Bootlegger Tiki – A Rum-Soaked Oasis in Palm Springs

Bootlegger Tiki entrance

In 1926, a young man named Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt left home and traveled around the South Pacific, Caribbean and beyond. Back on American soil, he was a bootlegger during Prohibition and when the Noble Experiment ended, he opened the first tiki bar. Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood became such a success that Ernest legally adopted the moniker.

By the 1940s, he had moved to Hawaii and turned over the U.S. rights of the business to his ex-wife, Cora Irene (“Sunny”) Sund, who opened more than a dozen additional locations over the next few decades. Don the Beachcomber was a favorite among celebrities so it made sense to have a branch in Hollywood’s desert playground. Don the Beachcomber Palm Springs opened in 1953 and in its heyday attracted famous faces (and voices) like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

Bootlegger Tiki

Literally following in the footsteps of that historic establishment is Bootlegger Tiki and neighboring sister spot Ernest Coffee Co. (The tiki bar references Don’s former profession, while the coffee shop was given his real first name.) A curtain in the hallway separates the two, but Bootlegger Tiki also has an official entrance flanked by two carved tikis on Via Lola Street just off North Palm Canyon Drive.

Don the Beachcomber bamboo

I knew the tiki torches on the roof had been restored — and even worked into the logo for Ernest Coffee Co. — but I was excited to learn that to the right of the bar is a pillar (painted to resemble bamboo) that had also been part of Don the Beachcomber Palm Springs.

Bar at Bootlegger Tiki Palm Springs

The space is quite small so you’ll want to get there close to when they open at 4 p.m. to snag one of the three booths or five spots at the bar. There are also three seats along a ledge by the entrance and three shorter rattan chairs to the left of the bar. (Patrons can also take their drinks out to the patio shared with Ernest Coffee.)

Seating next to bar

Above them you’ll notice one of Tom Hofer’s paper collages designed to look like giant vintage matchbooks. This one features Don the Beachcomber, naturally. (Hofer is often one of the vendors at the bi-monthly International Tiki Market Place at Orange County’s Don the Beachcomber — Don’t get confused, that restaurant is a recent incarnation of the brand.)

Bootlegger Tiki booth

The decor of this tiny tropical retreat is just gorgeous. The requisite lauhala matting and bamboo are interspersed with panels of red-velvet, Chinese-print wallpaper that give a glamorous touch to the island hut vibe. Further enhancing the sultry setting are flickering candles, the red glow of pufferfish lanterns and titillating black velvet paintings. (See what I did there?)

Bootlegger Tiki interior

Another nod to local tiki history is this reproduction of Edgar Leeteg’s famous “Hina Rapa” (left), which Palm Springs businessman Irwin Schuman saw in a Honolulu art gallery and inspired him to open the Chi Chi Grill Cocktail Lounge in 1941. There was a copy of the black velvet painting on the wall of the Polynesian-themed spot, and it was so popular that Schuman reprinted it on menus, matchbooks and many other items — but he didn’t bother to get permission from the original artist.

More seating at Bootlegger Tiki bar

Reggae music was on the sound system when we first arrived, then it switched to Rat Pack and other loungey tunes, which I personally preferred. Even better would have been some exotica to really set the mood!

Bootlegger Tiki menu

When Bootlegger Tiki opened in September 2014 they started off with a core menu of 10 cocktails. That’s since expanded to more than 25, ranging from non-tiki standards (French 75, Sazerac, etc.) to complicated concoctions involving mole bitters and cinnamon smoke.

Bootlegger Tiki Mai Tai

Trader Vic is credited for inventing the Mai Tai, though there’s been debate about that over the decades. (A chapter in Jeff Berry’s book Beachbum Berry Remixed offers an interesting investigation behind the claims.) Bootlegger lets you know where their loyalties lie by serving up the Ernest Gantt “Original” Mai Tai ($12). It’s a very different creation, composed of gold and dark rums, lime, orange liqueur, Velvet Falernum, absinthe and Angostura bitters. (Don’s famous drink, The Zombie, is also featured on the menu.)

Drinks at Bootlegger Tiki

One of the most popular drinks is the Pod Thai (left, $10), a more exotic Pina Colada with Thai basil and cardamom-lemongrass syrup. The “Modern Classics” are where the staff lets their creativity loose. For the spring menu, bar manager Guillaume Galataud devised the Hasenpfeffer ($14), made with Barr Hill gin, rhubarb-lavender purée, Amaro Nonino, lemon and house-made peppercorn ginger syrup.

Bootlegger Tiki drink

If you’re more of a Don Draper type of drinker, seek out the Ring Around the Rosie ($12). Head bartender Heather developed this recipe comprising Old Grand Dad Bourbon, Luxardo, Fernet Amaro, Angostura, orange bitters, rosemary oil and lemon rind.

Cheese & charcuterie menu at Bootlegger Tiki

There’s isn’t much available in the way of food, but you can request the cheese and charcuterie menu from Ernest Coffee Co. (Since our visit a few more snacks have been added: sriracha coconut popcorn, dried mango chili, Coachella Valley dates and Hawaiian macadamia nuts.)

Charcuterie plate at Bootlegger Tiki

The regular platter ($25) turned out to be quite a spread, as you can see by that hefty slab of pork liver mousse. We were also pleased with our picks of the aged gouda, Cowgirl Creamery cheeses (St. Pat’s and Truffle Tremor), sopressata picante salami and smoked chorizo. (The platters are listed as chef’s choice, but our server let us make the six selections.)

Bootlegger Tiki happy hour

Happy hour is offered every day from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. and again from 12 a.m.-2 a.m., featuring $5 daiquiris, mojitos and Sloppy Joes (not the sandwich but the drink made with rum, dry vermouth, lime, triple sec and grenadine).

Bootlegger Tiki doesn’t have any souvenir ceramic mugs specially designed for them, but they do sell logo pint glasses, flasks and shakers, along with t-shirts and tanks tops. They’re available for purchase at the bar and at Ernest Coffee Co. next door.

With both Bootlegger Tiki and Tonga Hut Palm Springs opening in the past year or so, Palm Springs has become an even more desirable location for a weekend getaway.

Bootlegger Tiki
1101 N. Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs CA 92262

Related Posts:
Carrying the Torch: Ernest Coffee Co.
“Secret” Tiki Room at Tonga Hut Palm Springs
More Tiki in Palm Springs

Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde Book Review


The Mai Tai may be the drink most closely associated with tiki bars these days, but the Zombie is really where it all started. It was the mixological masterpiece of Don the Beachcomber (Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt), who also pretty much invented the concept of a tiki bar (i.e. a Polynesian-inspired place serving rum concoctions). Made with a blend of rums, citrus, spices, Pernod and bitters, the Zombie was mysterious, complex and potent.

It was so popular that opportunists began creating their own Zombies, some bearing little resemblance to the original article. Don the Beachcomber went to great lengths to keep his recipes a secret, so nobody really knew what went into the original Zombie until decades later when Jeff “Beachbum” Berry embarked to uncover it through exhaustive research and interviews. (His book Sippin’ Safari: In Search of the Great “Lost” Tropical Drink Recipes… and the People Behind Them was one of the main influences that really got me into all things tiki).

Now, David J. Montgomery (aka Professor Cocktail) has added another chapter to this intoxicating narrative with his recently published e-book Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde: Recipes for the World’s Most Lethal Drink. He unearthed and assembled more than 80 recipes for the Zombie, starting with the real deal and its earliest imitators in the 1930s on through the decades. Helpful “Professor’s Notes” accompany many of the recipes and warn readers as to which drinks are duds and which ones are worth recreating at home.

My favorites are the reinvented versions of the Zombie collected from today’s top tiki bars like Smuggler’s Cove, Mahiki and Frankie’s Tiki Room. And it’s not just tiki bars that are represented but also craft cocktail spots around the country, including PDT, Bar Agricole, Caña Rum Bar and Drink. It should also be noted that 10 of these recipes are Zombie Horde exclusives that have never before been published.

Zombie Horde is available as an e-book for $2.99, but there’s a paperback version ($13.46) if you’re old-school. The author has also just released another new e-book for imbibers: Professor Cocktail’s Holiday Drinks: Recipes for Mixed Drinks and More.

Related Posts:
Best Tiki Bars in America
Kahuna Kevin’s Cocktail Book Review

Kahuna Kevin’s “Why is the Rum Gone?” Cocktail Book Review


Kahuna Kevin titled his first cocktail book “Why Is the Rum Gone?” but I think my boyfriend would call it “Where Did All This Rum Come From?” Because after taking a look at all these intricate recipes, I went out on a spending spree so that I could recreate some of his crazy concoctions.

Even before I ever tried one of his drinks, I was already impressed by the passion and hard work that were apparent in producing this. The self-published book is beautifully designed, spiral-bound and printed on heavy card stock (the pages are now also coated with plastic to protect against spills), and there’s full color photos of the finished product to accompany each recipe. And how could I not be charmed by fun cocktail names like Irish Nutjob, Mary Ann & Ginger and the Truffle Shuffle? Goonies never say die!


For the last year I’ve been plugging away through Beachbum Berry’s books and filling up our liquor cabinet with a modest store of light, gold and dark rums. However, Kevin specifically calls for various spiced (Kraken, Sailor Jerry, Kilo Kai), premium rums (Zaya, Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva), and some exotic liqueurs that I’d previously never even heard of. (I still have no clue how to pronounce D’Aristi Xtabentun…) Most of the ingredients appear in multiple drinks, so it makes it a bit easier to justify springing for them. (Though if somebody wanted to buy me a bottle of Gran Duque D’Alba brandy for my birthday, I’d appreciate it.) was helpful in tracking down some of the more obscure items, like the Rogue Spirits hazelnut rum. They used to offer free U.S. shipping for orders over $100 but now that’s only for certain states.

OK back to the book. No drink has fewer than five ingredients; in fact, most of them have several more (up to sixteen in Kahuna Kevin’s Headless Zombie). With so many different flavors in play, it was sometimes hard to discern what they were all supposed to contribute to the cocktails. I’d say the Five Mile Stare is my favorite so far, along with the Beretta Vendetta. The others have mostly fallen in the middle for me, but my high expectations weren’t quite realised by the Caramel Rebellion or Bac-o-tini. (Truth be told, I find most culinary experiments involving bacon to be disappointing compared to the real deal.) I still have more to try, and I’m hoping to add to the list of keepers.

If you and your liver enjoy a challenge, or you have an encyclopedic selection of booze, this will be right up your alley.

Kahuna Kevin is about to release volume two of “Why is the Rum Gone?” Both books are available to order on his web site: