photograph by ANTHONY VERDE
Thatched roofs, waving palms and fruity rum cocktails; the three together form an image every harried commuter has entertained while stuck in traffic on slushy winter days. And while few operations can take on the full package of tropical island ambiance, some bars and restaurants successful at marketing this quintessential new world spirit have leaned heavily on its festive imagery and connections to do so. It could be a customer’s Hawaiian honeymoon memories or her recollection of cool Caribbean beachside sunsets; whatever the connection, latching on to rum’s reputation as the vacation fun drink has brought many operators strong returns.
“When you go to the Grand Maunalaia or the Four Seasons, the first thing they do is hand you a Mai Tai,” says Jeff Knight, owner of L.A.’s hot Maui Beach Cafe. “We wanted to try to evoke those wonderful, sentimental feelings when you walk into our restaurant.”
It’s a welcoming ritual repeated at airports and hotels wherever rum is produced, which must count for something in the beverage’s reputation. Whether it’s Rum Punch in the Virgin Islands, Mai Tais in Maui, or Pi