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It's Tiki Time

August 2017

Smoke rises mysteriously from a treasure chest, spiced air wafts from hidden corners, and gold glitters over everything. These are the sights and smells that greet you when you walk into José's cocktail lab, barmini. This summer, barmini transformed itself into a tiki bar, celebrating the movement started in the 1930s by California bartenders "Don the Beachcomber" in Los Angeles and "Trader" Vic Bergeron in Oakland. The original tiki bars were fantastical beachscapes inspired by Polynesia, featuring spiced rum drinks and island decor. barmini has added its own flair to the movement.

Bartender Al Thompson, who put the menu together along with Cocktail Innovator Miguel Lancha and Head Bartender JP Park, absolutely loves tiki. He thinks that the tiki movement is the "peak of creativity," and while he respects the traditions of the original Polynesian-inspired tiki bars, he thinks that tiki is completely free from constraints. "At the beginning it was a fantasy of the bartenders who created it, so nothing is off-limits." The barmini team does reference a few classic tiki cocktails, like the rum-soaked Zombie and dry, fruity Mai Tai. But they also have freed themselves from limitations, and have created an Indian-inspired tiki drink featuring garam masala-infused rum and carrot, as well as a Spanish-inspired one with Amontillado sherry. When Miguel thinks about creating a new tiki cocktail, he may start with classic flavor combinations, but then gets creative - the ultimate mantra that guides him is "Hey! Don't be sad, let's have fun!"

There is one requirement to a good tiki drink: "It's all about the garnish," Al says as he aims a blowtorch at a crucible of cloves, creating the heady aroma of Christmas in Hawaii. The ultimate drink on barmini's tiki menu takes this rule seriously. Inspired by a mistaken order at another tiki bar, "Oops! I Ordered a Treasure Chest" is a masterpiece of the genre. The cocktail, meant to be shared, is served by a crew of bartenders, with dry ice smoke pouring furiously out of a creaky wooden treasure chest. The fruity rum cocktail inside is surrounded by silver doubloons (well, covered in chocolate), gold chains, a glittering octopus, and a coconut, and it is accompanied by the finishing touch - a half-bottle of Krug Champagne, poured into the cocktail tableside.

As he's serving it, Al gives a bit more insight into the drink's background. While the barmini team was scouting out a famous tiki bar in Chicago, he picked a particular drink on the menu because it served 8 people - perfect for their 8-person group. What none of them saw was the bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne that accompanied the aged rum and fruit juice-based drink ... or the $385 price tag. "They kept asking me if it was my birthday," Al said, a bit embarrassed. Maria Guerrero, Reservations Manager at barmini and minibar, thinks that this kind of story is key to the success of tiki - "Tiki is fun - it's not just about the cocktail, but about the story, the vessel, the garnish - it's all about creativity." That's apparent as the dry ice settles and straws dip into the cocktail - while the drink itself is delicious and complex, it's even better to be enjoying it out of a treasure chest, picturing the look on the group's face when a bottle of Dom Perignon arrived at the table.

While the tiki pop-up was as short-lived as a green flash over the Pacific, many of the cocktails will remain on barmini's permanent menu. To make a reservation and try them for yourself, check out barmini's website here.