Tiki Drinks and Culture Make for a Fun Weekend at San Diego’s Upcoming Tiki Oasis

The Mai Tai is one of the best drinks the Tiki culture has brought us. Photo by Edward Simon for The Los Angeles Beat.Rum has been a big part of several cultures for many years. Starting in the 1600’s, rum was a regular part of any sailor’s ration in both Navy and merchant vessels. By the 1900’s, songs had been written about rum, while pleasure sailors adopted rum as their favorite drink. In 1934, a man by the name of Donn Beach (changed legally to that from a much less colorful name) arrived in Hollywood, where he settled after extensively sailing through the South Pacific. Taking a love of Cantonese cuisine, Polynesian culture and rum, he created his restaurant, Don the Beachcomber. The Tiki Culture was born. Rum Runners, Mai Tais, Beachcomers and Bahama Mamas joined us at cocktail hour. Hurricanes and Scorpions invaded our shores, while Painkillers, Navy Grog and Blue Hawaiians made us feel much better. At the Tiki Oasis 2014 coming up in San Diego, attendees will have a chance to immerse themselves in all aspects of Tiki culture as well as to enjoy some delicious tiki drinks.

Martin Cate, from Smuggler's Cove SF.Martin Cate is a perfect example of the modern-day spirit of Donn Beach. Martin owns Smuggler’s Cove, a premier San Francisco bar specializing in rum and cocktails. Martin has created many original rum cocktails, is a member of the prestigious United States Bartenders Guild and is a certified IBA Spirits Professional. He has been a judge at many rum tasting competitions and has conducted many seminars at events throughout the United States and Europe.

On Saturday, August 16th, Martin will be leading a symposium at the Tiki Oasis 2014 event taking place in San Diego from August 14th to 17th. This event, which has grown steadily over the years to the premiere event in Tiki culture, will feature live music, writers, clothing contests, beauty shows, DJ’s, an art show, photography, a car show and many more shows and symposiums. Seminars on Tiki food and drinks will give everyone an insight into what helped to form some of the most popular foods and drink in the world. Of course, there will be several events featuring rum.

Martin will be giving attendees an insight into many of the world’s newest and best rums at his seminar, ‘Join the Rum Revolution!’. He will lead a tasting of several new rums and lead a discussion on how you can take a part in rum’s renaissance. In preparation for Tiki Oasis 2014, Martin talked with The Los Angeles Beat about rum and the tiki culture.

Why do you think the Tiki Bar culture adopted rum so strongly as it’s main drink?

Well, when the tiki bar was created by Donn Beach in 1934, there were two important factors. One was that he wanted to develop a tropical concept that beverage-wise was based around the Planter’s Punch, which he’d enjoyed in Jamaica. Two was that rum was a great choice to work with after Prohibition- it flooded into the US market and was extremely inexpensive- and of excellent quality. With the main market for rum dried up for years, their products aged and matured for very long periods.

Do you think the old tiki rum drinks are still as popular as ever?

Absolutely, and getting more popular by the day. The last 10 years have been able to show people that vintage exotic cocktails are complex and refreshing drinks that are far from the syrupy and artificial things they had devolved into by the 1970s.

With rums like Eurydice, do you think rum is turning into more of a sipping rather than a mixing spirit?

Outstanding new rum expressions are launching all the time, and are frequently being positioned as designed for sipping. Consumers are finding that not only is well made aged rum worthy to sit alongside great scotch and cognac, but that it also offers a much better price point.

Martin, do you have any good short stories about Trader Vics, Don the Beachcomber and others who got the tiki bars going?

Well, in honor of the 40th anniversary of Watergate, I will say this- Nixon loved the Navy Grog at Trader Vic’s in DC. During the Watergate hearings, they would keep open the bar at Vic’s with just one bartender after everyone had gone home, and Nixon would arrive through the back entrance at 3 in the morning, have a few Navy Grogs, and pour his heart out to the bartender. And that bartender, to his credit, has never told a soul in the last 40 years what Nixon said to him.

Pina colada at the Lahaina Grill on Maui. Photo by Edward Simon for The Los Angeles Beat.

Besides Martin’s seminar, various events at the Tiki Oasis will spotlight the rum drink’s place in Tiki culture. Thursday night, a Meet and Mingle will be held at the Bali Hai Restaurant on Shelter Island. The restaurant, built during the Golden Age of Tiki culture, features Polynesian décor, tiki drinks, South Pacific and Southeast Asian cuisine. The Bali Hai is perhaps the most perfect example of a place that typified the Tiki Culture’s style.

The Crowne Plaza Hotel, normally a non-smoking hotel, will be the site of several special events. Lost Spirit Rum, Denizen Rum and Zacapa Rum have each joined Muneca Cigars to host a special paired tasting of premium rum and hand-rolled cigars inside the hotel’s Hawaiian cabana. These limited seating events will give participants a chance to see what an excellent pairing with a sipping rum and a premium cigar can be.

Several symposiums will cover different aspects of tiki drinks. ‘The Bitter Side of Tiki’ will explore the uses of bitters and tinctures in various cocktails. The ‘Frozen Cocktail’ delves into the history of many of the most popular blended tropical drinks. A contemporary culture to the Tiki Culture, the Beat Culture is explored through “Literary Drink’, about the Beat authors and the cocktails they consumed.

As John Hiatt said in his song, ‘The Tiki Bar is Open’,

Thank God the tiki bar is open

Thank God the tiki torch still shines

Thank God the tiki bar is open

Come on in and open up your mind

The Tiki Oasis 2014 will be held at several San Diego venues from August 14th through 17th. Information and tickets can be obtained through their website. Addition updates and info can be found on the Tiki Oasis Facebook page. 

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Ed Simon

About Ed Simon

I'm a native of Los Angeles who loves food and food cultures. Whether I'm looking for the best ceviche in Colombia, the best poke in Hawaii, the best tequila in Jalisco or the best Taiwanese Beef Roll in Los Angeles, it's all good food! I also love a good drink. I've had Mai Tais in Hawaii, Bourbon in Kentucky, tequila in Mexico and rum in Jamaica. My wine escapades have taken me to Napa, Sonoma, the Willamette Valley and the Santa Ynez Valley. And I've had beer all over the world!
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