Jeff Berry: The Beachbum
Tiki Legend Jeff ‘Beachbum’ visited Australia for the first time to co-host De Kuyper The Works for 2017 earlier this year.
In our September/October issue, Madeline Woolway caught up with the Beachbum in Sydney to pick his brain on all things Tiki – and capture some of the master’s wisdom. The following is an extract from that feature.
WHERE DID YOUR OBSESSION WITH TIKI START?
When I was 6-years-old. I was taken to one of these places in the 1960s when I was child and it was just completely immersive. They had an indoor waterfall, even the carpet had a Polynesian print on it and there was a little dawn to dusk diorama of an island scene behind the bar. When I was old enough to drink I went to a few of those places and the drinks were as good as they looked. This was in the 1980s – the dark age of cocktails, when everything devolved and became prepackaged mixes – and you couldn’t get a good cocktail to save your life. But Tiki places were still doing what they’d always done with fresh ingredients and really teasing, elusive flavours that I could not pass.
WHY DO YOU THINK THERE’S BEEN A RESURGENCE IN TIKI IN RECENT YEARS?
Historically, if I may give you a long answer to a short question, the worse things get in the world the better it is for Tiki. Tiki has always thrived when things are at the crappiest. It started during the depression and it had a real shot in the arm during World War II. It was the worst conflagration in human history and people were freaked out and they needed an escape. They needed two hours in an immersive environment that made them forget about all that stuff. That carried all the way through the 1950s – the age of nuclear paranoia.
Then you look at today and look what we’ve got: you’ve got climate change happening at a rate that means our children might not be on a planet they can survive on, and certain governments aren’t doing anything about it. Then there’s perpetual war and the constant threat of terrorism. And then in the United States you have the rise of fascism again and that’s horrible for the American people, but it’s great for Tiki.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION PEOPLE HAVE ABOUT TIKI?
They are never sweet – if they’re done right. This is the biggest misconception people have if they’ve never been to a proper Tiki bar. We get people coming into Latitude 29 saying they don’t like sweet drinks and we say, in the politest possible way, we don’t serve sweet drinks. We serve balanced drinks. The sour element is just as important as the sweet element. Also, the whole idea they came from the South Pacific is complete nonsense. It’s a really weird faux-Polynesian thing, it was developed in mid-century America as a pop-culture phenomenon. The term my friend Sven Christensen, who was the first to chronicle the phenomenon, has termed it Polynesian pop, which I think sums it up pretty nicely.
HOW DOES THE SCENE IN AUSTRALIA COMPARE TO THE USA?
It reminds me of a lot of the Chicago bar scene, which is a compliment. Chicago has the same kind of world class drinks that other cities in the US have, but it has a much higher level of hospitality. What I like about the bars I’ve been to so far in Sydney, is that the drinks are world class but they’re served to you with a warmth and a smile – and that’s really why people go to bars.