Category - Vacations

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Frankie’s Tiki Room Is In For Tiki Month
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Bar Review: Rye in Louisville
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Bar Review: Liberty in Seattle, WA
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The Big Tiki Fetes

Frankie’s Tiki Room Is In For Tiki Month

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Each year, more and more folks join in the understanding that if Man ever needs Tiki, its drinks, its ambiance, its vibe, he needs it in the dark, cold days of February. Warm tropical breezes, short-sleeved, festive shirts, and lots and lots of rum are just what the doctor ordered to fend off the gloom!

On the same day I got the two cool new mugs I want to talk about below in the mail, I got a tweet that the purveyors of said mugs, Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas is on the Tiki Month bandwagon! (Caveat: I am aware that since Frankie’s is a Tiki bar, this is not exactly an heroic leap ‘cross a chasm of faith for them. Still, every solider I can recruit is welcome in my battle to warm February with passionfruit and cinnamon!) I first became aware of Frankie’s about two years ago, which makes me sad, because the last time I got to go kill someone in Las Vegas was three years ago! So if you live in Las Vegas, or are having a small event there, and want a really great murder mystery party, do give me a call. I’ll even discount my travel expenses to make it a better deal for you, just so I can visit Frankie’s. (Further caveat: I always discount travel expenses to Las Vegas, because… craps tables.)

Anyway, part of my annual Tiki Month tradition is treating myself to a few new mugs. These two from Frankie’s will likely get the most use this year of the new ones, and will likely be among my top five overall.

Wild Watusi—from Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas

And

Bombora Blast Tiki Mug
Bombora Blast—from Frankie’s Tiki Room, Las Vegas

I like both these mugs for both aesthetic and practical reasons.

As a matter of personal taste, I like cleaner designs. The Watusi has a nice scary Tiki face, but you don’t lose the facial features among scores of notches all around them. The Bombora is a volcano, which I love anyway, and is a very clean design. I only question the decision to not have the little Tiki man on the front be depicted throwing a virgin up into the caldera. Gotta keep the gods happy, you know.

As a practical matter, These things are the right size. Too many really cool mugs consume well over twenty ounces, which is just too damned much because:

  1. Given the strength of many Tiki drinks, that is just not a good idea.
  2. I appreciate the variety in Tiki drinks, as do my guests, and having a twenty three ounce drink will fill you up with only one taste experience.
  3. There is no way you are getting through a drink that big without all the ice melting into a watery mess.

More mugs the size of large highballs, please!

Bar Review: Rye in Louisville

VISUAL | RYE
The good photos in this post can be found larger on Rye’s site.

Rye is a restaurant and bar located in Louisville, Kentucky, and while I am sure I’m not revealing any secrets to residents, people who visit Louisville should keep in mind that the corner of Market and Campbell is an outstanding location to both eat and drink.

Rye occupies a narrow, renovated, brick two-story with an attractive patio and extensive kitchen garden outside. They have their own parking, though I have no idea how sufficient it is, as our visit was late on a Sunday evening. The main floor is split into two fairly equal parts, the dining area and the bar. The barroom is huge, with high ceilings and lots of open floor space. The bar itself is a massive, light-colored, wooden surface with very heavy iron and wood stools that provide seating for 6-8 guests at each end of the bar, with a wide standing area in the center. I really like this design element in a bar as this stretch provides patrons access to the bartenders when the place is packed. The rest of the room is fairly open, with the length of the opposite wall lined with standing height shelf-tables, complete with more stools. There is plenty of light as well. The overall feel possesses that vaguely 20’s vibe that seems so de rigeur of craft bar/restaurants these days, but completely avoids the twee bits which send such decor over the edge in many instances.

We ate at the bar, and I will start with the food. To be honest, I was really paying attention only to the drinks when we arrived, so the extraordinary quality of the food caught us pleasantly off-guard. The “Coulotte Steak” was a perfect medium rare, no ordinary feat in itself for such a thick cut. And while I must admit to usually viewing any significant sauces on my beef as distractingly gilding the umami, the gorgeous one offered here complimented the meat both to the eye and to the tongue.

The triple-cooked fries we shared were exactly what french fires are supposed to look and taste like. I think we may have been the last customers of the night, and the kitchen had already started to break down the fryer when we came in and ordered. Instead of saying it was too late for the fries, or some other excuse, they set it back up and got us our deliciousness. This is called a desire to take care of the customer….

The real highlight however was the Berskshire Pork Chop my wife had. Delicious, but what struck me was that it was every bit as moist and tender as my steak. That is something you just don’t see with modern pigs. I understand that Rye buys their pigs whole and cuts them on site, so our chops had likely still been part of a whole pig that morning.

Rye Pig
They do other interesting things with pig, too.

All in all, chef William Morris knows what he’s doing, as you can see from all the time I’ve spent on the food in a bar review.

Our bartender was Ben Greer, and he took great care of us, even when I lingered over dinner on a Sunday night where he might otherwise have gotten home at a reasonable hour. Thanks, Ben.

The back bar at Rye is not one of those showy craft bar walls with the bewildering floor to ceiling selection of bottles you will never get around to trying. It being Kentucky, they simply spread out their excellent, sizable collection of whiskeys all the way down the back shelf. It didn’t surprise me that they had a truly impressive selection of ryes, in addition to all those lovely bourbons. The rest of their more than sufficient inventory is tucked away, leaving a neat, uncluttered arena.
Rye Backbar
The cocktail menu holds two pages of a variety of originals, as well as a page of suggested classics. The offerings tend toward the strong and aromatic, but there are enough lighter efforts to keep any responsible drinker happy. Among the real standouts is their Santa Anita, which is made with Cerrano-infused tequila, a bouquet of citruses and cilantro, and Hellfire Bitters. We were warned it was spicy, and it was. But lordy was it delicious, and seriously refreshing, too. Even if you aren’t usually a fan of spicy cocktails, I recommend giving this one a try.

Of course, you also learn a lot about a bar staff by going off the menu, and the slightly modified Whiskey Sour, complete with Peychaud’s-garished froth, was just as delicious.

Rye features fresh juices and house-made syrups, of course, but these days that could just mean the kitchen boils up some simple every Thursday. Not here. Any time I can have a fifteen minute conversation on the making and application of bar syrups, I a) am in cocktail geek heaven, and b) can tell there is going to be all manner of clever and interesting flavor offerings for the clientele. (Beyond those I personally sampled, that is)

To wrap up, I’ll come back to where I started. If you live in Louisville and haven’t tried Rye, why on Earth are you waiting for me to tell you to get down there? And if you plan to visit Louisville, I don’t think you’ll go wrong making an evening of it at Rye. They’re on Open Table, so set up your date. They are also on Twitter @RyeOnMarket, and their feed is active and full of information and good pictures.

Oh, and a quick thank you and shout out to Lindsey Johnson (@LiveTheLushLife on Twitter), who sent me to Rye, and who has been a wealth of knowledge about all sorts of places to perch, in Louisville and elsewhere.

Bar Review: Liberty in Seattle, WA


I had a chance to visit Seattle this Summer with my family. Since we had the kids with us, I didn’t get a chance to do a real detailed exploration of this, one of America’s premier cocktail towns, but I made sure to have enough time to hit a few highlights, and to get a feel for the general cocktail environment in town.

For a variety of reasons, I will lead with a review of Liberty, at 517 15th Ave. E. (@LibertyLovesYou on Twitter) Liberty is the love child of cocktail warriors Andrew Friedman and Keith Waldbauer. Andrew started Liberty in 2006, with Keith joining him later, so that makes this a very well-established and long-lived high-end bar. I’ve known, or at least “internet known”, Keith since I started blogging, as his now fallow Moving at the Speed of Life was one of the first cocktail blogs I read and among the first such blogs written by a working pro.

Liberty and its owners take great care to characterize it as “just a neighborhood bar”, rather than some Fancy Dan Craft Bar.
This is a load of bull fritters.
I insist that this is a fabulous, high-end bar. From the back wall (pictured above) full of a head-spinning array of ingredients headlined by a magnificent but not over the top selection of whisk(e)ys, to the menu filled with a great selection of classics and modern creations, to each and every drink that I saw placed before me or any other customer, Liberty is a cocktail lover’s dream. This is place with drinks like the Point of No Return, which simply lists fire among its ingredients. (If you visit Liberty, be sure to try one. It’s both delicious and a lot of fun to watch being made.)
There is also an excellent balance between the types of drinks on the menu. Andrew and Keith offer not just a wide variety of spirit bases and flavor profiles, but also what I’ll call “levels” of drinks. Many craft palaces I enter have menus of naught but ridiculously baroque concoctions that will be awesome to talk about with one’s fellow geeks at Tales of the Cocktail, but are too bitter, complex, or simply weird for anyone else. There are drinks here for the snob who isn’t “on duty” that evening, and the “training wheels” offerings still have something of interest to be learned from.

That said, Liberty also really is a neighborhood joint. Liberty’s location is one of the things that really strikes me about it. It is is located on a fairly modest stretch of retail shopping in a quiet residential neighborhood, rather than in the restaurant, tourist, or entertainment districts where most “serious” craft bars dwell.
Tourists like me are an anomaly in Liberty, and businessmen drinking here are likely doing so on their own dime, rather than an expense account. As a result, the prices are almost shockingly modest for such offerings.
To satisfy the Licensing Gods’ demand for food service, not to mention that of any reasonable drinker’s stomach, Liberty has the elegant and tasty solution of devoting about five feet of its bar to a sushi counter, with one or two cutters as demand warrants.

The place has that well-used feel of many older bars, the kind that have been open forever, have seen weddings and wakes, sometimes for the same customer, yet never ever feel run-down, through the sheer force of the love and responsibility of its proprietors. The seating is comfortable, both at the bar and around the room. The bar itself is moderately sized and fits in visually, rather than dominating the space like some altar to the Gods of Fernet and Angostura. There is even a large back room for meetings and private parties, but which is essentially invisible to the regular clientele.

Your average oblivious Jack and Coke drinker could make of Liberty his Third Place happily for years and never care or even realize that he was spending his time in a temple of high-end concoctions.

And this last point, the seamless melding of tavern and cocktail palace is what makes Liberty so interesting to me and, so important to the craft movement.

Craft cocktails as an industry have had a fascinating decade-plus of growth now, and are in a different stage of development in nearly every city in America. When you travel like I do all over the country killing people, you can move forward and backward through the whole history of the craft, using airline or auto as your time machine.
Many locales still have yet to see the first blush of our passion; the only “lime” in bars still has with the word “Rose’s” writ upon the bottle. Other cities have merely discovered the joys, and the commercial possibilities, of fresh or more exotic ingredients. Many, like my own Columbus, have a few restaurants and bars that are making a try at true high-end drinks. And cities like Seattle or New York have reached the point where the craft bars are a well-understood phenomenon, and most high-end restaurants have reached the point of having to offer competitive programs of their own.

But like any movement that is reaching maturity, at least in some markets, there is now a lot of angst about where to go from here. Because the simple facts are, craft cocktails made with exotic syrups, or oddball bitters, or cinnamon smoke, are not for everyone. And even among those who do enjoy them, they are unprepared to drink them all the time. There are very real limits to speed of growth and profitability in the craft movement.

This is why bars like Liberty, and Anvil in Houston, and to some extent Passenger or Bourbon in Washington, DC, are so significant, and why I admire them so much. These are places that serve all drinkers well, not just our specific clientele. The aforementioned Mr. Jack and Coke can happily hang out there with his buddy Mr. Vieux Carre. And Mr. Sazerac can find the opportunity to hit on Miss Greyhound here. (Mr. Grey Goose Martini, don’t waste your time hitting on Miss Knob Creek Old-Fashioned. It’s not going to end well for you.)

Bar like Liberty are where previously undiscovered reserves of cocktail lovers (as opposed to cocktail drinkers) will be uncovered. The easy atmosphere provides no barrier to entry for the uninitiated (quite the contrary), but the magnificent offerings are the sort that can open doors and minds. If you visit Seattle, take the time one evening to cab your way to Liberty and settle in for a great evening. If you live there, this is the kind of place you take your uninitiated friends when they are resisting being initiated….

The Big Tiki Fetes

I don’t want Tiki Month to end without a quick listing of what appear to me to be the big three Tiki events of each year. None, alas, are held during Tiki Month, but each seems to sell out, so now is probably a good time to make your plans to get your pagan on.

For all my fellow classic cocktail nerds, if you don’t get enough of Jeff Berry at Tales of the Cocktail, where he is treated like a rock star, visit one of these events, where I’m pretty sure the Bum is considered the Messiah….

For West Coast Americans, there is Tiki Oasis in San Diego. The 2012 event will be held August 16-19. There aren’t a lot of details at the website for this year’s event yet, but it seems that this year’s sub-theme will be spy genre fun.
Having a sub-theme at a Tiki event is an interesting idea, and ought to help broaden the appeal and perhaps bring in a few new folks to the movement, though I think that spy fun is a better fit with Tiki than last year’s South of the Border idea. You can see, and hear, the way Tiki and spy stuff overlap and compliment each other in this audio podcast episode of The Quiet Village, which I profiled earlier this month.
[powerpress url="http://www.digitiki.com/podcast/QuietVillage45.m4a"]


Next up is Ohana, Luau at the Lake. Alas for me, even though Ohana is a production of the Fraternal Order of Moai, whose origins are right here in Ohio, Ohana is held at Lake George, NY. This year’s dates are June 21-24, 2012.
Lake George appears to be a perfect place for a retro event like a Tiki convention, as it is one of those time-capsules of the pre-Disney, honky-tonk vacation era like Niagara Falls, ON or Ober Gatlinburg, TN. The headquarters for Ohana is the The Tiki Resort (autoplay video at that link). Tickets went on sale for Ohana just a month ago, and rooms at the Tiki are already sold out. Tickets for the event, and other rooms in Lake George are still available.


In Fort Lauderdale, FL, you can attend the Hukilau. The Hukilau will be April 19-22, 2012, and while it is headquartered at the Best Western Oceanside, it is spiritually centered on the legendary Tiki palace, the Mai Kai. I’ve been to the Mai Kai, and it rocked at 6:30 on a normal Thursday. I can only imagine what it will be like during Hukilau.
The Hukilau is the first of these big fetes and if you want to go, I’d get on the stick. South Florida in April is frankly awesome, and if you go to Hukilau, you should add on a day or two so you can go to the beach. You’ll have no time to do so during the event, I’m sure.

I’ve never been to any of these, and I’d dearly love to. But I know for a fact I can’t make it to any of them this year, drat it. If any of you do go, and write about it, drop me an email. I want to read the story, and I’ll throw some Tiki supplemental linkage your way!

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