The Iconic Spirits Blog

Classic American Bars: The Mai-Kai, Fort Lauderdale

July 31, 2013

Tags: mai-kai

The massive and phantasmagoric Mai-Kai pays homage to the Polynesian craze that swept America during the post-World War II era. It is the Taj Mahal of the tiki culture, an improbable place that somehow hangs together and exercises a timeless appeal. One of the current members of the management team referred to it as “an escape from everyday life,” which is similar to saying that a private jet or a stretch limousine is a transportation vehicle.

The Mai-Kai was opened in December 1956 by the Thornton brothers, Bob and Jack, on a stretch of Federal Highway that was then deserted. The famous Polynesian Revue made its debut in 1962. Mireille Thornton showed up shortly thereafter, auditioned to become a dancer, and eventually became Jack’s wife. Jack Thornton sold his interest in the restaurant in 1969 and Bob passed on two decades later, but Mireille still runs the place and choreographs the show. (more…)

Papa's Pilar Rums

July 24, 2013

Tags: pap's pilar rums, ernest hemingway

The Hemingway industry is alive and flourishing in many places, but most of all in Florida. The number of bars in the Sunshine State in which Papa allegedly drank is only exceeded by the New England stopovers in which George Washington supposedly slept. Unlike Washington, of course, Hemingway was actually photographed in most of these joints.

Chronologically speaking, Hemingway’s Key West period was sandwiched between Paris (which he left in the late 1920s) and Havana, where he spent the majority of his later years. Visitors to the island can still tour the Hemingway Home and Museum, the sprawling Spanish Colonial house the author purchased in 1931. It was here that he met Charles Thompson, who introduced him to the sport of big game fishing; in 1934, Hemingway ordered the hand-built, 38-foot boat that became known as the Pilar. (more…)

Spirits of the Laundry

July 17, 2013

Tags: the french laundry

For years (if not for decades), The French Laundry in Yountville, California has been regarded as America’s best restaurant. It is also universally viewed as one of the toughest reservations to get, as well as one of the most expensive restaurant meals in the country---not the most expensive, since that accolade is usually given to Chef Thomas Keller’s other restaurant, Per Se, in Manhattan.

Dinner at The French Laundry, if you can get in, isn’t for paupers. The menu is a multi-course tasting extravaganza that comes in at $270 per person, service included. Of course, the 15 or so courses take roughly 5-6 hours to consume, virtually insuring the consumption of several bottles of wine. The restaurant’s wine list is extensive and elaborate, but not cheap either; figure $800-1000 per couple before you’re through.

Now The French Laundry has come up with a new profit center: a spirits list. Without much fanfare, the restaurant acquired its liquor license back in September, and head sommelier Dennis Kelly quietly went about sourcing a selection of the finest and rarest distilled spirits on the planet. (more…)

National Pina Colada Day

July 10, 2013

Tags: national pina colada day

Like most classic cocktails, the origin of the Pina Colada is shrouded in mystery, and there are many different versions of how it appeared on the scene. The most romantic story, and probably untrue, was that it was first concocted by a 19th century Puerto Rican pirate named Roberto Cofresi, who served a mixture of coconut, pineapple and white rum to his crew. However, his recipe (if there was one) died with him in 1852.

Another version, likely untrue as well, traces the cocktail to a restaurant in Old San Juan called La Barrachina, which specializes in paella and is still operating today. Supposedly the owner, Pepe Barraachina, was travelling in South America when he met a famous bartender named Ramon Portas Mingot, who was originally from Spain but was working in Buenos Aires. Mingot ended up moving to Puerto Rico, working as head bartender at Barrachina, and inventing the Pina Colada. (more…)

Bizarre Beverages

July 3, 2013

Tags: bizarre beverages, marijuana wine, pruno

What would Andrew Zimmern drink if he were drinking rather than eating?
I recently devoted a full segment of Quench!, my wine and spirits podcast, to this burning question (for those of you unfamiliar with Quench!, links appear at the end of this post). As in other areas, of course, the discussion of what’s bizarre and what’s “normal” varies enormously from one culture to another, but some interesting patterns emerged.

For starters, there’s an entire category of reptile-infused wine and spirits: snake wine, mouse-infused wine, tiger bone wine, three-lizard liquor, etc. These are mostly concocted in Asia, where they are highly prized for promoting both longevity and male potency. One of these, Scorpion Vodka, is actually in commercial production---feel free to buy it on the Internet. (more…)