Since The Raymond's 1886 Bar re-opened to the public in late April, it's paid homage to classics in food and drink and those who've made an impact on our understanding of them. The inaugural menu that launched the new bar program included a nod to soda jerks and Charles H. Baker, Jr., author of The Gentleman's Companion, otherwise described by one writer as a travelogue for bon vivants. The bar has since swapped the two-part menu -- which included an arrack cocktail with curry-lime cordial and Angostura bitters -- for a summer-only version with a new set of flavors.
"Our whole summer menu is focused on that tiki era; it revives a lot of tiki classics and presents new tiki recipes among other summer stuff," says Greg Gertmenian, who's been bartending and developing cocktails at the Pasadena bar since its re-opening.
The Bahooka Family Restaurant on Rosemead, a favorite of the team at 1886, served as one of their references in menu development. Gertmenian visited during the week it was set to close and had a strawberry colada. "I love the flavors and wondered what it would be like if you were to recreate all the syrups from scratch. I thought it'd add dimension to the drink," he says.
The current menu, with a classic tiki section, includes a Strawberry Colada on Fire. "It's our rendition of the favorites on the Bahooka menu."
It was Earnest Gantt, better known in his lifetime as Don the Beachcomber, who in large part brought in the cocktails we've come to associate with tiki culture here in L.A. As Gertmenian points out, Gantt used fresh juices with rum at the time. "As tiki culture sat around in the U.S. over the years, all that fresh stuff was replaced with synthetic syrup, preservative-filled juices, and ingredients with a longer shelf life. Even the drinks you'd get at Bahooka, a lot of them used shelf-stable syrup."
The new version at 1886 Bar has fresh lime juice, two fruit-based reductions made in-house, coconut cream and Nicaraguan rum. Gertmenian settled on making reductions of both pineapple and strawberry, which took a few batches to perfect, as opposed to using fresh juices. "When you're dealing with a drink that has a lot of fresh ingredients, the acidity and sugar content can vary. If you can reduce a product to syrup form, you can be more precise more often," Gertmenian says. He says that another reason is to achieve a flavor more akin to caramelized fruit than freshly juiced fruit.
He's trained extensively for two-plus years under Lucas Paya and Ben Browning of Bar Centro at The Bazaar. When Gertmenian left Bar Centro, he looked for ways to expand his bar experience and knowledge. "I had the organic, citrus-forward cocktails and the molecular techniques down, but I didn't have as much experience working with spirits-forward cocktails,knowledge of spirits production and wine."
Gertmenian continues, "I was really lucky to be connected to Marus Tello who brought me on to 1886." Before he started working there, he had to undergo a month-long training program that required a mechanics test and a knowledge test. "It's super invaluable in terms of putting everything into perspective."
The cocktail will be available at 1886 Bar through the summer, at least until the end of this month. If you can't make it to Pasadena any time soon, Gertmenian shared the recipe below, including reductions, for Strawberry Colada on Fire, which does not include the flaming strawberry.
Turn the page for the recipe...