They say that if you live long enough, history will repeat itself. Unfortunately, this is true and probably means that many of us will eventually have to save S&H Green Stamps, eat beef Wellington, and use DOS again. (Sigh.) In the meantime, there are much more fun ways to relive history.
Having once been a regular in the Captain's Cabin at the now-defunct Trader Vic's in San Francisco, for example, I've recently rediscovered the restaurant's groovy L.A. sibling in Merv Griffin's The Beverly Hilton Hotel. Last time anybody bothered to count, the bar there boasted 75 tropical cocktails, including, of course, Trader Vic Bergeron's timeless invention, the mai tai.
In fact, as a spotter of the latest socio-mixological trends, I couldn't help noticing that the tiki gods are back with a vengeance. Tiki bars are springing up like bamboo shoots during monsoon season. My sources in the vintage garment trade tell me that Hawaiian shirts are disappearing from thrift shops faster than coconut bras at a Polynesian yard sale. Rattan recliners and kerosene torches are turning backyards from Wilmington to Walla Walla into sets from Gilligan's Island.
Rum is the most appropriate spirit for tiki drinks; its flavor mixes beautifully with tropical fruit. Here are three very different rums, matched with a trio of my signature cocktails.
MARTÍ MOJITO ($16)
New York spirits importer Joe Magliocco got interested in rum a few years ago and decided to re-create a Cuban-style rum from the pre-Castro era. In the Dominican Republic, he managed to track down distiller Ernesto Ugona, who made rums in Cuba in the '50s and '60s. Ernesto guided the production of this new brand, named for José Martí, a hero of Cuba's battle for freedom from Spanish rule. (During one of his periods of exile, Martí lived in New York for 15 years, but returned to Cuba and was killed in the battle of Dos Rios, in 1895.)