Tropical Serenade

Bamboo on the Bayou Puts Tiki Drinks in the Spotlight

Houston debuts a week dedicated to rum cocktails and island breezes.

By Holly Beretto October 11, 2016

Lei low tiki cocktails fe71di

Lei Low knows a thing or two about tiki cocktails.

Mention the phrase “tiki drink” and you’re likely to conjure up any number of libations: the Mai Tai, the Zombie, the Fog Cutter. For some, the phrase is an invitation to sip umbrella-capped fruitiness with their toes in the sand. Tiki purists get apoplectic at that image—the fruity monstrosities you find in beach bars are about as tiki as a Seagram’s Pink Pineapple Passion wine cooler.

For those who love the classic, curated cocktails and those looking to get a feel for what tiki cocktails are, the week-long chill fest that’s Bamboo on the Bayou is both a a great Tiki Drink 101 and an opportunity to revisit beloved drinks. The inaugural event takes place from Sunday, October 16 through Saturday, October 22.

The brainchild of four local tiki buffs—Jay Brooks of Aloha Texas Tiki Co., Double Trouble’s Robin Berwick, Tomas Escalante of record shop Sig’s Lagoon (and who plays in the exotica band Clouseaux with Brooks) and Russell Thoede of Lei Low—Bamboo on the Bayou is in part an answer to Austin’s seven-day tiki extravaganza, Texas Tiki Week.

“The four of us have been discussing something like for almost two years now,” says Thoede. “I think there’s been a want for a tiki week among Houston bartenders. So, we wanted to combine a bartender-driven experience like Texas Tiki Week or Tiki By the Sea in New Jersey, with the fun of an event like Tiki Oasis in San Diego. We’re so stoked to be part of something like this in Houston.”

“Houston wasn’t really included in Texas Tiki Week,” agrees Brooks. “But I think there are a lot of tikiphiles in Houston and we’d all like an event here.”

The group took elements they liked from tiki events across the country–music, pub crawls, a marketplace–and fused them into the weeklong fun that kicks off Sunday at 4 p.m. at Lei Low with Tropicana Joe spinning exotica records, the soundtrack that so splendidly augments tiki’s escapist vibe.

The Bamboo Bash closing party, on October 22, is at Shoeshine Charley’s Bigtop Lounge, featuring bands such as the Tiki Torches, King Pelican and the Phantom Royals, along with a tiki-themed marketplace with the works of the Boozy Doodler and Aloha Texas Tiki Co., among others. Specialty tiki and “faux tropical” cocktails are in the offering. That same night, chef Ara Malekian will be serving up Hawaiian-inspired grub at the Pachinko Hut.

In between, every day from October 17 through 22 will feature a different tiki drink; bars all over the Bayou City will have it on their menu as part of the event, and tikiphiles are encouraged to create their own multi-night, multi-location pub crawls, sampling different mixologists’ takes on five classic tiki drinks: the Mai Tai (Monday), Jungle Bird (Tuesday), Planter’s Punch (Wednesday), Zombie (Thursday) and Daiquiri (Friday). Anvil Bar and Refuge, Double Trouble, Under the Volcano, Lei Low, Howie’s Tiki, Mongoose Versus Cobra, Moving Sidewalk, Captain Fox's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lounge, Grand Prize Bar, the Nightingale Room, Arthur Ave and Daiquiri Time Out in Galveston are where you’ll find the specialty libations.

“The Mai Tai, Jungle Bird and Zombie are currently on our list of 100 List cocktails, as is the Daiquiri,” says Alex Negranza of Anvil.  “We're doing a twist on the Daiquiri scheduled for Friday and making it a Fernet Daiquiri instead.”

The sig s lagoon cocktail afzyak

Sig's Lagoon keeps things colorful.

Brooks says he and fellow tiki torchbearers wanted to keep this year’s event deliberately simple—and totally Texas. He says all of the artists, brands and bartenders involved in the event are from Texas.

“If we have a good turnout, then hopefully it will grow organically from there,” he says.

Negranza says that he looked to Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco—touted as one of the top tiki bars in the country—for inspiration. “Martin and his wife, Rebecca Cate, just released their first book—it’s full of all things tiki and was an awesome reference,” he explains.

For Negranza, though, the opportunity to participate in creating tiki drinks for Bamboo on the Bayou struck a deeper chord. “There's an underlying concept of escapism built into tiki culture—whether it be from work, everyday stress, the storm or the season,” he says. “You put on your tiki shirt, slip on some sandals, grab your sunglasses and sit on a bar stool and pretend you're drinking Hurricanes on a beach in the Caribbean, all the while a real tropical storm is building off the Gulf Coast. With the summer ending, kids going back to school and the holidays just around the corner, I think we could all use some beach time, even if it is just in our heads.” 

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