The Pagan Went Down to Georgia

I don’t travel a lot for my “day job” however when I do I, obviously, like to try to find a nearby Tiki Bar to experience while I’m in town. This week’s work trip took me to Atlanta. I had the opportunity to briefly visit S.O.S. Tiki in Decatur a month earlier, but this latest visit was a full Tiki Extravaganza.

I’m not sure how long it has been going on, however, lately, there have been a number of “tiki takeovers”. This is when bartenders from one tiki bar travel to and mix at another tiki bar (and then, usually, they do the reverse swap – kind of like a home and home in sports). For this takeover, two bartenders from Pagan Idol in San Francisco came down to S.O.S. Tiki in the Atlanta area.

S.O.S. is located in small downtown Decatur and the entrance is down a side ally. Upon entering there is a small flight of stairs that leads you down into the main bar. The bar is small, slightly bigger than Suffering Bastard in Orlando. As it should be, it is dark and offers some “mystery”. The wall behind the bar features a nice assortment of rums as well as a fun collection of tiki mugs (including some of the Star Wars Geeki Tiki mugs… which I know are controversial but I love them so that earns points in my book).

On my previous visit Ieuan, the manager, was my fantastic bartender.  He was behind the bar to welcome me again however Nick, from Pagan Idol, would be my amazing host for the evening. Nick was fantastic from the start, walking me through the three special drinks they were featuring for the takeover. He explained that Plantation Rum was sponsoring the event and each drink featured a Maison Ferrand product (owner of Plantation Rums).

I decided to start with the Escape from Cognac (showcasing Ferrand Cognac). It was crisp and nice, a great element of orange and it was creamy but not (hard to explain).  It was different from the direction that I usually go with Tiki but very enjoyable. That’s a great thing about tiki and, specifically, these types of gatherings… you have the opportunity to try different things you might not normally choose.

While enjoying my beverage, and before things got to busy, I was able to chat with Ieuan and Nick some. Ieuan opened S.O.S. Tiki 4 years but then stepped away for a bit.  The call of tiki wouldn’t let up and he’s been back behind the bar and managing it for around 2 years.

Nick, as my bartender for the evening, received my favorite question… what’s the one rum you’d be stuck on an island with for the rest of your life. He went with a Agricole overproof because he figured he could sip it, make a Ti Punch, mix it, a little of everything.

I moved on to try the Toucan Dance, which featured Plantation 3 Star rum. This one is straight from the Pagan Idol menu. It was a little heavier, think Pearl Diver, but had an amazing balance of coconut (not overly powerful), orange and house-made Fassionola. The Pagan Idol team did a wonderful job with their exclusive, while supplies lasted, menu.

Michael from Plantation Rums brought some of the newest Plantation Single Cask offering.  I had the opportunity to sample a few as well as chat with Michael about my love for different rums and how much I enjoy the Plantation rum products. He was very generous with his time and sharing his insight about rum and the endless options it offers. His passion for rum and Plantation was clear… I think that’s one of my favorite things about tiki/rum is talking with people who are passionate about what they do and Michael was no exception.

From a tasting perspective, I was able to enjoy the Barbados XO and the Trinidad 1997. I have to say that the Trinidad is unlike any rum I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. It is smoky and nutty, you can taste the Peat Whiskey from the cask then there is a bit of tobacco and vanilla on the end that lingers. Hopefully I will be able to find a bottle of my own, though, I know that sometimes can pose a challenge… especially in Central Florida where pickings can be slim. (Michael, if you end of reading this, tell me where to look!)

(Can I take a quick minute to say that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with a number of members of the Plantation Rum team over the past few months and all of them have been wonder individuals. They are always willing to discuss their craft as well as their products, and they are genuinely interested in hearing about other people’s love for rum.)

After some tastings I then asked Nick if he could put together a Pagan Idol Mai Tai for me… he was extremely generous with his craft and I hope he realized how appreciative I was. While he was upfront that S.O.S. didn’t have all the rums that Pagan uses for their Mai Tai Rum Blend, it was a very enjoyable combination. He used some Smith & Cross and Rum-Bar Dark as well as some of the Plantation Single Cask Peru 2010 that was available. He, of course, added Pagan’s homemade Orgeat as well. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward, hopefully, to having a true Pagan Idol Mai Tai in San Fran in the future.

Finally, throughout the evening I had a chance to chat with some S.O.S. regulars who were on hand. Bruce was a great guy and we chatted about our own Mai Tai blends. I also had the chance to talk with Jeff about rums as he is a rum rep for several brands including Clement, Rhum J.M, Chairman’s Reserve and Admiral Rodney. He enjoyed hearing the story of “Trader Jay’s” and he, along with his lovely new wife, agreed to be my next two subscribers.

It was another enjoying Tiki Evening! The takeover was an amazing surprise and everyone I encountered from the S.O.S crew to the visiting Pagan bartenders to the Plantation gang to the friendly regulars were wonderful to talk with. It was a great, inclusive atmosphere where everyone was welcome. I very much look forward to another visit to S.O.S. in the future as well as, hopefully, crossing paths with all the individuals I had the pleasure of interreacting with. Cheers & Mahalo!

The Oldest Trader Vic’s – London

This year’s Anniversary trip was a big one… to celebrate 10 years we traveled over the “pond” to London for a week.

We did a TON of things and had an AMAZING time… but this blog’s focus is on Tiki and we had two great evenings that warrant tiki blog documentation.  The first was a visit to the oldest Trader Vic’s currently operating.  The London version of the Home of the Original Mai Tai opened its doors in 1963 and have been a part of Tiki History ever since.

Being in a large hotel (London Hilton-Park Lane) makes it easier to find than many newer tiki bars, that usually favor city outskirts or back alleyway entrances.  However, in true “tiki fashion”, you enter and immediately head down a winding staircase to escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city hotel. The decor is fantastic!  Wood, bamboo, lamps, canoes, all the things that you would expect to see in a historic tiki bar.

As a side note, this was my first visit to a Trader Vic’s establishment… yes, I had to go all the way to England to pay tribute to Vic.

As normal, we wanted to sit at the bar however that became a little bit of a challenge.  On one side of the bar there are 4 barstools in a space that really should only fit 3. While the other side of the bar has a lot more space, we were told it was reserved for a special event.  We chose to squeeze on to 2 of the 4 stools and while we were a bit crammed at first, it all worked out.

I, of course, had to start with a Vic’s Original 1944 Mai Tai. I’ve waited a long time to have one… however I might have to wait a bit longer.  While the drink was fine, it was not crafted how Vic would have wanted.  The biggest issue is that they used Mount Gay Rum… I have nothing against Mount Gay, but Vic used a Jamaican Rum.  I’m a realist, I know that 17 year J. Wray & Nephew is long gone, however I believe that an “Original 1944 Mai Tai” should still feature an aged Jamaican rum.

I didn’t let this disappointment sour our evening but I was a bit taken back.  Speaking of sour, Mrs. Trader really enjoyed her London Sour… created for the opening of Trader Vic’s London.

We indulged in some bar bites, including the Beef Cho-Cho which are soy-sake glazed beef skewers that you finish yourself over a flame.  They were both fun and delicious.

We also had the opportunity to experience a number of different drinks including the Suffering Bastard, Navy Grog, Trader Vic’s Sling and some anniversary extras (including some drink tastings and a delicious cake).

In the tiki world I feel like it is important to be kind but also be honest among friends… I wasn’t blown away by the drinks from the menu, however our bartender, Aleks, was given free reign to mix us each up something based on our pallets and both drinks he was SPOT ON!  Aleks was a great bartender… he was funny, engaging, wanted to know about us.  It was wonderful to be able to sit at the bar and discuss rum, tiki drinks and Trader Vic with him.  He was excited to learn about my home tiki bar and our tiki travels.

Also, we had the opportunity to talk with the Assistant GM, Guy, who too was wonderful to talk with.  Both gentlemen were very welcoming… both welcoming us to Trader Vic’s as well as to London (as it was our first night).  Guy even allowed us a parting gift of a menu to bring back to Trader Jay’s.

Overall, I would never steer anyone away from Trader Vic’s London.  We had an AMAZING evening!  The decorations are wonderful!  They are quintkicensial tiki from one of the ORIGINALS, there is a bit of everything and I want to take it all back to Trader Jay’s.  The team is warm and welcoming and offers an amazing escape from the very Non-Tiki London.  The drinks from the menu were fine but chat with your bartender and let them get creative and you should be pleased!

(Special Note to Guy if he is reading… I’m still disappointed that the camera wasn’t charged for the wall of tiki!)

Chicago Tiki Tour Stop 1 (and 3): Three Dots and a Dash

Every year my wife and I try to get away to celebrate our Anniversary.  We try our best to experience something new or different.  Last year we had a wonderful visit to NOLA (including Latitude 29 – Read my blog post here)… this year we decided to head up to Chicago.

While this trip is for both of us, I try not to let my desire to “visit every Tiki Bar Ever” take over the trip.  This trip we decided that on our first evening we would stop by Three Dots and a Dash for a Happy Hour drink to start our evening.

The entrance to Three Dots is a simple door in a back alleyway.  There is minimal signage, just a tiki torch and a doorman checking IDs. There were queue stanchions available for when things get really busy. I will definitely admit that while the crowd wasn’t to “stanchion level” it was packed inside!

After entering you decent down a staircase below the watchful eyes of the skull wall (pictured below) and then enter yet another door… this door is what takes you from the busy world of the big city into a tropical hideaway.


Upon reaching the hostess stand we found out that to get a table for 2 was almost an hour wait and the bar was packed, elbow to elbow.  Our goal was to sit at the bar and with some watchful eyes, a sexy wife and a bit of luck we were able to grab two seats at the very end of the bar right after ordering our first two drinks.

Cory was our bartender and his knowledge of “tiki” extended well beyond the amazing drinks he made up.  I started with an Aloha Felicia and my wife went with the Saturn.


Along with the delicious rums (Venezuela and Jamaican), the star of the Aloha Felicia was the coconut (of which I’m always a fan of). The Thai Basil also added the right hint of exotic flavor.


My wife has recently become a big gin fan and the Saturn didn’t let her down.  The flavors all complimented themselves and, for her, was a great option among the multiple rum drinks.


As Cory started to have a minute to come up for air we were able to talk “tiki” with him.  He was great about sharing his thoughts about the world of tiki and his travels. We asked him about Lost Lake and he said that it was worth the 20-30 minute Uber ride to experience. It was not originally on our list (well… it was kinda on mine) but we decided, based on Cory’s recommendation, to add it to our trip.

And just like that it was time for round 2… a Cheap Lei for myself and the eponymous Three Dots and a Dash for Mrs. Trader.


Can I pause here and point out that in order to be a top notch tiki bar, your drink presentation skills need to be above and beyond!  Each drink at Three Dots is carefully crafted and mixed but then it is (almost) painstakingly decorated. Mrs. Trader told me that my presentation game needs to step up a notch or seven.

The Cheap Lei was extremely different… it had this smokey banana taste… almost like if you made bananas foster over wood chips. I will admit that I’m not usually a huge fan of smokey but this was carefully “mixologized”.  It was the right amount of smoke to make you say “hey, this is different and interesting and I LIKE it!”

The Three Dots, of course, did not let us down. It was flavorful, fruity, complex… all the things that Don (the creator back in the 1940s) would have wanted it to be.  And they must go through them like crazy since they are pre-batched and “on tap” (which definitely helps when they are rockin’).


The time was coming where we had to decide which tiki mug treasure was coming back to Trader Jay’s with us.  Cory was straight up that most mugs were not for sale due to inventory (including the Three Dots Urchin), but Mrs. Trader really wanted the Urchin to find a home in Florida with us. After asking nicely, Cory was able to pull a string or two and packed one up for us (with, again, wonderful presentation).


It was time to pay the tab but we enjoyed ourselves so much that we were already thinking we would be back to explore even more of the menu. Cory recommended coming back Sunday evening so we planned on that.

Jump Here to Read about Our Adventure to Lost Lake (Coming Soon)

Or continue reading below for our second visit to Three Dots…

After catching a matinee of the amazing musical Hamilton we swung back into Three Dots just two days later. Cory told us he’d be on bar however he was MIA… instead we were greeted at the bar by Ivana.  Sunday afternoons are a little slower, offering some great tiki mixology talk. Ivana was a delight to talk with and we had an extra treat… Kevin Beary was also behind the bar. (If you don’t know who Kevin Beary is then do a little Google search because he is the Award Winning Beverage Director of Three Dots!) I will be honest, it took me a few minutes to realize exactly what a treat we were in for but I’m glad I did.  Kevin was very generous in talking about his favorite rums, his tiki and bartending travels and even a sharing a few recipes. 

Besides the great conversation we also experienced four more amazing drinks.  I started with the Chief Lapu Lapu… which I really wanted because the passion fruit foam really intrigued me.  The drink and the foam did not disappoint!




Mrs. Trader went head first in with a Jet Pilot… strong, expertly mixed, maybe the perfect Jet Pilot!

Can I also pause here and point out that Three Dots’ tiki mug game is TOP OF THE CLASS!  Look at these amazing mugs, they a all wonderful, unique, detailed… I really wish I could have brought home at least 3 more! (Side note to the Three Dots Team: If you ever have leftover inventory you need to send away, I’ll happily find a good home for any orphan tiki mugs!)

We decided that we would finish off one more round before we said goodbye to Three Dots.  I went with the Pandan Pain Killer and Mrs. Trader went with the Violet Revolver… I don’t think I need to go into detail about how these were also amazing!


  

I cannot say enough good things about Three Dots and a Dash! I want to open one here in Orlando! I’d either apply for a job or be their best patron.

I don’t think I could sit down and pick a favorite tiki bar… each have something special and unique but I will say Three Dots is the first tiki bar I’ve visited two times in three days and that is worth something. If you are in Chicago make it your goal to go visit! The experience is wonderful and the drinks are beyond amazing. Thank you to Kevin and his team for hosting us and talking tiki! (And, Kevin, thank you for the suggestion on the Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Rum… if only I could find a bottle!!!)

We will be back!!! MAHALO! 

Becoming a Pretend Rum Connoisseur

My Rum and Tiki journey has reached a year and what a ride! I’ve learned to much but still have a long way to go! As I sit on the Beach down in Key Biscayne (island off Miami) I sip a frozen mojito (highly recommended) and reflect on my learnings so far.

I figure the gateway to the Caribbean is as good a place as ever to summarize my lessons thus far.

So, in no particular order…

  • If the drink menu says “Mai Tai = spiced rum and fruit juices” then that is a hard pass! I can accept a slight variation from Trader Vic’s Original Recipe but it better have fresh juice and aged, quality rum.
  • There is no substitute for fresh squeezed lime juice (or my special Frozen squeezed juice).
  • Finding a quality rum at the basic bar is near impossible. Main stream bars haven’t caught on… most just carry Bacardi, Captain Morgan and then they think they are fancy if they have Meyers.
  • I’ve tried a decent number of rums over the past year but still think Appleton Estate Reserve is my favorite multi-use mixing rum. It is the go to for my Mai Tai and many other drinks.
  • For sipping, still keeping Plantation 20th anniversary on the top of the shelf (though I won’t lie that Zacapa is working its way up).
  • If you are lucky enough to find a bartender who knows rums then talk as much as you can to them! They will share what they like and will enjoy the conversation enough, usually, to let you sample.
  • Overproof rum doesn’t have to taste like rubbing alcohol… get some Plantation OFTD! It is a powerful ally (in the right quantities).
  • There is never enough self space in an at home-Tiki-Bar-in-progress.
  • Always buy the Tiki mug that comes with the drink, you’ll regret it if you don’t.
  • Take your time and measure your drinks… you wouldn’t make a soufflé by just eyeballing it, don’t compromise on a perfectly crafted cocktail.
  • Your tiki bar will never be finished… both decorating and stocking with rum/liquor/mixers.
  • The Tiki Community takes care of their own! Thank you to Trader Vic’sFlorida Mermaid Rum, the staff at the Marriott Denver South and Diplomatico Rum for their support.

So there ya go, some of the lessons in Trader Jay’s first year! Here’s to many more Tiki-rific years to come!

Behind the Bar: Mai Tai Roa Ae!

In my first post about mixing my own exotic cocktails I figure there is no better place to start than with the most famous tiki drink ever… The Mai Tai!

There are verying stories about the creation of the Mai Tai but the most widely accepted one is from the Original Trader, Trader Vic…

“I was at the service bar in my Oakland restaurant. I took down a bottle of 17-year old Jamacian J. Wray Nephew rum, added fresh lime, some Orange Curaçao from Holland, a dash of Rock Candy syrup and a dollop of French Orgeat, for its subtle flavor. A generous amount of shaved ice and a vigorous shaking by hand produced the marriage I was after. Half a lime shell went in for color, I stuck in a branch of fresh mint and gave two of them to Ham and Carrie Guild, friends from Taihiti, who were there that night. Carrie took a sip and said, ‘Mai Tai – Roa Ae’. In Tahitian this means ‘Out of this World – The Best’. Well that was that. I named the drink ‘Mai Tai’.”

Unfortunately the popularity of the Mai Tai created a run on the 17-year Wray and it is no longer in existence. Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove believes that to create a taste similar to Vic’s original you should use a “blended, aged” rum (meaning of blend of the pot and column distilling methods and aged between 4 and 14 years). I experimented with a few different rums but found my favorite to be Appleton Estate Reserve Blend from Jamacia.

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Tiki Drummer guarding the Appleton Estate Reserve Rum closely!

Prior to this journey I’m not sure I would have said this but Fresh Fruit Juice makes a HUGE difference! So I now only use fresh squeezed lime in my Mai Tai. I also make my own Simple Syrup to keep as many ingredients homemade as possible. (I have not tackled my own Orgeat yet, but maybe in the future.)

My Homemade Mai Tai simple syrup (demerara suger, water and a dash of vanilla extract) and Fresh Lime.

Below is my adaption of Vic’s Original Mai Tai using guidance from Smuggler’s Cove… Give it a go and let me know what you think or put your own adaptation in the comments.

  • 3/4 oz FRESH lime juice
  • 1/4 oz Mai Tai simple syrup
  • 1/4 oz orgeat
  • 1/2 oz Orange Curaçao
  • 2 oz Appleton Estate Reserve Rum

Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice, pour over crushed ice and garnish with mint and/or lime.

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Finished product in the HippopotoMai-Tai tiki mug from Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

Looks like Mai Tai Roe Ae to me! (Tastes like it too!)

Mahalo, Trader Vic