Besties: Meet New York City’s Tiki Pirates

Welcome to the 2015 "Besties Guest Bartending Series," a monthly event and column in collaboration with Momofuku featuring two bartenders who've inspired each other's work. First up: tiki pirates Brian Miller and Ryan Liloia on eyeliner, Harry Belafonte and desert-island drinks.

momofuku and punch besties bartender series brian miller ryan liloia

We’re thrilled to announce that we’re teaming up with the Momofuku team to bring you the 2015 “Besties Guest Bartender Series,” kicking off at Má Pêche next Wednesday, March 4th, from 5 to 10 p.m. (open to the public).

The concept originated with Momofuku as a way for former co-workers and bartender friends to join forces again. It’s since evolved into a monthly celebration of camaraderie and good drinks, with part of the proceeds going to charity. In advance of each event—with the aid of a Proust(ish) questionnaire—we’ll talk to the bartender pair about their connection and common influences behind the bar, all while testing their knowledge about one another.

First up: real life pirates Brian Miller and Ryan Liloia.

If Brian Miller (ZZ’s Clam Bar, formerly Death & Co. and Pegu Club) is the pirate captain of all things tiki in New York City, Ryan Liloia (Clover Club) is undoubtedly the fiercely loyal first mate. Miller and Liloia first crossed paths at the late Lani Kai in 2011, where Liloia was working as a bar back and Miller had just started hosting Tiki Mondays—a riotous, weekly celebration of tiki that has since done time at Gold BarMother’s Ruin and, as of late, its more permanent home, Pouring Ribbons. Liloia eventually graduated from bar back to bartender and the two became fast friends. The rest, as it were, is pirate history.

Something of a mashup between hair metal and Pirates of the Caribbean, the now typical Tiki Monday style began when Joaquín Simó of Pouring Ribbons brought Brian a sarong back from Fiji. Leis, Polynesian jewelry, face paint and bandanas soon followed. Monday regulars have come to expect a sort of drunken singalong cabaret where playing dress-up is part of the draw.

After four years of man-eyeliner and Monday debauchery, Liloia cites Miller as instrumental in helping him come into his own as a bartender, while Miller insists that Liloia has rekindled his own love of making drinks. The Monday ritual has become their own way of opening a bar without the pressure of owning one, while giving them a means to remain unabashed fans of all things swashbuckling, science fiction and, of course, tiki. —Joanna Harkins

BRIAN MILLER

brian miller tiki bartender illustration

What do you want to be when you grow up?
A tiki bar owner. Maybe I could be the guy to pick up where Don the Beachcomber left off, who knows.

If you could come back as anything or anyone else, what or who would it be?
Don the Beachcomber. Not only did he create tiki, the guy was also known as a sort of real life pirate—he sailed around the world and came up with great drinks. Who wouldn’t want to be Don the Beachcomber?

If you could ask Don one question what would you ask?
Care to have a drink with me?

Is pirate eyeliner every-day acceptable? Yes/No/Only for Johnny Depp?
Yes.

If you could drink only one drink for the rest of your life, what would it be? 
1934 Zombie Punch. It’s delicious, complex and has tons of layers to it. And I think if I were stuck on a desert island or something it would help me forget I was stuck there.

If you had to go live on a desert island and could take one thing with you, what would it be?
My girlfriend. She’s beautiful, sexy and smart enough to help me find water. I’d have someone to talk to and pass the time with. She does it all for me.

If you could design a tiki glass, what would it look like/what shape would it be?
A pirate, with lots of skulls. Maybe a zombie pirate with some tiki idols—a nod to the past and present.

What is your spirit ingredient?
Rum. It’s evocative of everything I could want out of life: fun, beach, sand, warmth. I don’t know many people who drink rum who are miserable people.

Three essential bands on your behind-the-bar playlist?
The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley and The Clash. Harry Belafonte is a close fourth—it’s just not a Tiki Monday without hearing “Jump In The Line.”

Who would you most like to have a drink with (living or dead)? 
I think a good drink deserves good company, so Ryan, my girlfriend Cabell Tomlinson and Captain Jack Sparrow.

Brian on Ryan

What does Ryan want to be when he grows up?
A rock star.

If Ryan could come back as anything or anyone else, what or who would it be?
Greg Puciato (lead singer of Dillinger Escape Plan), or a pirate.

If Ryan could drink only one drink for the rest of his life, what would it be?
The Cobra’s Fang (a mix of passionfruit, cinnamon, rum, etc. that Liloia garnishes with a cobra that he cuts out of a lime twist, using cloves for the eyes and a little bit of an orchid for the tongue). The first time he really started making drinks at Clover Club on Sunday nights, this was his drink.

Three essential bands on his behind-the-bar playlist?
“Jump In The Line” by Harry Belafonte “Candy Shop” by Dan Finnerty & The Dan Band and “20th Century Boy” by T. Rex.

Who would Ryan most like to have a drink with (living or dead)? 
Don the Beachcomber, Trader Vic and Jelani “Swabbie” Johnson.

RYAN LILOIA

RYAN LILOIA TIKI BARTENDER

What do you want to be when you grow up?
A punk rocker.

If you could come back as anything or anyone else, what or who would it be?
Rocksteady from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He’s a villain, but not a threatening villain, you know? He just seems like a good guy, a party dude.

If you could drink only one drink for the rest of your life, what would it be? 
The Cobra’s Fang. It was the first drink that Brian made for me that really left an impression on me, and it’s remained my benchmark tiki drink.

If you had to go live on a desert island and could take one thing with you, what would it be?
Probably my ukulele—think of all the time I’d have.

If you could design a tiki glass, what would it look like/what shape would it be?
A cross between a punk rocker skeleton and a pirate with a leather jacket and an anarchy symbol—all that stuff.

What is your spirit ingredient?
Definitely passion fruit syrup.

Three essential bands on your behind-the-bar playlist?
Notorious B.I.G., Harry Belafonte and Girl Talk (specifically Girl Talk “All Day”).

What drink do you always associate with a certain memory?
I’ll always remember my first Mai Tai. I was still running food at Lani Kai. After a slow Sunday night, I ordered one for my shift drink. Everything was different after that.

Who would you most like to have a drink with (living or dead)? 
None other than Don the Beachcomber.

Ryan on Brian

What does Brian want to be when he grows up?
He wants to be (is) a pirate.

If Brian could come back as anything or anyone else, what or who would it be?
Socrates: he’s super wise, and he loves to share his wisdom.

If Brian could drink only one drink for the rest of his life, what would it be?
Daiquiri.

Brian’s spirit ingredient?
Don’s Spices #4. Brian’s Don’s #4 is the best I’ve ever had.

Three essential bands on Brian’s behind-the-bar playlist?
Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Niki Minaj.

Who would Brian most like to have a drink with (living or dead)? 
Johnny Depp.

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