool, NYC style jazz of the era and combined it with tight, rhythmic, Mambo cha-cha-cha-strong accents. Tjader’s bongo and vibes playing combined with the rest of his band’s established 1950’s jazz background will really send you. Sophisticated, fun, and very reminiscent of the Cuban sound invasion of the previous decade, if you kick off a tiki party with this one, buddy, you’re setting a strong vibe. Songs include This Can’t Be Love, Cherry, Miami Blues and Midnight Sun.
The Very Best Of Tito Puente “King of Kings” – After being turned on to traditional big band Cuban Mambo in the movie “The Mambo Kings”, I tried to go out and find some of this 1950’s vinyl and delve deeper into this gorgeous, Latin sound. A swing and a miss because I can’t find any of the old originals. Next best thing, in my book and especially when you’re learning, are these “best of” packages. This one was released back in 2002 and is quite affordable. You get 21 Mambo powerhouses on this record. An ultimate twilight album, this one is ripe for that golden hour between late afternoon and darkness when the grill is hot, the party lights are swaying in the breeze, your guests are on their 3rd daiquiri and you’ve just put the meat on. Big Band Mambo is a thick, heavy sound, which will permeate your gathering like a cool breeze. No familiar standards Latinized for your listening enjoyment, these are all original, bold, brassy, bongo and vibe-laden songs which will absolutely get your hips swaying or at the very least your palms tapping the top of the tiki bar. Songs include Dance of the Headhunters, Dance Mania, Mambo Gozon and Night Ritual. This is a collection from a legendary percussionist and band leader, all great songs.
Elvis Presley, Blue Hawaii – I’ve mentioned this over in our regular record reviews section, so I’ll be brief here. This is a must-have if you’re planning a tiki gathering. This is the quintessential Elvis’ Hawaii Album and pretty much a perfect combination when teamed with rum punches, pineapple and bamboo backyards. Even those with only a cursory knowledge of the King and his movie music will smile and quickly learn to appreciate his heartfelt attempt to capture on vinyl a bit of the Island’s warmth and hospitality. Is it Island authentic? I doubt it, but it’s grown to represent, and represent it does. It has the required bongo, steel string guitar, rhythmic sound of Hawaii, and if you just take a little time and a few sips of your Mai Tai, and remember that Hawaii was once a mysterious and exotic place most only visited with Elvis Presley’s help, this album will charm the cargo pants off ya. Songs include Blue Hawaii, Rock-A-Hula Baby and Hawaiian Sunset. If you can’t find one on Amazon, you can on ebay.
Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – I’m trying to stay away from records I’ve already blogged about, honest I am, but I’d be failing as a cyber bartender if I didn’t point this one out again, especially for a night of exotic drinking. This is just such a cool, tropical album that I promise you’ll thank me for if you take the plunge and buy it. It’s truly a musical representation of a cool breeze blowing through tall ferns and on to you as you sip your cocktail. So cosmopolitan, so sophisticated and slightly dangerous this record is, that it will and should be the musical highlight to your tiki party. Play it in the shank of the night when you’re through mixing complicated drinks and have settled down to coconut rum and pineapple pours. It’s a Bossa Nova jazz album torn from the pages of the mid 1960’s that will have your guests thinking, “Man, this is a great party”. Songs include Mais Que Nada, Going Out Of My Head, and Tim Dom Dom.
The Exciting Sounds of Martin Denny: Exotica Volumes 1 & 2 – Wow, do you get a lotta bang for your buck with this collection. For those of you out of “the know”, Martin Denny was a pianist and composer who fathered a 1950’s style of music known as Exotica. He literally created a style of orchestration which celebrated tiki culture which, believe me, was huge 60 years ago. Basically, Martin’s Exotica was supposed to be played when you were sipping rum drinks out of scorpion bowls with long straws and eating the, as then unheard of, egg roll and mu-gu-gai-pan. By playing Denny’ Exotica at your exotic drink get-together, you’re merely continuing a tried-and-true tradition just forgotten. Well, I believe it’s time we welcomed this tradition back to our candlelit patios. This music is less demanding than other records I’ve recommended here; this is background music designed to invoke thoughts of exotic and mysterious locales. Very imaginative, provocative and conducive to ice cold, layered drinks, adult banter and soft conversation. If you’re up for something cool and different, you can’t go wrong with Exotica…just open your mind a little (rum helps). Songs include Lotus Land, Jungle Flower, Singing Bamboos and Ah Me Furi.
Ultra-Lounge: Tiki Sampler – I’ve mentioned these Ultra-Lounge collections before, although not this one. I’m scared kids! These are now starting to get hard to find, so I urge you to scramble and gather as many of them as you can find before it’s too late. I’m not too sure how much of these forgotten gems will be available for download later, there’s just not that much of a demand. This is a great, fun album that’s light enough to play during your party. It’s a collection of exotic and tiki themed songs from the rest of the ultra-lounge albums. A real mish-mash of songs, this is a kinda perfect one to put on when things begin to go a bit zany. In no way coherent, your guests will be bounced around from one rummy song to another. Bottom line? Tons o’ fun. Songs include Munsters Theme, Boy From Ipanema (take that, Stan Getz), Come On-A My House, and Brazil. These are all songs by different, popular artists from back in the day, all of whom you should recognize. The TV themes are orchestrated versions. This is tough to find (should take you about an hour on the Internet) but well worth it.
These picks should get you started but remember to check our regular record review page, too (film noir star, Robert Mitchum, cut a Calypso album that will blow your mind & it’s reviewed there). I have more than a few more records there that should fit the bill for your exotic party. Just click on the music section at the top of the page.
Tiki Barware (The “ooohs” and “ahhhs”)
I’m not going to suggest that tiki mugs, a tiki totem and some Hawaiian leis would help with your tiki/exotic drink gathering…I’m going to insist. You need them in the same way you need a chilled martini glass for your chilled gin martini. Sure, you could drink it out of a Dixie-cup and, if slammed quickly, it would taste the same, but lost is the chilled and balanced sensation of cold glass, slick with icy condensation on your fingers. Tiki mugs and thin-glassed tulip-shaped glasses are more of an experience than they are a tool to hold your drink. People can’t help but smile as you hand them a hedonistic, devil-carved goblet, frothy with iced-coconut and rum, fruit cascading over the side. I love these mugs and collect them as others would stamps. You can find them at garage sales, on ebay, in curio shops, and new on the Internet. Just buy a few. Your guests will be so appreciative and even one, with flowers on the bar, makes a statement that you’re trying to pull off something special tonight. In the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, tiki-themed restaurants had their own mugs designed with their own logos and themes; these are the sought-after items today. You can spend a little money (just go to a party store and buy cheap ceramic or plastic ones) or a little more. My favorite site is www.tikifarm.com . I try and scoop at least one a year from this site. Somewhere near this section should be a pic of my collection. Finally, don’t forget the Scorpion Bowl. This is a giant bowl-shaped tiki mug, designed to hold a lot of booze and enough long straws to feed 6 of your guests for a minute or two. You know…. it’s the little details that add up to the full cocktail experience. Tiki touches are prime examples of why doing it at home can be so much more enriching than paying for it at a bar or restaurant. You’re setting the mood, you’re providing a great atmosphere, you care about your guests’ evening. How cool is that?
Hawaiian Shirts (Is he for real?)
I’ll be brief with this one. No matter how silly or goofy you feel they may be, a colorful, original wood-buttoned Hawaiian shirt demonstrates a commitment to your tiki party that no one can deny. You’re steering the ship tonight pal. You are setting the tone, spirit, and frivolity of the evening. Dammit…announce your presence with a lack of authority. Wear a freaking’ Hawaiian shirt! You’ve got chicken and steak on the grill, you’re mixing up wild, exotic drinks, you’ve lit the torches and splashed on the cologne, let your guests know that you mean business, even if it’s on the silly, laid-back side. I find my Hawaiian shirts at used clothing stores. I always look for Hawaiian tags and wooden buttons — the older, the better. I also see many new, cool ones but make sure that they’re all cotton, poly/cotton blends will kill you by the grill. Here’s a link to the real McCoys, expensive but worth it. Here’s one for the fun and affordable.
But, like I’ve mentioned with many things on this page, at one time these were extremely popular and in fashion. With a minimum of effort, you should be able to find cool ones in used clothing shops, on ebay, or in your dad’s closet.
Ladies, not to forget you; there are plenty of tropical themed, garish equivalents for you to wear, too. I’m at a loss, most of the time, when it comes to the fairer sex, but, by all means, perform your hosting duties in Hawaiian style with an appropriate dress or outfit.
Tiki Bars, Totems, Orchids, Torches and Decorations
Up for the next step? As easy as switching out a few light bulbs for blue and red ones, and lighting a few tiki torches in the backyard, to as detailed as building or buying a bamboo covered tiki bar and stringing up dozens of colored party lights, setting the tone for an outdoor or inside tiki party should be a ton of fun. I was fortunate enough to find a tiki bar that a new homeowner pulled from the house’s old basement to throw away. All I did was repaint it, add some exotic touches, and throw a porta-fridge underneath it. Alternately, you can open a long folding table, cover it with a Polynesian styled table cloth, set a couple of lanterns on it, throw an ice bucket and blender behind it, and be good to go. Cut some bamboo from a neighbor’s yard with their permission, and sink the stalks in milk jugs filled with sand. Place these bamboo accents all around the party area. Get a bunch of pirate-themed paper cutouts and hang them around, add some Xmas light strings and an oscillating fan, and “badaboom”, instant tiki party setting. Hell, Target and K-Mart sell thatched tiki bars in the spring and summer, if you put it away during the cold months and clean it after each use, they can last for years. If you can find a beat up old basement or freestanding bar at an estate or garage sale, you can cover it with bamboo window blinds or treatments and thatch found at most craft stores. You just want your guests to feel as if they’ve stepped into some place a little special for the evening. It doesn’t take much to pull it off. Here’s a link to a tiki bar wholesaler if you want some ideas or wish to buy.
I have a buddy in the Army who never fails to schlep back a hand-carved tiki totem for me when he travels to Hawaii on business. What a pal, and he’s always the first served at the tiki bar he helped to decorate. These little one-foot carvings, sporadically spaced around your patio, on tables or on the bar, really make a statement and remind folks that, at least for tonight, they’re drinking some place far away. Here’s a link to some cool ones. I’ve also seen cheap knock-offs at Target and at party stores. Why not? I say. Check out Tropical Tikis to get started.
Fresh cut, colorful spring and summer flowers placed in a tiki mug or vase scream Hawaii. This is a pretty affordable way to make a statement. Finally, you can’t swing a dead cat at a Home Depot after April without toppling over a tiki-torch display. I love ‘em and frame my back patio with them when entertaining. As always, if kiddies are present, keep fire out of reach or just don’t use them (and NEVER leave unattended with or without kids around). Believe me, they get to it no matter how hard you watch them. Hanging party lights can be just as effective without the risk.
Finally, the Drinks (about damned time)
Besides the sizzling meat, the cooler nighttime breezes and the company, it’s the booze that brings neighbors and friends. You’ll need lots of rum and over at our facebook page, I’ve been advising readers to stockpile a different type or bottle for the past few months. Unlike a manhattan, martini or gimlet, which call for one liquor, tiki drinks can ask for as many as six or seven. While you can cut corners and just pour one or two, I promise that you won’t get the full potent experience you’d have with making the drink the proper way. If you’re having more than 6 over for a party, I recommend batching your drinks ahead of time. If it’s just a few friends gathered ‘round a torch-lit bar, build the more complicated ones, have fun and experiment. This is a great way to spend a hot Saturday night.
This is my “go to” tropical drink. I love it, and you can batch up a gallon or two pre-party. Keep ‘em cold in the fridge and just add ice as you pour into a tiki mug. This calls for “orgeat syrup” — sweet, non-alcoholic white syrup with a strong almond flavor. I see it now in liquor stores where they keep the bitters and mixers. The Fee Brothers make great Orgeat Syrup.
Here we go – (multiply by a large number if batching)
- 2 oz Dark Rum
- 1 oz Apricot Brandy
- 1 oz Curacao
- 1 oz Light Rum
- 3 oz Limejuice
- 3 oz pineapple juice
- 1 oz Orgeat Syrup (or tsp of Almond Extract if you can’t find the Orgeat)
- Serve over ice in a tall frosted glass or tiki mug, garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.
I know you all have seen this one here before, and I apologize for cracking it out again, but it’s just such a great drink, the very essence of tiki, that I’m gonna dust her off once more and post it here. Keep your ducks in a row, I always say. We’re sliding to our more complicated builds, and this drink’s a fine way to kick the multiple rum drinks off. Not a drink to be served when you’re having a bash, the Zombie’s perfect for small gatherings. Like I’ve said earlier, teach a pal at the bar, and have them take over when it’s time for a second round. Delicious, potent, tropical, mysterious, strong & spicy, the Zombie’s an almost perfect tiki drink.
Here we go:
- – ¾ oz 90 proof Rum
- 1 ½ oz Gold Rum
- ¾ oz Light or White Rum
- ¾ oz pineapple juice
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tsp powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon 151 proof Rum
Combine all the ingredients except the 151 proof rum and sugar into a shaker with plenty of cracked ice. Shake the concoction till ice-cold. Pour the shaker’s liquid and ice into a hi-ball glass or cool tiki mug, garnish with a pineapple spear and a cherry and a straw for sipping. Float (I’ll explain below) the tablespoon of 151 rum on the top of the drink then finally dust with the powdered sugar.
To float a liquor on the top of a drink, slowly and softly pour the spirit over the round, backside of a tablespoon held very closely over the drink. The liquor should suspend and float on the drink’s top.
Very easy to make and delightful on a warm evening, this one does have the tendency to back-up on you, so why not make it a component to a night of exotic drinks. Serve banana daiquiris when you know you’ll be mixing more than one type of cocktail. You’ll need a blender so, if you’re outside, have it and the extension cord all set up at the start of your party. Banana bunches sitting on the bar will make for great tropical decorations until later when butchered up to use in the drink. I pour my banana daiquiris into traditional cocktail glasses with a maraschino cherry or banana slice garnish. You can often find tropical-themed cocktail glasses with little bamboo stalks or palm trees etched on them. Look for ‘em at 2nd hand shops.
Here we go – (double or triple up in the blender)
2 oz Light or White Rum
½ oz Banana liquor
½ oz lime juice
½ small banana, cut into pieces
½ cup crushed ice
Blend everything till silky smooth and icy in your blender. Pour and garnish.
The coffee and chocolate flavors combining with the pineapple juice really impart exactly what many search for in a tropical cocktail; far from the average, exotic and fun. This is one for poolside, positively. Not as sweet as you might think with the addition of unsweetened juice. (This recipe is a modification of a drink in the Top of Toronto restaurant circa 1970. I discovered it in Beachbum Berry’s book Intoxica.)
Here we go –
- 4 oz unsweetened Pineapple juice
- ¼ oz Kahlua
- ¼ oz Crème De Cacao
- 2 oz Gold Rum
Shake well with ice cubes, and then strain into tall glass or tiki mug that you’ve filled with crushed ice.
Planters Punch (1940’s recipe)
I found this recipe on the excellent Hawaiian Drinks blog, tikidrinks.blogspot.com. I like this version more than the one we have up on site (hopefully, this one will be joining the original). When you entertain or just go out to your driveway or balcony to have a cocktail, moonlight and madness have a way of finding you, and you’re soon and suddenly surrounded by people wanting to join you. This is just how it works. You can make a pitcher of Planters Punch and keep it in the fridge. I enjoy this drink over ice in a tiki mug or over ice in a tall, pretty glass. Delicious and deadly.
Here we go – (batch accordingly)
- 2 oz Dark Rum
- ½ oz lime juice
- 2 oz pineapple juice
- 2 oz orange juice
- 1/ oz Roses Grenadine juice
- Club Soda to fill if desired and it does provide a nice effervescence.
Mix everything together and pour over ice in a tall glass or tiki mug. Garnish with an orange slice & cherry tooth-picked together, add straw.
Doesn’t get more “colorful” than this one. If you’re going for that almost off-worldly, kitschy, hotel-bar vibe, then the Blue Hawaiian’s your drink. Far too blue for a traditional tiki mug, this one’s best served in a tulip style cocktail glass or anything see-thru. You’ll want to show this one off as you’re sipping; kind of like parking a new car in the drive.
Here we go –
- 1 oz Light Rum
- 1 oz Blue Curacao liqueur
- 2 oz Pineapple juice
- 1 oz Crème’ of Coconut
Blend above ingredients in blender with around a cup of cracked ice. Pour into glass and garnish with a pineapple chunk & cherry tooth-picked together. Perfect time to put on that Elvis album I spoke of earlier.
Found this one in the excellent book “Tiki Drinks” by Adam Rocke. I love the lemony taste of 7-Up much more than any other citrus soda, just something old-school about it. Probably the easiest cocktail here to mix, the Green Chartreuse can be kind of tough to find and a little expensive. However, many cocktails call for it so this drink could be the one to make you go out and get a bottle. This is a very refreshing, fun to give and receive tropical drink.
Here we go –
- 1 ½ oz Vodka
- 1 ½ oz light or white Rum
- 1 oz Blue Curacao
- 1 tbsp of Green Chartreuse
Fill tall glass or tall tiki mug up with ice and add all ingredients except 7-Up. Stir, then fill with 7-Up. Remember the straw.
I’m going to take a sec and give special credit to writer and Tropical Drink Guru, Beachbum Berry, from whose wonderful collection of researched and rediscovered tropical drink books, I picked up the following two recipes. His books can as easily be read for their informative history of the Tiki phenomena or for just the thrill of uncovering lost drink recipes. I have most of his books, and believe me when I say they’re juice-stained and rum-soaked from almost constant use from May through September.
I love punches. I find them very refreshing, relaxing and exactly what the doctor ordered during barbecue evenings. The sour blast in this one sets the tongue up perfectly for the grilled meats to come. Apricot brandy, which is just such an old fashioned flavor, works very well in this one. Like most drinks I adore, there’s something remembered in this drink; she’s an old one and you can taste it.
(Created by Don the Beachcomber around 1932, Beachbum Berry supplies this recipe in his book Grog Log)
Here we go –
- ½ oz Lime juice
- ½ oz Grapefruit juice
- ½ oz Apricot Brandy
- ½ oz Simple Syrup
- 1/8 tsp of Pernod (I substitute Absinth)
- 1 ½ oz Demerara Rum
- Dash Angostura Bitters
Blend with 6 oz crushed ice for 5 seconds. Pour into a pilsner glass & add more ice to fill. Garnish with a mint sprig.
Also be sure and check our recipe list here on the site for drinks like the Singapore Sling, Pina Colada, Ordinary Seaman, the Buccaneer, Horny Monkey, and Suffering Bastard and more. Any one of them would be perfect for your tiki party or barbecue.
That’s About It (“Whew, ‘cause I need a drink!”)
So, there you have it, the Mr. Booze take on preparing your home bar or patio for some fun, warm weather entertaining. I will add that the actual history of Tiki in America, with pioneers like Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic, tiki thatched bars welcoming home soldiers and those with a taste for the exotic, the music, food and the mad scientists behind forgotten bars is beyond fascinating. Great books have been written about the tiki phenomena. I highly recommend The Book of Tiki by Sven A. Kirsten and Tiki Quest, Collecting The Exotic Past by Duke Carter.
Take advantage of these coming warm days by hosting at least one tropical drink get-together in your home or back patio. I can’t tell you how much fun you’ll have if you just commit, give yourself a week or two to assemble the food, decorations, music mixers and booze, and call a few friends over. As simple as Satay Chicken on the grill and a pitcher of Planters Punch on the back porch to as tropically complicated as a bamboo-thatched bar, some Robert Mitchum Calypso music on the stereo, a dozen torches and 5 different cocktails, a night spent with friends and tropical drinks is a night well spent. Quality not quantity, in the end, and you can do it in the comfort of your own home, the Mr. Booze way.
Here are a few more Tiki inspired links to provide ideas, inspire, or just get you in the mood.