Raising the Tiki Bar | Drink | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
click to enlarge Illustration courtesy of Craig Mrusek
Illustration courtesy of Craig Mrusek

When you're a tiki-drink connoisseur, finding what you want can take some time.

"I think I had the 'Suffering Bastard' before -- it's pretty good," says Craig Mrusek, pondering the options at South Side's Tiki Lounge. 

At 6 p.m., the place is nearly empty except for a giant wooden tiki figure. Nearby hangs a copy of a 1982 album released by Scott Baio -- "the Justin Bieber of that time," says Mrusek.

Tiki drinks -- the phrase refers to a wide range of concoctions featuring primarily rum and fruit juice -- may be the Scott Baio of liquor. What Mrusek calls "the golden era of tiki" lasted from the 1930s to the 1960s. Being a tiki devotee today, he says, means "doing some archaeology." Many once-common tiki ingredients are no longer easy to find. Even the recipes are hard to come by: Mrusek hunts down out-of-print bar guides at flea markets.

Such devotion to "cocktail geekdom" has helped make Mrusek famous. Writing under the name "Dr. Bamboo," his blog (drbamboo.blogspot.com) has become a vital online resource.

Mrusek's entry into the world of online cocktails occurred in 2006, after his mother-in-law bought him cocktail legend Ted Haigh's book, Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. Mrusek was later featured in a subsequent edition, as one of its 25 "Most Influential Online Cocktail Pioneers." 

His blog features classic recipes and his own creations; Mrusak, who works as a freelance illustrator in Forest Hills, graces each with his own artwork, "us[ing] a drink as inspiration."

A recent post, for example, featured the Zombie a la Puerto Rico, based on a 1956 recipe using three types of rum -- and illustrated with a zombie run through by a pole bearing Puerto Rico's flag. But Mrusek suggests novices start with something simple, like the "Painkiller" (4 oz. pineapple, 1 oz. orange, 1 oz. coconut cream, 2½ oz. dark Jamaican rum and ground nutmeg). 

But no matter what the drink, he says, tiki cocktails are "kind of a pain in the ass to make. And I say that with affection."

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