A radio producer turned tiki enthusiast, Garret Richard left the mixing board behind to focus on mixing drinks. Born in New York City, but raised in Los Angeles, Richard returned to the East Coast to study at Fordham University, working as an on-air producer for the school’s NPR-affiliated WFUV as a graduate student. But while the lure of a radio career initially brought Richard back to New York, it was bartending that kept him there.
His first gig came in 2011 under Julie Reiner at Monkey Bar. A year later, he decamped to Prime Meats, where he launched a popular “Tiki Takeover” series. Interested in the design and music elements of tiki since childhood, Richard was a natural mark for the potable offerings of the genre once he came of age. “Sippin’ Safari was my first cocktail book,” says Richard of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s influential tome. “After reading it, I never looked back.”
In 2015, Richard joined the opening team at Slowly Shirley, working a tiki touch into the beverage program. He currently splits his time behind the stick at Major Food Group’s Michelin-starred ZZ’s Clam Bar; Exotica, a contemporary tiki pop-up he helms at The Raines Law Room at the William; and Existing Conditions, the Greenwich Village bar from Dave Arnold, Don Lee and Greg Boehm.
So, what does Richard do when he’s not bringing tiki to the masses? Here, he tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share the very strange Mint Julep order he once received, how a great rum changed the way he makes drinks and the Beach Boys.—Drew Lazor
Tiki evangelist at Exotica; rhum pusher at Existing Conditions; bolo tie model at ZZ’s Clam Bar.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter.
Best thing you ever drank:
A glass of Lemon Hart 15 Year Jamaican rum circa 1950 from rum collector Stephen Remsberg’s private collection. After an afternoon at his home, I completely changed the way I blend rum in cocktails.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Demi-sec banana wine from a Guadeloupe duty-free store.
First time you ever got drunk:
D.J. Reynolds in Midtown Manhattan as a college freshman. The bartender poured me a Myers’s and Coke. In retrospect, I appreciate that I started my drinking career with Jamaican rum.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I have always had a deep love for the Beach Boys album Wild Honey, but since its full remaster in the Sunshine Tomorrow box set, it has stolen my heart all over again. If I was to choose an instrumental album, I would go with Ultra Lounge Volume 1: Mondo Exotica, as it was the album that got me into tiki in high school.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
Lifelong pinball player. When I first entered the space at Existing Conditions, I spotted my favorite pinball machine peeking out of the back, a Williams FunHouse. This was a machine I was so obsessed with as a child I had my own name for it: “The Man Wake Up,” due to the animatronic dummy lurking inside. Needless to say, after I saw that blast from my past, I knew Existing Conditions was my new home.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Kohala Bay rum will go extinct. The rum that brought the magic to the Black Magic cocktail and other Mai Kai classics today no longer exists. Hopefully, in the next five years I can work with someone to recreate it. The category of black rum is criminally overlooked by rum producers.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
At one of my early tiki nights, I married fresh watermelon to Underberg in a swizzle called the Water Pistol. I have never revisited that cocktail but I still wonder how that combination came to fruition.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
I love to listen to new albums. I have a queue too large to ever fully listen through, but I enjoy when I can pick out five or 10 albums that I’ve never heard and relax. I resisted Spotify for a long time but I am now fully hooked and enjoy making playlists on there.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
Mint Julep, little ice.
Your favorite bar, and why:
I am torn between the Mai Kai and the Tiki-Ti. With a group of friends, there is nothing better than roaming the vast paradise of the Mai Kai especially after bellying up at the Molokai bar for that first round. When I am alone and want to meet new people, I seek out the Tiki-Ti and its vast mystery box of 90-plus cocktails. The Tiki-Ti hosts a true community of regulars that will make you feel at home. Both bars have inspired many of my cocktails and continue to motivate my work.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
The bar at Eleven Madison Park, New Year’s Day 2018. A flight is delayed. A group of friends goes to EMP on a whim. Cocktails are had. Steam is blown. Many laughs are shared. It was the kind of meal where details of the food and drink are hazy but the memories shared are crystal clear.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
I will usually pick something with rhum agricole to start. I’m still shocked when a “cocktail bar” doesn’t carry any agricole.
Lambrusco, funky whites, French rosé. If it is bitter cold, I will enjoy a nebbiolo.
In a dive bar?
Session IPA, a utility Scotch and soda, or a gin on the rocks with lime.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Sleep, followed by B12, potassium gluconate and milk thistle supplements. A green shake later in the day is also a godsend.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Overly specific verbiage. Cocktail menus often choose to use more elaborate language to bolster the amount of work that went into the cocktail while sacrificing guest understanding of what the drink actually tastes like. For example, one could refer to a house-made cardamom extract as “N2O-infused cardamom 151 white rum” or just “cardamom” in a menu description. I would prefer the latter. Tiki menus of the early 1960s often kept language simple and distilled the profile of the drink down to its key points, leaving an air of mystery to many libations. We could learn from that practice.
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