Depending on whom you ask, it was either the late Donn Beach of Don the Beachcomber fame or Victor (Trader Vic’s) Bergeron who created the first mai tai, considered by many to be the quintessential tiki-inspired cocktail.
Despite the popularity of the Polynesian-inspired drink, there’s so much more to tiki cocktails than the famous mai tai, says the owner of Main Street’s Shameful Tiki Room, which has its grand opening this weekend.
And Rod Moore, founder of the Modern Bartender retail store on East Pender, should know. He’s been collecting vintage and modern tiki pieces for decades — and researching iconic Polynesian-inspired cocktails recipes dating back to the 1930s in anticipation of the opening of the restaurant lounge he owns with wife Monica Schaub.
“The first thing I did was research original recipes from places like Trader Vic’s, Smuggler’s Cove, Don the Beachcomber and the Kon Tiki,” said Moore.
He added his own twist to the famous “Mystery Bowl” cocktail first created and served at Don the Beachcomber in California. Moore said his ingredients will also be kept secret, even from some of the staff.
The name for the lounge was taken from the line of Polynesian-inspired glasses, clothing, carvings and serving utensils sold in the Shameful Tiki Room out of Modern Bartender, which sells cocktail-related products and paraphernalia. The room’s opening comes two months after the sudden closure of the tiki lounge in the Waldorf Hotel, but the timing is pure coincidence, says Moore. He and Schaub have been working on the Shameful Tiki for months, shopping largely in California.
“A lot of people think [modern] tiki culture started in Hawaii, but it really began in California,” said Moore, who admits it was a trip to Hawaii that kickstarted his passion for collecting tiki. “I bought all of this stuff and now I just can’t stop.”
Moore described the home he shares with Schaub as a shrine to the kitschy culture, complete with an iconic tiki bar. Some of his personal collection will now grace the walls and shelves of Shameless Tiki, which follows a specific design. An authentic tiki room is typically long and narrow with low ceilings, he says. The room takes the place of the former Café Montmartre at 4632 Main St.
The couple’s inspirations for Shameless Tiki were iconic rooms of the past and present, including Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas and, of course, Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s. Moore said because the room is small, seating will be strictly limited to 50 patrons.
“We serve a lot of complex drinks and if you have to wait 20 minutes for a drink it ruins the whole experience,” said Moore. “And we don’t want people to feel crowded, so if you want a table and it’s busy, you’ll have to wait until someone leaves.”
To that end, the finishing touches are being made this week to the room and Moore and Schaub are finalizing the three-day opening celebration, which starts March 22. In keeping with the tiki theme, music will be provided by surf-rockers Hang-Ten Hangmen. For hours and information, check out Shameful Tiki Room on Facebook.