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

A-Frame Goes Hawaiian with Local Favorites & Tiki-Inspired Drinks

IMG_2237 Five years ago, chef Roy Choi of Kogi food truck fame transformed an old IHOP in Culver City into an Asian-influenced “urban picnic” dining spot called A-Frame (after its iconic shape, naturally). In February 2015, the restaurant fulfilled its architectural destiny by transitioning to a more Hawaiian-centric concept with tiki-esque drinks.

16793277049_6a892bce81_o_1 While it’s true that Roy Choi was chef of the old Trader Vic’s Beverly Hills back in the day, the real driving force for this was the new executive chef, Johnny Yoo, who wanted to serve up Hawaiian comfort food inspired by places like Side Street Inn in Honolulu. On A-Frame’s web site, Choi points out that the menu already had some aloha flavor to it, with the furikake kettle corn and baby back ribs. (Those are two of the few dishes kept on the menu since the switch.)

IMG_2241 The decor stayed essentially the same, with the addition of some vintage longboards above the bar and artist Eric Junker’s graffiti art of “Hawaiian-inspired alchemical symbols of abundance and gratitude.”

IMG_2244 There are some tiki amongst the decor, including a Big Kahuna tiki bottle opener from Smokin’ Tikis perched on the bar. Take a look in the merch display at the reservation stand and you’ll spot a few more tikis.

16793281649_12e9126b4e_o_2 Even if you sampled poi at a luau once and didn’t like it, don’t let that deter you from ordering the Hush Poippies ($9) to start. These crispy bites of taro and potato arrive piping hot to the table because the kitchen sends each dish out as soon as it’s ready. They’re served with a side of sweet chili sauce but are addictive enough on their own with the grated white cheddar and Parmesan.

IMG_2272 A-Frame produces its own house-made Spam, a noble endeavor that we had to support by getting the musubi (one piece for $5 or a trio for $12). The ume paste brings an interesting, tangy taste to this essential Hawaiian snack made with white rice and Spam wrapped in nori.

IMG_2288 Eight Legged Duck ($17) presents an intriguing pairing of seared foie gras and slices of baby octopus terrine, though we wish the portion had been a bit more generous. In the interest of not running up the bill too high, we’d skip this next time.

IMG_2294 - Version 2 My meat-and-potatoes man went for the Double Kimcheesburger ($14). He tends to have more traditional tastes but he was on board with the toppings of cucumber kimchi, bacon guava jam, sweet Maui onion and aged cheddar.

IMG_2298 Curry gravy and pickled pearl onions put a slightly different (but very welcome) spin on Loco Moco ($15), that Hawaiian staple of a hamburger patty with rice, gravy and a runny egg.

IMG_2302 Another carryover from A-Frame’s previous menu is the dessert Chu Don’t Know Mang ($10): pound cake churros with malted chocolate milk and vanilla ice cream. We were blown away by these and can definitely see why it had to stick around.

IMG_2304 The cocktail list features 11 tiki-inspired tipples, priced at $12 each. The most traditional of the bunch is the Zombie Isle (Bourbon barrel rum, Hawaiian dark rum, lime, orange, apricot, absinthe). (Bonus points for serving it in a tiki mug.) I have to say that I wasn’t a fan of the Pina Cholada (reposado tequila, coconut milk, orgeat, lime, pineapple, egg white). Normally I have no issues with tequila but here it turned me off. I’m still curious to try the other drinks, though — I’m sure there’s a favorite to be found. There’s also 24 oz. cans of Primo available plus several California craft beers on tap.

IMG_2240 Every night from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. and weekends from 10 p.m.-closing there’s Luau Hour, featuring deals on select dishes, $4 beers, $6 wine and $8 cocktails (Kona Old Fashioned, Guava Buck and a Big Island Gimlet with passionfruit). During weekend brunch, A-Frame pays tribute to its IHOP roots by offering all-you-can-eat pancakes ($15) in tropical variations like banana mac nut and lilikoi butter. (You can also add on unlimited Mimosas, Micheladas and Bloody Marys for $16.)

12565 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90066

A-Frame on Urbanspoon

Lunch at Capt. Cook’s: Set a Course for…Nachos!


Five years ago when I first set foot on Disney’s Polynesian Resort, I was pretty unimpressed by the decor of Capt. Cook’s, the quick-service restaurant in the Great Ceremonial House. Dated pastels and bland hibiscus flowers weren’t doing it for me. When the major renovations started at the resort last year, this interior was one of the first things to be refreshed. (Oddly enough, the entranceway remains the same.)


Capt. Cook’s reopened in August 2014 and we got to see its new look last month when we stopped by for a meal before drinks at the Tambu Lounge upstairs. (Alas, the bar opens at 1 p.m. but doesn’t serve food until 5 p.m.) Rustic, natural-looking materials (like wood in various tones) play off warm oranges and bright, colorful images. The light fixtures, flooring, tables and chairs were all changed for the better, too.


I especially love the 12 vintage-style travel posters highlighting the Polynesian islands after which the resort’s longhouses have been named: Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, etc.


The dining area on the other side of the cash registers isn’t as detailed in decoration, but the floor-to-ceiling windows should reveal some nice views once the construction walls are removed. (That’s likely to be very soon after I post this.)


The touch-screen kiosks are no more, so guests place an order with a cast member near the menu boards then take a receipt to pay at the central register. (Also gone are the self-serve Dole Whip machine — there’s the Pineapple Lanai for that now — and the Grown Up Grilled Cheese, a cult food favorite made with cheddar, Swiss and Boursin. That actually sounds really good so I’d be on board with bringing it back.)


On the lunch and dinner menu (served 11 a.m.-11 p.m.) you’ll still find mainstays like the grilled chicken sandwich on a pineapple coconut bun ($9.49, pictured), pulled pork sandwich, bacon cheeseburger and flatbreads. (With the sandwiches you get a choice of fries, chips, steamed vegetables or Asian slaw.) A slew of new dishes were also added recently, including fish tacos, a noodle bowl, coconut curry meatballs, a hot dog with garlic ketchup and mango relish, and buffalo fried chicken and waffles.


I went for the famous pulled pork nachos ($8.29) and they totally exceeded my expectations. House-made potato chips and seasoned fried wontons are heaped with super-flavorful coffee-rubbed pork plus cheese, tomatoes, onions, spicy mayo and pineapple salsa. I polished off that entire plate! (FYI, these nachos are also on the abbreviated dinner menu at Tambu Lounge.)


In the mornings from 6:30 a.m.- 11 a.m. you can drop in for Tonga Toast, The Poly’s notorious “banana-stuffed sourdough bread, battered and deep-fried, and dusted with cinnamon sugar.” It’s a staple from the breakfast menu at Kona Café upstairs, but I appreciate that it’s also served here so one doesn’t have to worry about making reservations in advance to try it.


With the imminent opening of its neighbor, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, I imagine Capt. Cook’s will get a boost in business from the overflow of people who won’t be able to get in next door. Naturally, the new tiki bar would be at the top of my list if I were there, but Capt. Cook’s should get credit for being a pretty delightful option for a quick, casual meal at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.

Related Posts:
The New Look of the Great Ceremonial House at Disney’s Polynesian Resort
Where to Find Dole Whip with Rum All Year Round at Disney World
Tiki Bars in Orlando

Captain Cook's Snack Company on Urbanspoon