There are few movements within the cocktail world as pervasive as that of modern tiki, so much so that it’s easy to forget that the genre, not long ago, teetered on the brink of extinction. Even more impressive is that its return came at the hands of just a few committed revivalists, chief among them, Jeff Beachbum Berry.
Widely considered tiki’s leading authority, Berry isn’t so much a bartender as he is a kind of cocktail archaeologist; over the course of two decades—working from antique menus and matchbooks—Berry pieced together dozens of forgotten drinks, eventually publishing them in a series of books that’d lay the groundwork for today’s tiki revival. What’s more, he’s gone on to serve many of these drinks at Latitude 29, his restaurant and bar in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
So how much does Polynesian Pop factor into his life when he’s not drinking (or drink-making)? Here, Berry tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to reveal his weirdest cocktail experiment, the strangest drink request he’s ever gotten, his go-to dive bar drink and more.
What do want to be when you grow up?
Best thing you ever drank (and describe):
Around 10 years ago, my friend Stephen Remsberg, who has the world’s largest vintage rum collection, made me a Zombie using the exact rums that Don The Beachcomber called out in 1937, all three of which have been extinct for decades: Lowndes London Dock Jamaican, Ronrico Red Label Puerto Rican and a circa-1930s Lemon Hart 151 Demerara.
Worst thing you ever drank (and describe):
Green crème de menthe, neat. It was like drinking a dentist’s office.
First time you ever got drunk (and describe):
In the parking lot of Newbury Park High School. That was the first and last time I ever drank Malibu Coconut Rum in quantity.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Stereolab’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
Collecting old restaurant and motel matchbooks. They feed my mid-century font fetish, which is insatiable.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
That five years later, I wouldn’t even remember any of the stuff that was worrying me back then.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
The weirdest thing is still the first drink I ever mixed: a can of Minute-Maid Frozen Daiquiri Mix and Myers’s rum.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Anything at all—or even nothing at all—with my beloved Annene Kaye.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
Scotch and Sprite.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Anyone who owns a bar and says that their bar is not their favorite bar is either lying or is the owner of a bar that I do not want to visit.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
The first time we checked out Las Vegas in the early 1990s, Annene and I stumbled on the Dome Of The Sea next to the Dunes Hotel. It was a swanky, dome-shaped restaurant built in 1964 that would shortly be demolished. The dining room had faded, magic lantern-style slides of undersea life rear-projected onto the walls and a water-filled lagoon bisecting the floor. A lady in a cocktail dress played the harp on a little seashell-shaped barge that floated across the lagoon in a figure-8 pattern, serenading diners seated in plush, high-backed chairs. It was all so surreal and fabulous. I don’t remember a single thing we ate, but it was the best meal I’ve ever had.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
In a cocktail bar, I always order from the drink menu because that’s what the staff has wrestled with to the point that they’re proud enough to commit it to paper; and if there’s some kind of Daiquiri riff on the page, I’ll always pick that.
In a dive bar?
Lager beer accompanied by the best available bourbon on the shelf, neat, preferably not in a plastic cup, but I’ll take what I can get.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
The Oysters Rockefeller Omelet at the Coffee Pot in the French Quarter (walking up Bourbon Street to get there, and seeing all the evidence of people who are now probably even more hungover than you are, seems to help somehow).
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Cocktails with chile tinctures, syrups or infusions. No matter how skillfully or creatively deployed, they’re palate murderers.
The last text message you sent:
“Plus maybe a little Big Daddy Roth hotrod vibe thrown in?”