Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Waikiki Silver and Gold

The rum flowed like a man-made waterfall at a cheesy Caribbean resort.

Arriving at Acacia for the second tiki takeover, Friend and I were greeted by a guy angry enough at his skateboard to pick it up, yell directly at it and then throw it on the ground in punishment.

"I arranged that just so people would see it and want to duck into the nearest bat," said tiki mastermind T, dressed festively in a flowered Hawaiian shirt and lei. You have to appreciate a man who not only slings a fine drink but has a sense of humor.

Having learned a few lessons from last year, we'd made sure to arrive right at 10:00 in hopes of beating the worst of the crush of humanity.

I'll concede that Acacia provided far more room for everyone overall, but the drink lines, at least initially, were just as long.

After being introduced to a chef recently returned from a decade in Italy, I joined one of the snake-like queues to procure a Scorpion Bowl for my date and me.

There were far more options on the tiki menu this year than last, although I missed how last year they had listed the year (or at least the decade) the drink had been created and become popular and in some cases, even where.

Let's face it, inquiring drinking minds want to know.

While in line, I ran into loads of people I knew, some curious how I knew the others (never underestimate the neighborhood connection). Make new friends, but keep the old.

Finally at the front, I watched as Danny (nattily dressed in a shirt with the sleeves torn off beach bum-style) combined Nicaraguan rum, brandy, orange lemon and orgeat in a hollowed out pineapple, topping it with fresh hibiscus, marigolds and miniature daisies.

And most importantly, a paper umbrella and two straws.

As I moved back through the crowd, person after person stopped me to find out what I had in my hot little hands.

Friend and I attacked the drink like Lady and the Tramp had their bowl of spaghetti, each doing our part to work it down as people stopped by to chat with us.

Like many people, I had shown up in tiki attire, which for me means a tropical blue Hawaiian-looking sundress and at one point, a girl grabbed my arm and began raving about my dress.

Let's be clear, this is a dress I ordered out of a catalog in 1995 and drag out every summer once or twice because it's still pretty, but not rave-worthy.

Next thing I know, she grabs her husband and pulls him in to check out my dress and tell me how much he likes it, too. For all I know they were crazy swingers looking for an entry point.

While quite a few in the crowd had donned tiki togs, I thought it a shame that Acacia was noticeably absent any of the decorative touches that made last year's tiki takeover so atmospheric. No blow up palm trees, no coconut heads, no fishing nets. No bubble machine, no crabs nor monkeys.

They were all missed, as was last year's DJ Puma spinning tiki-appropriate music.

Where Acacia excelled was in having made the tiki takeover a ticketed event with a tropical buffet included as part of the ticket.

Chef Dale Reitzer providing endless eats? Oh, hells yes.

The voodoo goat alone was worth the price of admission, long cooked, falling off the bone and redolent of allspice. The jerk chicken was tender, flavorful and addictive. More than one person told me they couldn't leave the fried plantains alone. A well-known chef was popping conch fritters and fried okra in his mouth like popcorn.

My second drink, hard won after an even longer wait than the first time, was the Ancient Mariner with aged Demerare and dark Jamaican rums blended with citrus and (again) allspice while my pal went with a Hurricane.

I moved around the room discussing the movie "Chef" with people who'd come from seeing it, got introduced to a Farmville bar manager who regaled me with anecdotes about sore privates and medicated cornstarch (and was positive I'd been in his bar drinking red wine) and hearing from a favorite server that she's moving to New Orleans in July (may as well jump head first into the heat and humidity, no?).

Before long it was clear that some people were going for the sprint and not the marathon, a rookie mistake if you ask me. A pro knows a four-hour tiki takeover requires pacing or you'll never make it to the end.

As people with spinning eyes and slurring speech began leaving, friend and I added glasses of water to our intake and kept moving around to let different people entertain us, like a guy in pink shorts so, um, fitted that my friend couldn't help but stare. He turned out to be friendly, sharing the source of the shorts and even showing us the elastic waistband under his stylish belt.

After another pass at the voodoo goat, we easily got our final drinks of the evening, mine a Painkiller of Navy rum, pineapple, orange and coconut (and touted as the drink of the British Virgin Islands) and hers an Ankle Breaker, a deep ruby beauty of three rums and cherry brandy.

It would have been at this point that we most missed a DJ since dancing would have been just the thing to expend some of that sugar energy we'd been consuming all night. But, alas, no.

Still, it had been a stellar evening out with a favorite girlfriend who doesn't get out much these days, and all the more unique because we'd spent it drinking cocktails, not our usual M.O.

But we also got our traditional late night gab session when I drove her home and we sat in the car for almost an hour talking about everyone, ourselves and life in general, windows down to the warm night air.

I especially loved it when she told me, "You're so good about grabbing the life that you want."

Fortunately, once a year that life comes with a little paper umbrella. And it is good, very good.

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