Nicole and Joe Desmond aren’t quite sure when they fell for tiki. It was a gradual shift from cocktail curiosity to tropical obsession, but a trip to the Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida—a Polynesian paradise where Mai Tai maidens deliver drinks made by a sequestered bartender—solidified their love affair. That was nearly seven years ago, and now the couple has a full-blown tiki outfit built into their New York City apartment where they throw the occasional spectacular tiki party. The Rhum Rhum Room is less a bar and more a state of mind—an “adventurer’s club, or a mysterious, magical place where you can escape all your troubles,” as Nicole likes to say.
Joe, a CPA by day, bartends their parties doling out Mai Tais in glasses he designed himself, while Nicole—an artist and Pilates instructor—entertains, introducing guests to their three Macaw parrots, Sheena, Barnaby and Buddy. She’s usually dressed in something bright and juicy like a 1960s party dress with flowers dripping from her lipstick-red hair. “Before I found my people, I dressed like Ellen Degeneres,” she says, “cargo pants and spiky hair.” But her fabulousness has always triumphed. (She wore a Victorian gown for her senior prom, after all.)
The two, who have lived in New York for 11 years, were high school sweethearts in Salem, Massachusetts; they’ve been together for 30 years, married for 20. Having each only been on a plane once, the two left Salem to move to Australia in their 20s and subsequently traveled to Easter Island and all across Southeast Asia, which is where much of their dècor originates.
A nod to Massachusetts’s many “famous” roast beef places, New York’s famous Rhum Rhum Room is really an extension of the Desmonds’ passionate and inclusive hospitality. They don’t charge for drinks and they welcome strangers who have heard about the parties by word of mouth. Occasionally, they’ve even come home after a night out to find curious fans waiting by the door hoping for a glimpse of the tiki den within. And though guests must wait until invited, the Desmonds are sharers. Every new visitor leaves with a Rhum Rhum Mai Tai glass, which is now in its third design iteration; the first series was white and then brown and now green. Guests are encouraged to bring their glasses with them when they return for a future party and the iterations act as symbols of how long a guest has been attending.
While there’s no telling how many curious drinkers have passed through the Rhum Rhum Room’s door—the location remains a secret—it’s become a sort of talisman of the NYC cocktail community, beloved even by those who have only imagined visiting.
Hear a conversation with home tiki bar owner Joe Desmond about the in a segment of PUNCH Radio on Heritage Radio Network. [33:40]