The Tiki Revival is Here (Again)

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Beachbum Berry in his natural tiki habitat. (Photos courtesy Sam Hanna)

People have been asking Jeff “Beachbum” Berry if his new, over-the-top tiki bar, Latitude 29 in New Orleans, is trying to raise the dead.

Not quite. From the early 1950s through the mid-1980s, New Orleanians camped out at bamboo-clad Bali H’ai at the Beach, sipping on Scorpion Bowls that transported them to faraway tropical isles. “It was a Polynesian palace, where people went on prom night and first dates,” explains Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the rum expert behind the Total Tiki app and such books as Potions of the Caribbean. “People of a certain age wonder if we are doing the same thing.”

Latitude 29 certainly has the spirit of a full-tilt tiki bar. Along with his wife, Annene, the Los Angeles–bred New Orleans transplant Berry has channeled his longtime passion for vintage cocktails of this era into the new bar, located in the old-timey French Quarter hotel, Bienville House. It’s like Fantasy Island in the boozy heart of New Orleans.

Latitude 29 just opened its doors in the French Quarter.

The Drinks: Well aware that properly made 1940s classics à la Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber are now savored at bars the world over, Berry is showcasing both tried and true—“because you can’t not have a Mai Tai or Zombie on the menu” (see recipe for Nui Nui cocktail)—and contemporary tiki expressions. Try the Davy Jones Lager, a two-person beer cocktail with Antiguan rum, lime juice, curaçao and Angostura bitters, laced with a secret syrup blend. Virgin Islands rum is the star of the Hawaii 504, with Chinese five-spice, honey, lime and ginger.

The Food: “Historically, tiki cocktails were meant to be drunk with the meal, from appetizer through dessert,” says Berry. Keeping the tradition alive, chef Chris Shortall has dreamed up a “PolynAsian” menu of swine-centric dishes like ribs and a dumpling burger that have roots in authentic Cantonese cuisine. “Pork,” says Berry, “pairs especially well with rum.”

Berry has channeled his longtime passion for vintage cocktails into his new bar.

His First Brush With Tiki: Start ‘em young, they say. Berry’s parents took him to Ah Fong’s, a Polynesian-themed haunt in the San Fernando Valley, when he was eight years old; that first impression has stuck. “It was tricked out with a waterfall and jungle foliage, and I fell in love with this adult Disneyland,” says Berry. “It wasn’t kitsch. It was a valid aesthetic.” When he first started going to bars in the 1980s, a dark age for drinking, tiki restaurants were the only ones turning out culinary cocktails with fresh juices and house-made syrups and liqueurs. “It cemented my love,” Berry reflects. “As those drinks started to disappear, I realized I needed to do something to save them.”

On Falling For New Orleans: At the 2005 Tales of the Cocktail, Berry and his wife became so besotted with the Big Easy, they decided to move there. Then Hurricane Katrina ravaged, and those plans were delayed for years. “It is the most interesting and soulful city in the country. You have 200-year-old architecture and, with the Creole matrix, a real native cuisine,” he says. “Drinking culture is ingrained in New Orleans; people still drink cocktails that were invented here. You can’t walk a block without finding a bar with a patina of real history.”

A Few of His Favorite Local Joints: Napoleon House, French 75 for its “old-school service” and Cure for “kick-starting new-school cocktails in the city and helping people break out of Vieux Carrés.”

Berry’s fragrant, spiced Nui Nui cocktail.

Don the Beachcomber’s Nui Nui (circa-1937)

Contributed by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry

INGREDIENTS:

  • .5 oz Fresh lime juice
  • .5 oz Orange juice
  • .25 oz Cinnamon-infused sugar syrup*
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla-infused sugar syrup*
  • 1 teaspoon St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
  • 1.5 oz Gold Virgin Islands rum
  • .5 oz Dark Demerara rum
  • Dash Angostura Bitters
  • .5 cup Crushed ice

Garnish: Cinnamon stick and thin strip of orange peel
Glass: Highball

PREPARATION:
Put everything in a blender. Flash-blend at high speed for no more than five seconds.  Pour into a tall glass and add ice to fill.

*Cinnamon-Infused Sugar Syrup
INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 Cinnamon sticks
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 cup Water

PREPARATION:
Crush cinnamon sticks and place in a saucepan with the sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Lower heat, cover saucepan and simmer for two minutes.

Remove saucepan from heat and, keeping it covered, let sit at least two hours before straining and bottling. It should last about a month in the fridge.

*Vanilla-Infused Sugar Syrup

INGREDIENTS:
  • 2 Vanilla beans
  • 1.5 cups Sugar
  • 1 cup Water

PREPARATION:
Flatten two vanilla beans with the flat edge of a knife. Split beans in half lengthwise and scrape out the pulp. Place the split beans and the bean pulp in a saucepan with sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Lower heat, cover saucepan and simmer for two minutes.

Remove saucepan from heat and, keeping it covered, let sit at least two hours before straining and bottling. It should last about a month in the fridge.

Alia Akkam is a New York-based writer and managing editor of Hospitality Design.

Recipes: Nui Nui
Locations: New Orleans
Appears in 1 Collection

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