Food and drink bloggers tend to be a merry lot; DPaul and I are certainly not alone in our pursuits of things hedonistic. It generally takes little provocation to get a group of local bloggers to assemble to consume something of interest, in groups large or small.
Last year, Jen organized a come-as-you-are series of outings to case out the various bars and beverages featured in the 2008 edition of Food & Wine Cocktails, 17 of which were from Bay Area locales. A schedule was built, and week after week a cadre of bloggers and booze enthusiasts traipsed to watering holes in San Francisco and beyond in search of these rarefied concoctions. So regular and assiduously attended were these events, they became referred to as our "book club."
Sadly, as it turned out, relatively few of the cocktails in the book were available for the tasting. It stands to reason in an artisanal cocktail center like San Francisco that menus change with the moods and seasons, but some instances were just outright silly. At one location, the cocktail was on the menu, but is apparently never actually served, since they don't stock one key ingredient, a Belgian Trappist ale, that is both perishable and expensive. In one other case, the cocktail was not -- and had actually never been -- on the menu. Of the comparatively few cocktails featured in the book that were of offer, some were simply disappointing, though often there were superior drinks available at those locations. Ultimately, only a few stood out; my personal favorite was the Tommy Gun at Bar Drake.
The tippler's tome exhausted, our thirsts remained unquenched, and we extended the Book Club with an appendix, hitting up bars that we knew to have luscious libations. We didn't need Food & Wine to tell us where to drink.
The penultimate of these outings was at what immediately became my new favorite bar. Forbidden Island is one of the last of a dying breed, a true tiki bar nestled in the homey, suburban sprawl of a quiet East Bay community. The interior is perfect kitsch, with palm-thatched ceilings and overhangs, Bali Ha'i décor and Martin Denny-inflected tunes filling the dim room. Behind the bar, a seemingly endless array of bottles of rum, rum and rum.
Chief mixologist Martin Cate is an affable figure, and an aficionado on all things tiki. Shaved-headed and clad in a aloha shirt, he came out to greet our group in the back patio and held court, giving a 101 course on the history of the tiki cocktail and culture. Despite the obvious harkenings to the South Pacific, the tiki bar is a continental invention -- just a few miles away in Oakland, in fact, with the original Trader Vic's. And the famous Mai Tai, which I think most people automatically associate with Hawaii, got its start right there.
Martin continued to expound on the tiki traditions, such as serving the Fog Cutter in a painted vase as opposed to a glass, and showing us a genuine vintage tiki vase used for just such a task. And then we all partook in a flaming Mystery Bowl. Our heads swam from the rum, our stomachs roiled from the copious amounts of fresh-squeezed juices, and a good time was had by all.
After, DPaul went straightaway to Amazon and nabbed a copy of the Bartender's Guide ... by Trader Vic, 1947 edition. It's a comprehensive compendium of classic and vintage cocktails, "dedicated to those sweet ladies, gay Lotharios, and lunkhead bartenders whose fancy concoctions of spirits fermenti have made this volume possible." Perhaps most interesting, and most telling, is the section on vodka: Just two pages long, it contains only six recipes, including the Russian Cocktail, the Soviet Cocktail and the Soviet Salute Cocktail. It would seem that we were not importing a lot of vodka in 1947.
Rum, by contrast, dominates the book, and each recipe has specific requirements, if not for Bacardi then for rums by region: Puerto Rico, Cuba, Virgin Islands and even one that calls for New England rum. Does such a thing even exist anymore? Many of the cocktails have whimsical names, like the Mary Pickford or the Poop-Poop-a-Doop -- yet the book curiously contains neither the Mai Tai nor the Fog Cutter, both creations of the Trader.
Rum drinks are naturally meant for balmy nights, but sometimes they're just the tonic for the chilly, dreary days of winter. Just switch on the heater, put on an aloha shirt, crank up the Martin Denny and transport yourself to the tropics.
Trader Vic's Daiquiri
from Bartender's Guide ... by Trader Vic
1-1/2 oz Puerto Rican rum
1/4 oz maraschino liqueur
1/2 tsp sugar
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
Mix with shaved ice in Waring blender; strain into chilled champagne glass.
Adaptations: As the picture tells, we used a Brazilian rum, and we shook ours instead of blending. It's still delicious.
Alcademic Camper goes to Forbidden Island on a Tiki Crawl.
RumDood laments the Mai Tai, the Butchered Beverage.
Care for some tiki mugs and vases?