Cate is the modern-day Trader Vic—the man who is credited with bringing the bygone bartending fad of tiki into the 21st century. More than a decade ago, he reignited America’s thirst for rum cocktails and tiny umbrellas by opening Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge in Alameda, Calif., and three years after that, Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco. But his award-winning bars, and the trend they’ve spawned in the 10-plus years since, are more than simple nostalgia—they’re recapturing something that the world needs right now.
“Tiki in its original heyday wasn’t only a bar trend,” Cate says. “It was an American obsession [that served as] a counterpoint to the relentless progress and anxiety of the 1950s. I think today we have a lot of the same feelings. It’s hard to disconnect from phones—to get away from the modern glass and steel. Tiki provides that exact escape.”
Still, there’s more to modern-day tiki than just re-creating the cocktails of the past. Mixologists like Cate and Kevin Beary of Chicago’s Three Dots and a Dash are setting a new standard for tiki, searching old recipe books and attending conferences like Tiki Kon to create new cocktails that push the tiki envelope further.
We can’t think of a better past-time for this Memorial Day weekend than stirring up our own batch of custom tiki cocktails. For evidence of the modern mastery of tiki, Beary points to his long-researched banana daiquiri, which uses macerated fresh banana, lime juice, and a centrifuge to create a true banana—and not at all artificial—taste. “The basis of tiki was—and is—about using the best of everything,” he explains. “Today, that means applying modern techniques to old drinks.”