CVIndependent

Sat08242019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

It’s Saturday night, and Workshop Kitchen + Bar, in downtown Palm Springs, is buzzing. The bar is full—and the drink tickets are piling up.

A party of 12 walks in the door. A complicated cocktail order could put the bartenders in the weeds, or sink the ship entirely. (Full disclosure: I work at Workshop and its sister bar/restaurant, Truss and Twine—so trust me, I know.) Instead, Workshop bar manager Michelle Bearden deftly pours a pre-batched drink into a large antique punch bowl, tosses in a block of ice, sprinkles some micro edible flowers over the top, and—voila! The group’s first round is ready.

Punch, America’s first cocktail, is a win-win for the bartender and the guest, and is a perfect option for a party at home.

Bearden first realized the magic of the punch bowl when attending Orange County Bartenders Cabinet meetings, where roughly 50 groggy bartenders might show up at once, looking for a little hair of the dog. The punch bowls allowed attendees to get a drink in their hands before they started introducing themselves and mingling.

Bearden calls punch “a social lubrication.”

“For special events at the restaurant, or if you’re hosting something at your house, I love the idea of punch bowls, because it’s the water cooler of the party,” Bearden said. “It’s such a great way to break the ice, and it’s interactive: You go back to fill up your cup, or someone else’s. It’s very social and can get a dialogue going.”

Bearden said that on a busy Saturday night, Workshop might make six to 10 punch bowls, at least. The 5-year-old Uptown Design District staple offers one punch on the menu—the venerable Pisco Punch, Workshop’s take on the classic concoction containing Peruvian brandy, the house-made pineapple shrub, lemon juice, clove and sparkling wine—but will spin any drinks on the cocktail list into a bowl on request. The Pisco Punch at Workshop is perfectly balanced, refreshing, easy to drink and delicious.

Punch bowls are usually kept on the lighter side, as far as the alcohol by volume is concerned.

“They’re meant to be made so you can have two or three or four, and not get knocked on your ass,” Bearden said. “I love that about them.”

Bearden said she’s made punch bowls for groups in size from four up to 80 (!), and large groups can pre-order a punch bowl so the first round is ready the moment the party walks in the door.

“You walk up to your table, and there’s the vintage punch bowl all set with these cute little vintage tea cups. That just puts a good taste in everyone’s mouth,” Bearden said. “It’s exciting and takes the experience to the next level.”

Punch’s roots run deep, perhaps as early as 17th-century India. Punch has five important elements, which are basically the building blocks of the modern craft cocktail: liquor, sugar, citrus, tea (or spice) and water. It’s believed “punch” may have been derived from the Farsi and Hindi word for “five,” which is pronounced “panch.”

English sailors brought the concept of punch and its necessary spices home with them, and by the end of the 17th century, a bowl of punch was all the rage throughout England and its colonies. Back then, punch was usually served hot, but it was sometimes made with ice or cool water for the upper class.

James Ashley, known as the world’s first celebrity bartender, had a famous tavern—The Sign of the Two Punch Bowls, where punch was the obvious staple—on Ludgate Hill in London from 1731 until his death in 1776. Punch has always been community-oriented, and has crossed class boundaries from lowly sailors to British Lords. It’s odd but true: In the 18th century, men used to carry little silver nutmeg graters around with them for their punch.

A punch and its five elements can easily be thought of as the cornerstone of tiki cocktails as well, and any tiki bar worth its salt should offer punch bowls. The two main tiki bars in town—Bootlegger Tiki and Tonga Hut—fill the bill.

Bootlegger’s signature punch for the summer is called Knee Deep, named after the classic George Clinton song. It includes Cuban-style rum, Blanc Rhum, aquavit, pear brandy, pineapple, lime, pineapple gomme, blue curaçao and soda. Like all the drinks on the list at Bootlegger, the Knee Deep is perfectly balanced and rich with flavor.

“I think it’s important to remember the idea behind punch is to have something light that can be enjoyed for an hour to a whole afternoon, depending on the event,” said Chad Austin, beverage director at the 3-year old Bootlegger, located in the Uptown Design District and attached to Ernest Coffee. “You aren’t trying to get everyone tanked, just loosened up after a few cups.”

Tonga Hut, in the heart of downtown Palm Springs, lists two punch bowls on its menu: the classic Scorpion Bowl and the Tonga Hut Treasure—but offers any of its drinks as a bowl for two or more people. The Tonga Hut Treasure is an original recipe containing rum, orange liqueur, cream, honey, orgeat and grapefruit. The Scorpion Bowl has rum, brandy and almond. The punches are served in classic volcano bowls—lit on fire and sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg, tableside, for a spark.

Legend has it the Scorpion Bowl was born in the 1930s at a bar in Honolulu called The Hut as a single-serve concoction, but came to prominence when “Trader Vic” Bergeron scooped up the recipe roughly a dozen years later. He then tweaked it, multiplied it and served it up at his famous Oakland bar.

No matter the setting, from fine dining to tiki to a pool party, a bowl of punch is a great kickoff.

“It gets the energy going,” Bearden said. “No one is looking at each other and asking, ‘Are you going to have a drink, or are you going to have an ice tea?’ It sets the stage and gets things moving in the right direction.”

Patrick Johnson is a journalist and head bartender at Truss and Twine. He can be emailed at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

I was feeling a bit nostalgic. Perhaps it was due to a post-holiday malaise; maybe I was simply succumbing to the general trend in popular culture.

Whatever the cause, I began reminiscing on my first experiences drinking in public places: a smoky blues club, Chinese restaurant lounges, fancy dinners out with family, etc. While I was unable to locate a smoky blues club here in the Coachella Valley (send me suggestions!), I did visit two analogues of the other places to see how they matched up with my first memories of drinking.

I had never been to Melvyn’s before, but I felt like I had: So many people have told me about the place that I had a pretty good mental picture before walking in for the first time—and that picture was pretty spot-on. It was busy for a weekday (judging by the comments of the regulars surrounding me), but I managed to snag a prime barstool. I usually can; it’s kind of my superpower.

Surrounded by pictures of faces of celebrities living and deceased, I settled in and made friends with a couple of Canadian teetotalers next to me. They said they came here all the time, and were wondering if I was here to see it before the new ownership possibly changes things (which is apparently a big concern among regulars).

The bartender, Michael, was working the whole restaurant alone. I got anxiety just watching him, but he kept his cool. The maître d’ made the rounds and knew the guests by name. I asked the maître d’ what time the music started, and he pointed at the piano player: “At 7, or whenever the spirit moves him.” A minute or two later, the tinkling of ivory floated out from the corner. I guess the spirit was moving him—as it was beginning to move me.

I got a dry martini … what else am I going to put on a napkin featuring Frank Sinatra’s face? I ordered Bombay gin—craft gin’s not an option here. Shaken lightly, giant olives, hardly any vermouth … yeah, this is not the way you’d get it at my bar, but there are eras to cocktails, and they need to be acknowledged. For a place from this era, the tinkling of chip ice against the thin walls of a three-part shaker was a sound of success. I’m sure even Dale DeGroff was shaking plenty of gin martinis once upon a time. (That said, if you work at any place built in the last 20 years, and you shake my gin martini … well, let’s not go there.) Cold gin, a shrimp cocktail, piano music, Old Blue Eyes regarding me warmly from his paper prison … how much more old Palm Springs does it get?

The bartender suggested a Maker’s Mark Manhattan next, as though he were reading my mind; this drink was a mainstay of my early-to-mid-20s. Just like the ones I drank in my early-to-mid-20s, it was also shaken and light on vermouth, with nary a bitters bottle in sight. I didn’t come here for a Death and Co. Manhattan; I came for the kind my dad made at his bar—and I got it. (Again, bartenders: Don’t you dare do this if your clientele is younger than 75, on average.)

All and all, it was a lovely journey back to an era that we will never see again, since modern restaurant philosophy has changed so much—and so irreversibly.


So … there’s craft tiki; there’s tiki; and there is what I grew up drinking at the (long-gone) Aloha and other lounges that once peppered the Northeast: a sort of tiki/American-Chinese chimera with sour mix galore, and with loose interpretations of recipes by Trader Vic and Donn Beach (the creator of Don the Beachcomber), along with lots of greasy pork and noodles to sop up the ample booze. Oh, and ID checks were lenient, too. It was heaven. Luckily for me, some pockets of California held on to tiki in its more-or-less-original form. I’d heard that Tonga Hut, with a location in Palm Springs, was one of those places. I went to investigate.

First of all, it totally looks the part, aside from a balcony overlooking Palm Canyon Drive, but that’s a nice touch my Aloha could never have had. Everything was just as I imagined. I ordered a mai tai, which was made according to the Trader Vic recipe. (With all due respect to Donn Beach, I prefer the Trader Vic recipe, too—mostly because it’s way less complicated.) It was tasty and citrus-forward, with plenty of rum and a backbone of orange liqueur and almond—thankfully nothing like the pineapple-juice-and-rum versions of my youth! They had crab rangoons and beef teriyaki, and these dishes were actually much lighter-tasting and way less greasy than what I grew up eating (although I am not sure how I feel about that).

Next, I had bartender Josh make me a painkiller, one of those rarely seen tiki concoctions which was actually trademarked by Pusser’s Rum. It is a tasty mix of rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, coconut cream and a garnish of nutmeg. Because glassware is crucial to proper tiki, Josh even served it in a classic Pusser’s enameled metal mug. If you haven’t had one of these, give it a try: The ample nutmeg may seem a little odd at first, but once you get used to it, it really makes the drink feel festive. It has the DNA of a piña colada, but ends up tasting very different; the orange juice and nutmeg offer it a unique flavor.

Tonga Hut is definitely a good spot for those seeking a classic tiki fix, or for those, like me, who are just trying to scratch that itch for nostalgia.


Nostalgia cured, I went back to work.

I felt like I left the Bloody Mary debate a little unresolved last month, so I set about trying the drink at various places around town, despite my aversion to it in general. I felt it was my duty to know where the best one was; call it a sense of journalistic integrity, if you’d like.

I had been hearing over the last few months that Sparrows Lodge was a nice place to grab lunch, so when a friend called me up on a sunny afternoon, we decided to give it a go.

I had been to Sparrows once before, for an evening event, so I already knew the environment is unreal: You literally cannot take a bad picture here. I have tried. I ordered the Bloody Mary, knowing it could make or break my experience. It was wonderful, light and almost refreshing, with a sensible garnish of pickled okra. There seemed to be chili oil floating on top; I tasted mustard seeds and citrus. The vinegar was bright but not overpowering, with no congealed horseradish chunks in sight. While I would not have a second one in succession, because it’s still a Bloody Mary, I was impressed—so impressed that I am calling it the best one in town (at least that I have had so far).

So … goodbye nostalgia (and goodbye, Bloody Marys); time to move on and explore some new ground, even though it has been a fun trip down memory lane.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Seymour’s/Mr. Lyons and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

The Mod subculture from the 1960s in the United Kingdom involved fashion—but it was also about great music.

Lee Joseph, the founder of Dionysus Records and the bassist for Jesika Von Rabbit, and Bob Deck, also known as DJ Bobby California, love the Mod culture, and started throwing the monthly Mod-themed Desert Soul Club parties at the Tonga Hut over the summer.

They’ll be throwing the first Desert Soul Club of 2017 at 9 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 14.

“One of the inspirations is we were in Palm Springs and hearing the word ‘Mod’ all the time in reference to mid-century modernism,” Joseph said. “We wanted to do something genuinely Mod in Palm Springs.”

The music in Mod culture was generally soul, ska and British rock from bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Kinks.

“We wanted to do the true British kind of Mod sound,” Deck said, “not just the soul stuff that’s popular, but also some of the Mod-rock stuff too. We mix a lot of that stuff in. It’s easy to describe it as ’60s soul and Motown and stuff like that, but we’re doing a lot more. We do ska music, which is basically soul that was misheard across the airwaves in Jamaica on AM radios. We almost feel like we’re teaching a bit about the history of that music. We both have a kind of passion for that kind of music. We wanted to teach what the true meaning of Mod is, especially around here, where we feel it is kind of misinterpreted.”

Joseph explained the lifestyle aspect.

“All the Mods had jobs and money, and they bought records,” Joseph said. “It was a post-war generation of kids who had money, and it was their own money. They didn’t get it from their parents. They spent their money on clothing, Italian scooters and records. They would go out to clubs and go dancing. They had jobs that started really early in the morning, so they started taking speed and would dance all night to American soul records. The movie Quadrophenia explains the whole thing.”

Deck said Mods were influenced by the goings-on in Italy.

“They had a real affinity for what was coming out of Italy at the time: Italian scooters, Italian fashion and Italian art,” Deck said. “With any subculture, it’s not just about one thing. That’s kind of what this movement was, and it does have a tie-in with what’s going on in Palm Springs with modernism.”

Then along came disco.

“The scene broke up because of the popularity of disco music at the time,” Deck said. “A lot of the DJs would start to mix in Donna Summer records, and people were like, ‘No, we don’t want to hear this stuff! We want to hear the old stuff.’ In the ’70s, the purist Mod fans started forming bands, and there was a second era of Mod music in the ’70s like The Jam and power-pop kind of stuff.”

Joseph and Deck play some of that second-era Mod music at Desert Soul Club.

“We play Motown, Stax and New Orleans funk stuff from the ’70s,” Deck said. “We don’t play a lot of down-tempo stuff. A lot of it is high energy, and it’s party music. People respond to the hits, like the Supremes and Smokey Robinson. We like to have fun, and we both learn from each other what we’re playing. That’s something we love to do in our personal lives: learn about music.”

Joseph said he loves to share music with people.

“I’m from Tucson, Ariz., and I collect records from the late ’50s to the early ’70s,” Joseph said. “If you can imagine, every town in America had independent local records released, so there are a lot of records out there from that era. I really like Dyke and the Blazers; they’re from Phoenix. They had a hit in 1969 called ‘We Got More Soul.’

“Being a record collector, I don’t have a lot of people over to my house. This is the way to share our records with people.”

Deck has a history with the Tonga Hut in Palm Springs, and thought it would be a great place for the Desert Soul Club.

“We wanted to do this there, because we really like the owners,” Deck said. “We wanted to help them out, and I was a resident DJ there for a couple of years. That slowed down, and we wanted to do something together. They wanted to do something with us—and it was an easy match.”

Desert Soul Club will start at 9 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 14, at Tonga Hut Palm Springs, 254 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-322-4449, or visit www.facebook.com/DesertSoulClub.

Published in Previews

If you’ve seen a performance by Jesika Von Rabbit, you’ve probably seen several interesting characters accompanying her. Of course, there’s her 71-year-old dancing man, Larry Van Horn. And then there’s her bass-player, Lee Joseph. Originally from Tucson, Ariz., Lee now calls Joshua Tree home. He’s the owner of Dionysus Records, which is home to a lot of great underground music. He’s also a DJ; Joseph plays a lot of fascinating selections from the ‘60s through the modern day. In fact, he’ll be DJing with DJ Bobby California at the Desert Soul Club at Tonga Hut Palm Springs at 9 p.m., Saturday, May 28. Admission is free, but be sure to dress sharp and wear your dancing shoes. Here are his answers to The Lucky 13.

What was the first concert you attended?

Some battle of the bands thing in Tucson when I was 10 back in the late ’60s. The first arena concert I was taken to was Tom Jones at The Forum in Los Angeles. I was visiting after my brother had moved there; his date blew him off, so he took me. First arena concert I bought tickets to and went on my own: Rolling Stones/Stevie Wonder ’72. It was the inaugural show for the Tucson Community Center.

What was the first album you owned?

Can’t remember. I really had lots of children’s albums, and I think maybe it was the Dumbo soundtrack on Disney. The first rock album I owned that I chose was Herman’s Hermit’s Greatest Hits, Vol 1. I must have been 7 years old.

What bands are you listening to right now?

The Live at the Gold Dollar box set released by Third Man Records, Jack White and The Bricks, Two Star Tabernacle, and The Go. (I’m a member of the Third Man Records Vault.)

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

Anything with Auto-Tune.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

I wish I could have seen the Iggy Pop tour that David Bowie did playing keyboards, pretty much in the shadows.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

I feel no guilt about anything I listen to, really.

What’s your favorite music venue?

Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“Life is short, filled with stuff,” The Cramps, “New Kind of Kick.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

The Dead Boys. Upon buying their Young Loud and Snotty album in late ’78, I cut off my hair, dumped three-quarters of my records (I lost most of my friends on that note as well) and immersed myself in the then-world of punk and “new wave.” It felt to me like the bridge between the awesomeness of 1966 garage rock and constantly evolving pop culture of the ’60s, and the modern world, flipping the finger at the stagnant late ’70s corporate sound of FM radio and mega-star bands. If not for punk, I think perhaps I’d have never had the inspiration to start a label.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

Johann Sebastian Bach: “Where’d you get that awesome black velvet jacket?”

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Beatles.

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

That’s no problem at all: Electric Ladyland, Jimi Hendrix.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Looking for a Weirdo,” Jesika von Rabbit. (Scroll down to hear it.)

Published in The Lucky 13

What: The Nutty Chi Chi

Where: Tonga Hut Palm Springs, 254 N. Palm Canyon Drive

How Much: $11

Contact: 760-322-4449; www.tongahut.com

Why: Nutty and creamy is a dreamy combination.

Tiki bars—drinking establishments that serve tropical, island-themed cocktails, often with an emphasis on fruit juices and rum—used to be a big freaking deal.

After World War II, these bars slung mai tais and scorpion bowls to a thirsty, eager public. In fact, Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley were the home to a number of tiki bars before the craze subsided and largely died off in the 1970s.

However, to some, like Tonga Hut co-owner Amy Boylan, the craze never died. The original Tonga Hut has been a mainstay in North Hollywood since 1958, and when her crew opened the second Tonga Hut here in downtown Palm Springs in February, it reintroduced tiki-bar culture to the Coachella Valley—and in a big way. (Sorry, but Toucan’s doesn’t count.)

Ask, if you can, for a tour of the Palm Springs Tonga Hut; the detail will amaze you. One of my favorite details: photos, menus and other memorabilia from some of those late, lamented Palm Springs tiki joints, framed within each of the booths. Very cool.

Unlike the original Tonga Hut, the Palm Springs spot has a full kitchen and serves food; they’re working out a few kinks in that area, as one would expect. But thanks to 56 years of experience, the folks at Tonga Hut have the drinks down pat—and one of our favorites is the Nutty Chi Chi.

The drink is not all that complicated—it’s got some creamy piña-colada fixings, vodka and macadamia-nut liqueur—but the result is a smooth, sweet, refreshing and nuanced glass of fun. This drink will be even more refreshing as the temperatures rise, too.

Our recommendation: Head to Tonga Hut; get a seat on the awesome balcony, if one is open; order a Nutty Chi Chi; and raise your glass in a toast to the fact that the valley’s cocktail and bar scene is improving—thanks in part to the return of tiki to the desert.

Published in The Indy Endorsement