"There's no such thing as too many garnishes on a tiki drink," Paul McGee says, topping a Zombie with orchid blossoms and a flaming lime hull.
At his new Chicago bar, Three Dots and a Dash, McGee has thrown moderation out the window in favor of hulking ceramic mugs and paper umbrellas--an approach we're adopting this holiday season.
"We get so tied up in the seriousness of cocktails," he continues. "Tiki is just fun. It should take you someplace else."
For McGee, "someplace else" is a boozy, tropical, multicolored den of carved wood, illustrated menus, waitresses in flowing floral dresses--and a lot of rum. His inspiration: Don the Beachcomber, the progenitor of tiki, who opened his SoCal bar in 1934. His main academic resource: books by tiki authority Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, whose newest, Beachbum Berry's Potions of the Caribbean ($35), hit shelves this past fall.
Bottled mixes and packaged citrus juices may have given the genre a bad name during the 70s and 80s, but at its best, there's subtlety and sophistication beneath those towering adornments of flowers and fruit spears and flame.
We scored three recipes from McGee. The next time an escape is in order (an overdose of holiday family time, perhaps?), turn to his favorites--one simple, one complex, one in between, and all a lot of fun.
151 Swizzle: The easiest of the bunch, featuring a trademark tiki combo of Angostura bitters and absinthe.
The Zombie: This 1930s Don the Beachcomber classic packs a boozy punch with four rums, citrus, cinnamon syrup and clove-scented Falernum. Proceed with caution: "Don set a two-Zombie maximum per person," says McGee. "These are potent."
Three Dots and a Dash: McGee's favorite tiki drink, "because it has all these winter spices and baking spices but is still bright and not overly fruity." His take on the original swaps Curaçao for orange juice.