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
760-318-4154

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

Carrying the Torch: Ernest Coffee Co. in Palm Springs

Don the Beachcomber's tiki torches

The tiki torches on top of the roof are one of the few remaining relics from the Palm Springs branch of Don the Beachcomber that occupied this building from its opening in 1953 through the ’80s. Like the Hollywood original, this desert sequel was a Polynesian-inspired hotspot frequented by celebrities.

Ernest Coffee Co. logo

Those restored torches now form the logo for Ernest Coffee Co., which opened in June 2014. The two entrepreneurs behind this independent coffeehouse, photographer Jaime Kowal and designer Chris Pardo, also paid tribute to the history of this site by calling it after Don the Beachcomber’s real name: Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt. (They also own neighboring bar Bootlegger Tiki, a nod to Don’s occupation before he essentially invented the tiki bar.)

Ernest Coffee Co. Palm Springs

It’s located on North Palm Canyon Drive in the Upper Design District of Palm Springs, so it’s convenient to some great mid-century modern furnishing stores and fun shops like Raymond | Lawrence and Shag: The Store.

Ernest Coffee Co. bagels

The only touch of tiki I noticed in this space was this Dynasty Easter Islander mug serving as a planter. Rather, the design is pretty industrial with concrete and reclaimed wood contrasting with bright red and silver metal chairs.

Banquette at Ernest Coffee Co.

Along the right wall, opposite the coffee bar, is a gray raised banquette and a library of faux book shelves. It’s the preferred spot for people to hunker down with their laptops to write the next Great American Novel.

Ernest Coffee Co. patio

A shaded patio runs along West Via Lola Street and continues to the entrance of Bootlegger Tiki. If you can take the heat, you can enjoy some nice views of the mountains.

Ernest Coffee Co. interior

Ernest serves up Stumptown Coffee and all the espresso drinks one would expect: americano, latte, mocha, etc. (plus iced versions, but no blended beverages). I hear they also make a mean dirty chai.

Ernest Coffee Co. iced latte

A large iced hazelnut latte was a refreshing pick-me-up after touring the nearby House of the Future (aka the “Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway”). Admittedly, I was also biding my time until Bootlegger Tiki opened at 4 p.m.

Ernest Coffee Co. beers

If you’re looking for something stronger, there’s also wine, mimosas with fresh orange juice and several bottled beers including Mana Wheat from Maui Brewing Co., Unibroue’s La Fin du Monde and Einstök Ölgerð Icelandic White Ale.

Ernest Coffee Co. pastries

A variety of pastries are available — almond croissants, muffins, danishes, date scones and chocolate escargot — plus bagels and oatmeal. In the afternoon, patrons can compose their own platters of cheese and charcuterie.

Ernest Coffee Co. mug

There’s a great display of merchandise with Ernest Coffee Co. logo coffee mugs ($8), tank tops ($20) and t-shirts ($25) with the logo or the slogan “Serious Coffee…Seriously”.

Ernest Coffee Co. shirts

I snagged the last gray logo shirt — it’s super soft! You can also buy Bootlegger Tiki souvenirs like flasks, pint glasses and cocktail shakers, Stumptown Coffee beans and other goodies.

Ernest Coffee Co. in Palm Springs

Ernest Coffee Company is open every day from 6 a.m.-7 p.m., with happy hour 4 p.m.-6 p.m. offering half-price house wine and $3 beers. Since alcohol is served, it’s technically supposed to be a 21-and-up crowd.

Ernest Coffee Palm Springs

1101 N. Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs, CA 92262
760-318-4154


Related Posts:

Tiki Bars in Palm Springs
A Look Back at the Torches: Modernism Week Architecture Bus Tour

Click to add a blog post for Ernest Coffee on Zomato

Vintage-style Matchbooks & More at Raymond Lawrence Palm Springs

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During Palm Springs Modernism Week we spent most of our time attending lectures, film screenings and walking tours — not to mention imbibing at Tonga Hut Palm Springs — but we did manage to make some time shop in the Uptown Design District on North Palm Canyon Drive. This area is home to vintage stores (like Dazzles), designer boutiques (Trina Turk), art galleries (Shag: The Store) and more. One place we discovered this time around was Raymond | Lawrence, which hosts dozens of different pop-up shops all under one roof. There’s a wide range of interesting wares, from souvenirs to clothes to home decor to art. I love this concept!

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The Palm Springs Modernism Committee had its own section and one of their items for sale was this set of vintage-style reproduction matchbooks ($10) from historic Palm Springs hotspots and local landmarks, including the Chi Chi Starlite Room with its logo copying Edgar Leeteg’s famous painting “Hina Rapa.”

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There was even a tiki display featuring the “I Lava Tiki” collection of colorful ceramics produced by One Hundred 80 Degrees and designed by Carolyn Kopecky. (She’s the one who designed that amazing sunken ship mug for Psycho Suzi’s.)

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A few years ago, designer Todd Oldham collaborated with dinnerware company Fishs Eddy on a series of dishes and glasses featuring the wildlife-inspired art of Charley Harper.

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Of course, I was drawn to this pufferfish sauce dish. (Perhaps you’ve noticed a theme around here.) These are just a few of the retail temptations to be found at Raymond | Lawrence. I can tell this will be another spot we return to again and again to see what’s new.

Raymond | Lawrence
830 N. Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs, CA 92262
760-322-3344

Related Posts:
Reviews of Tiki Bars in Palm Springs