In all forms of art and culture, everything is cyclical. Just as you see the progression through the decades in every retro-inspired type of music and fashion, the same is true of the cocktail world. And while the forerunners of cocktail history and trends in Boston and throughout the world have been singing the praises of the tiki bar for years now, lately the style of drinks has begun winding its way onto the menus of more mainstream bars, even as new tiki-bar-inspired restaurants like Shanghai Social Club in Allston are opening.
“It’s almost a natural progression from pre-Prohibitions cocktails, to post-Prohibitions, then on in turn to the whole tiki movement,” explains Willy Shine of our temporal march through the drinking decades. The operator of Will Shine Inc., a beverage consulting firm, and the national brand ambassador for Appleton Estate Rums, will outline the luxurious history of tiki at Thirst Boston festivities this month. Joining him and leading the discussion will be Martin Cate, owner of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, one of the foremost tiki bars in the world. “Basically, during the end of the 1930s up until late ’60s, early ’70s, there was a whole cocktail movement called tiki,” Shine says. “It was surrounded around what they liked to call escapism, I guess. Taking people out of their every day lives into a tropical environment.”
It began in Hollywood, at bars like Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s, after the Depression and spread from there. Shine, 40, a Medford native, remembers his grandparents telling him about their experiences in tiki bars. “Mixologists have somewhat fell in love with that era,” says the consultant.
That’s in part because the palate is so different than what we’re used to thinking of as serious cocktails, and as an added bonus, they’re approachable for all drinkers. While the recipe style born of tiki can be broadly interpreted, generally speaking the cocktails are rum-based, often layered with multiple spirits, with rich syrups and fresh citrus.
While many tiki classics are familiar to most drinkers, the generational shift has come in the return to proper technique and ingredients. “The average drinker might only know about tiki as really sugary packaged products,” says Shine. “They know some of the names probably, but they’re not made the right way.” Fresh ingredients, as bartenders are always saying now, make all the difference.
“It’s just how the resurgence of cocktails happened. We were all making drinks in a bad way in the ’90s, then we finally realized, ‘Wow there’s history here, let’s see if we can follow some of this.’ ” Now, he says, many places are getting it right. He’s convinced that “the tiki thing is that next step, the next generation, the next movement.”
Willy Shine and Martin Cate will talk about the history of tiki at the Thirst Boston festivities on Nov. 9 and 10, which offers cocktail seminars and demonstrations at the Hotel Commonwealth, 500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. For more information go to www.thirstboston.com.Luke O’Neil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.