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

Vintage-style Matchbooks & More at Raymond Lawrence Palm Springs


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!


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.”


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.)


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.


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

Related Posts:
Reviews of Tiki Bars in Palm Springs

“Secret” Tiki Room at Tonga Hut Palm Springs


What’s better than a secret entrance to a hidden room? A secret entrance to a hidden TIKI room! That’s one of the highlights of Tonga Hut Palm Springs, a desert offshoot of the North Hollywood tiki bar. (See my previous post for the full review.)


In the hallway between The Hideaway dining room and the kitchen you might notice an old-fashioned telephone booth. Step into this anachronism, push against the wall and you’ll find yourself seemingly transported to another place and time.


There’s another false wall next to the phone booth that can let more people in, but for me it doesn’t get any better than that phone booth. It’s like the tiki equivalent of Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4.


While the lounge and bar area have more of a sleek, mid-century modern feel, this is where you’ll really get that sense of tiki’s tropical escapism (reminiscent of the original in North Hollywood). Perching over the half-circle booth is a bamboo overhang supported by carved tiki poles. Neou panels cover the ceiling and there’s lauhala matting and tapa cloth on the walls, plus Papua New Guinea-style masks.


On the opposite wall is a red banquette and lots of nautical touches, including a Chinese sailing painting, rigging and rope, brass anchor lantern and model ship.


Proper lighting is important in a tiki room, and helping to the set the perfect tone are these lovely lanterns. Almost all of the vintage artifacts came from the homes of the co-owners, the Boylans and Murphys, who have been collecting for years. (The spears and shrunken head were contributed by Danny aka Tiki Diablo.)


I thought I spotted a small barrel lamp from Bahooka and my suspicions were confirmed by Tiki Diablo, who was there on opening weekend working on the adjacent covered patio. (There you’ll find more nautical objects and burlap-covered benches made to look like rum crates.)


To dine in this “secret” tiki room, you’ll need to call in advance and secure the reservation with a $100 refundable deposit. If this space doesn’t inspire you to head to Palm Springs immediately, I don’t know what will!

Related Posts:
Full Review of Tonga Hut Palm Springs
Other Tiki Things in Palm Springs