Over the past decade or so, there’s been a resurgence in the cocktail as an art form. Examples include using fresh ingredients, unusual combinations, and presentations that vary from classical to extravagant and over the top.
Bar culture is now a thing and how you serve drinks and where you serve them is just as important as the libations you’re serving.
One subculture of this movement is the Tiki Bar. The genre had fallen into the trap of serving overly sweet drinks with fruit and umbrellas in any space with some Polynesian masks on the walls. You’d probably also see some surfboards or things that had nothing to do with the origination of Tiki culture or the drinks from that post-war golden age of Tiki Bars.
Names like Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber are known only by those who bothered to learn the history. Everyone else knows that a Mai Tai and Zombie are drinks you can get at the local island-based restaurant.
There have been many real Tiki Bars opening in recent years, and several of them are going the marketing route of the speakeasy. No tacky neon signs are needed because if you’re going there, it’s because you want to.
Our first experience at one of these bars was when we visited Three Dots and a Dash during our trip to Chicago. By this time, Sharon was hooked on another part of the Tiki culture, Tiki mugs. If we could visit a bar and pick up a new mug, we’d do our best to visit. One name kept coming up in reading about Tiki and its history, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.
One of Imbibe magazine’s “25 Most Influential Cocktail Personalities of the Past Century” and one of Drinks International’s “100 Most Influential Figures,” Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is the author of seven books on vintage tropical drinks, which published for the first time anywhere the lost recipes of Tiki’s mid-century golden age. Esquire calls Jeff “one of the instigators of the cocktail revolution” and Food & Wine “one of the world’s leading rum experts,” while The New York Times cites him as “the Indiana Jones of Tiki drinks” and The Los Angeles Times as “A hybrid of street-smart gumshoe, anthropologist and mixologist.”
Beachbum spent years finding former bartenders from the classic Tiki bars and accumulated a library of recipes that no one could match. What to do with this knowledge? Open a Tiki Bar, of course. In 2014, that’s exactly what he did, opening up in a space on the ground floor of the historic Bienville House Hotel in New Orleans.
Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29
321 N. Peters Street
New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130
Our first problem was finding the place. We had the address and made our way into the French Quarter from our Airbnb. We reached the location and couldn’t find the entrance. We walked around the block thinking that Google Maps was drunk, but it kept bringing us back to the same place. I challenge you to find the entrance to the Tiki bar from this picture from Google Street View.
As we stood on N. Peters St., we weren’t about to give up and eventually stumbled across the front door of the bar almost by accident.
While it was 5 PM on a sunny weekday evening outside, we were immediately transported to the islands.
All of our vaccine cards were checked at the host stand before we entered and were shown our table.
We started to look at the menu and suffered an overload at the sheer number of Tiki drinks offered.
As for the drinks, our cocktail menu spans the entire 80-year history of Tiki drinking, from the lost vintage recipes that the Bum unearthed — some of which will have their world premiere at Latitude 29’s bar — to his own original recipes, culinary craft tropical cocktails that have been published everywhere from The New York Times and Bon Appetit to the venerable Mr. Boston Official Bartenders Guide
You thought you were done after page one. Not even close.
But wait, there’s even more.
And because if you’re going to have all of these drinks, you’re going to need something to eat. While we were headed to dinner after the bar, we wanted to try several dishes.
We got a Navy Grog, Mai Tai and Kea Colada. I can’t remember the 4th drink.
Off to the left, you can see the order of fries in the background. We were blown away by the Kimchi Ketchup and Siracha Mayo served as dipping sides and swore we’d try to recreate them at home.
The Kea Colada was the hit of the table and we could have sat there and finished several more of them but alas, we had dinner reservations and had to make sure we could make it to the restaurant and remember the meal.
Upon looking around, it’s evident that Beachbum Berry isn’t just a historian of Tiki drinks but of the culture. The place is just darn cool.
The thing which caught our attention was a display case of memorabilia. While a regular guest might just walk by all of the various mugs, Sharon immediately recognized items from several famous bars.
Even I caught that they had a rum barrel from the Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale (It’s the far-right mug on the 2nd shelf from the bottom.)
I didn’t know what I expected when visiting Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29. Would it be a touristy location and not what I wanted from New Orleans? Would it be a passion project only there to indulge the owner’s whims?
It was none of those things. Instead, it was a location designed and operated to share one person’s love with a single thing and give everyone a chance to see how wonderful that thing is if done correctly and given the respect it deserves.
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