Over eight years ago, I started what seemed like an easy task.
I had long been a lover of all things tiki related and sampled many fine tiki cocktails at establishments like the Mai Kai in Ft. Lauderdale, FL and Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach, CA.
I had collected many fine vintage tiki mugs. The first mug was found at a swap meet on Long Island, New York in the 90’s.
I decided to set up my own home tiki bar. It seemed like a relatively simple task. I even laid out a basic to do list for myself. Step one; obtain a bar, step two; stock the bar, step three; have a party.
The depths of my naiveté were enormous. But I had enthusiasm on my side and a love of thrift store shopping.
My first home bar started out small, just a pink painted tool cart tucked into the corner of my kitchen. It was perfect to hold a few glasses, liquor bottles and an ice bucket. But soon my collecting of vintage glassware and bottles of rum expanded and the cart could no longer hold it all. A second cart was added but that too was soon filled. It was then that I made the decision to get rid of my dining room set and set up a home bar space instead. I entertained with cocktails way more than I cooked dinners so the plan made sense. I bought a vintage rattan bar, sent it out to a friend to refinish and set up my first large scale bar space. I put colored lightbulbs in the dining room light to create an exotic atmosphere.
Ever since that first bar, setting up a home bar space has been a continual work in progress for me. I’ve moved multiple times since then and each time I set up a larger and larger home bar space. I’ve repeated my original list of steps one, two and three repeatedly. I would even go so far as to say that setting up a home bar is almost as much fun as using it.
But it can be daunting to set up and stock your own home tiki bar.
Where do you put a home bar? Do you build custom or buy a vintage bar?
Finding a space for a home tiki bar may require some creative thinking. I found giving up my dining table and chairs worked perfectly for my lifestyle. Others may not. Using a garage, spare bedroom or even backyard porch for a home tiki bar may work better for you. But if you find yourself without extra rooms don’t discount using a small corner in your kitchen or living room.
Once the spot is determined, find a bar and chairs that will fit the space. Again, think creatively. My fifty dollar bar cart worked perfectly when I started out. Glasses, ice bucket and bar tools sat on the top shelf while I kept my liquor bottles on the bottom shelf. The cart was literally two feet from the refrigerator which held the ice, syrup and juices. It was a very convenient set up. During parties, people always congregated in the kitchen anyway.
Setting up a workable home bar is an essential key. It’s cute to display all your expensive tiki mugs but if you can’t make decent Mai Tai at the bar, then you’ve failed in the home bar game.
Once you set up your home tiki bar space, the next monumental task of stocking it begins.
What tools do you need? What liquors should you have? What drinks will you make?
This part can be overwhelming. It seems like every tiki cocktail recipe contains a unique set of ingredients and different rums. It can blow your mind. I suggest creating your own home tiki bar menu. It can be small menu of four to six cocktails that you will stock the ingredients regularly for those specific cocktails. Choose drinks that are diverse but still have some like ingredients. If you want to put a Mai Tai on the menu then pick other drinks which use lime juice, simple syrup and orgeat.
One drink that utilizes the same ingredients as the Mai Tai is the Pinky Gonzales, which is the Trader Vic Mai Tai recipe but it uses tequila instead of rum.
And once you stock lime juice and simple syrup, you then have the makings for a classic daiquiri. Add a blender and you can then make frozen daiquiris. While not traditionally tiki, a daiquiri qualifies as an exotic tropical cousin.
Syrups, Juices & Liqueurs
The extreme minimum is lime juice and simple syrup. Lime juice is to be squeezed fresh. Simple syrup is an easy mix of equal parts sugar and water boiled in a pan on the stove top, cooled and bottled. You can keep it refrigerated for up to two weeks for safe consumption. Expanding beyond this will depend on drinks you choose to feature on your menu. Lemon juice, pineapple juice, grapefruit juice and mango juice are a few likely suspects to stock.
After mastering simple syrup, creating other flavored syrups is quite easy. Passionfruit syrup is another easy one to make and can be used a several drink recipes like the Reverb Crash and Tropical Itch.
After boiling one cup water and one cup sugar, let the mixture cool then add one 14oz package of frozen passionfruit pulp. Blend well and bottle to keep refrigerated.
The other syrups to stock are orgeat and grenadine. There are some great options out there to buy readymade but both are also easy to make at home.
Bitters, Garnish and Other Stuff
Bitters are essential to stock but they are also an element that you can go crazy buying fifty different kinds for every obscure recipe you come across. I’ve fallen into that hole, I have an entire shelf dedicated to bitters. But you can function perfectly fine with just two types of bitters behind your home tiki bar; Angostura bitters and citrus bitters. That’s all, they work well in a variety of recipes.
Garnish may seem wasteful to the eco-conscious bartender. Creating a sense of exoticness and escapism is the whole purpose of tiki drinks. And I feel a drink without garnish fails at that.
Mint is an essential garnish. Not only are you adding ‘decor’ to your cocktail but when your guests takes a sip they will inhale the heavenly scent of fresh mint. Try to grow your own mint in your garden or even on a window sill.
When using Citrus garnish, try to cut only what you will use and if you don’t use all of what you’ve cut, try to re-use it. Limes and lemons work great squeezed in water and vinegar to clean with.
Pineapple is a wonderful garnish that you are able to utilize every part of the fruit. Pineapple wedges and sticks are not just a garnish but also a snack! Pineapple leaves are a pretty garnish. Or cut the top off a pineapple and replant it to grow another pineapple. You can even use a hollowed out pineapple for a drinking vessel, Boo Loos for all! And you won’t have to wash any glasses at the end of the night.
Other ingredients you may want to stock are creme of coconut, ginger beer, coconut water, and club soda. These are just a few suggestions, it will vary according to the drink you choose to feature on your menu.
Liquors and Liqueurs
Liqueurs are spirits which have been sweetened and have flavors added to them. Most of the flavors added are from spices, fruit, herbs, flowers, nuts or berries. Liqueurs are prominent in tiki cocktails to impart exotic flavorings after the main liquor element.
A few suggested liqueurs to stock in your home tiki bar would be falernum, allspice or pimento dram, Chartruese, curaçao, Campari and absinthe.
Liquor will be the main focus of your home tiki bar. It’s nice to display your rum selection somewhere visible. Don’t hide your rums underneath the bar. Try to create a nice backbar featuring your favorite rums.
You’ll need several different kinds of rum. If you are truly a tiki cocktail lover, it will be more than just buying a dark rum, a gold rum and a silver rum. Those terms are just too vague when delving into classic exotic cocktails.
You’ll find yourself buying rums according to country of origin, style, strength and other criteria. Again, not to sound like a broken record, but the rums you stock will depend on the menu you decide on.
At a minimum you’ll need a dark Jamaican rum, a Demerara Rum, a silver rum, a Haitian rum and a rum from Barbados. Then don’t forget rums from Trinidad, Martinique, Cuba and Puerto Rico. I could keep naming countries with outstanding rums all day long. Try to attend rum tastings to see what brands you like or peek at what’s being mixed at your favorite tiki bar to create the drink you love.
You’ll also need to include an overproof rum, like Wray & Nephew and a 151 proof rum. You’ll use both to create high proof floats for your cocktails and for a fire element when serving things like a scorpion bowl.
Lastly, you may want to stock a spiced rum or two. These rums are sometimes maligned by many rum experts. But there are recipes featuring spiced rums that are quite delicious.
After purchasing an ungodly amount of rum, you’ll need to buy a few other liquors to complete the stocking of your bar. There are some awesome tiki cocktails featuring a spirit other than rum. You’ll need a bourbon which can be used to make a Port Light cocktail. This is a delicious combination of bourbon, lemon juice, grenadine and passionfruit.
A bottle or two of gin is nice to have to mix a Tropical Itch or Gin & Tonics which are sublime on a hot summer day.
A variety of tequilas is nice to have for sipping, Margaritas and to make the Mai Tai variation, the Pinky Gonzales’.
I keep a bottle of vodka behind the bar mainly to use as a preservative in my homemade syrups and liqueurs. Vodka is also used in a Blue Hawaii, a quintessential 1980s tiki drink.
I also stock a bottle of Brandy which you need to make a Scorpion Bowl, a fantastic communal drink that guests always love partaking in.
Functional bar tools are a bartenders best friend
Sure, you can go crazy buying expensive knives and fancy rose gold cocktail shakers. But there are really only twelve essential tools you need in your home tiki bar.
- Cocktail Shaker or Mixing Tins – mixing tins are easier to use and clean.
- Hawthorne Strainer – this is the strainer with the sprig. Easy to use to keep the ice out of cocktails when pouring them into a glass.
- Measuring jigger – if you are making tiki drinks like a Mai Tai, Zombie or a Fog Cutter you have to measure your ingredients exactly for a quality cocktail.
- Citrus Juice – because you are not going to make tiki drinks with juice in a plastic bottle shaped like a lime. This is a crime against tiki and you will be prosecuted to the full extent.
- Bar Spoon – good to stir stuff or maybe some cretin likes an Old Fashioned more than your famous Tropical Itch.
- Muddler – you have lime, you have mint, you have rum, someone will ask for a mojito. Don’t discriminate, a mojito is a wonderfully tasty cocktail.
- Garnish knife – buy a good dedicated garnish knife to keep behind the bar. Don’t open your Amazon packages with it.
- Cutting Board – because you don’t want to damage your bar top. Stash a small cutting board behind the bar.
- Ice scoop – easily forgotten but necessary.
- Zester or microplane – to use to zest limes for garnish or maybe you get ambitious and want to make falernum.
- Blender – although many people will mock frozen drinks, make a frozen daiquiri and watch people line up for one. And don’t get me started on how awesome a frozen Piña Colada is when made with fresh pineapple juice.
- Ice Bucket – be good to your ice, it’s an important supporting actress for your cocktails.
How to Serve
What will you serve all these awesome drinks that I’ve now given you the tip and tricks to make? You will need to decide if you’re going to serve drinks in the tiki mugs or another type of glassware. Tiki mugs are awesome to drink out until someone gets a little drunk and drops an expensive or rare mug.
Glassware can take up a lot of space in a bar. I like to use rocks glasses, Collins glasses and cheap tiki mugs. I use glasses that if one gets broken, I won’t cry. I also like to keep some coupe and champagne glasses around. I love a champagne cocktail and it’s nice to create a classic daiquiri in a chic coupe glass.
What other supplies will you need to stock your home tiki bar? Straws, napkins and swizzle sticks. All come with some contention about the eco-consciousness of each.
I personally serve some cocktails with reusable glass straws or paper straws but I like to remind my guests it’s perfectly acceptable to just sip a cocktail without a straw.
Napkins are also optional. I like to use cardboard coasters which can be tossed in the recycling bin after a party.
Swizzle sticks are reusable and nice to have especially if you’ve opted not to use straws. As ice melts in a drink and heavier ingredients settle, a swizzle stick allows you guest to stir and recalibrate their drink for maximum drinking pleasure. And isn’t that the main goal of sipping a cocktail?
So now I’ve given you the tips, tricks and magic to set up your own home tiki bar. Remember, be exotic everyday!
Recipes + Books
Everyday Exotic Piña Colada
- 4 oz. Puerto Rican silver rum
- 3 oz. creme of coconut
- 2 oz. heavy whipping cream
- 12 oz. pineapple juice
- 5 cups crushed ice
Add all into a blender. set on high and blend for 15-20 seconds. Pour into a tall glass and garnish with a pineapple wedge, cocktail umbrella and straw.
Cesars Punch PR Style
- 2 oz. Ron del Barrilito
- 1/2 oz. J. Wray Gold Rum
- 1 1/2 oz. lime juice
- 1/4 oz. simple syrup
- 1 oz. grenadine
- 3 dashes Angosture bitters
Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker then add ice. Shake well and strain into an ice filled glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.
by Christina Jordan
Christina Jordan is a cocktail writer and bartender. She is the cocktail columnist for Florida Today newspaper and part of the bartending team, The Straw Hat Barmen. Christina is an advocate for high quality cocktails using fresh ingredients. She conducts seminars detailing her Everyday Exotic Method to set up a home tiki bar as well as rum tastings. She enjoys traveling, cocktails and is a longtime tiki enthusiast. Christina calls Brevard County, Florida home. The testing grounds for her original cocktail recipes is her vintage rattan home bar called the Hele Lau. Roughly translated, Hele Lau means traveling leaf. This pays homage to her many moves she has made with this home bar. Her books, Everyday Exotic Cocktails, Florida Edition and Everyday Exotic Cocktails, Country Chic Edition are available on both Amazon and Etsy. A future book is currently in the works.