CVIndependent

Thu10292020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Happy Monday, everyone. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get right to it:

The coronavirus is spreading locally. According to the just-released Riverside County District 4 report, the local positivity rate—the percentage of tests that come back positive for the virus—is a too-high 14 percent. (The state wants that number kept below 8 percent.)

The numbers of cases keep going up. At first glance, the recent case numbers always look deceptively low on this report, and here’s why: The dates reflect positive cases based on when the tests are taken, not when the results come back—and since test results can take 3-5 days to receive, sometimes longer, we don’t have a lot of results back yet from last week. Just look at the numbers from May 25 on, and you’ll see the mess that the Coachella Valley is in.

• COVID-19-related hospitalizations, after being somewhat stable for the last week, have gone up substantially in recent days. County-wide, as of the weekend, 98.7 percent of our hospitals’ ICU beds were taken. However … according to the Los Angeles Times, that’s not the big problem, believe it or not; apparently, even in non-pandemic times, local hospitals frequently run out of ICU beds (!). Even now, there’s enough space, and plenty of ventilators. The problem is the number of medical professionals. Key quote:

Michael Ditoro, chief operating officer at Desert Regional Medical Center, said the facility hit ICU-bed capacity “well prior to COVID. Year after year.” The medical center’s surge beds are equally equipped to treat patients as regular ICU beds, he said.

Bed capacity might not be their biggest challenge, Ditoro said. Instead, it’s scant staffing.

“You don’t really have a centralized area with the beds all around it where it’s really quick to get to them. Instead, you may be in a longer hall unit where you need staff closer to each room,” he said of the surge units.

• Because of the increasing numbers, Gov. Gavin Newsom over the weekend cracked down on 15 counties, either ordering that they close bars—or strongly suggesting they do so. As a result, bars here in Riverside County—many of which had already voluntarily closed—will need to shut their doors tonight. Loophole alert: Bars can remain open if they serve food, and mandate that customers purchase food with their drinks. It’s also worth noting that Newsom said more closings could be ordered if things don’t improve.

The county Board of Supervisors meeting will take place online tomorrow, and parts of the County Administrative Center were closed, because several county employees tested positive for the virus

Los Angeles County is closing beaches over the July 4 weekend, since we, as Americans, are collectively proving that we’re incapable of wearing masks and social distancing and simply being intelligent in general.

• Cocktail break! Here’s Alton Brown’s refreshing mint julep recipe. If you don’t partake in spirits, here’s a non-alcoholic recipe.

• In Arizona, one of the COVID-19 hotbeds in the United States, Gov. Doug Ducey today ordered that bars, gyms, movie theaters and water parks close for at least 30 days, starting this evening. He also pushed back the planned opening of schools there by a couple of weeks. Weirdly enough, there’s still NOT a statewide mask order in the Grand Canyon State.

All Broadway shows have been cancelled through the rest of 2020 due to the pandemic—which has also led Cirque du Soleil to file for bankruptcy.

• However, in some places, the show is going on. CBS News looks at how some smaller theater companies are planning on presenting socially distanced plays.

• Oh, great. There’s more evidence this damn virus has mutated to make it more contagious. Just great!

According to this BBC News lede: “A new strain of flu that has the potential to become a pandemic has been identified in China by scientists.” OH COME ON YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME.

• I don’t think we’ve ever taken two cocktail breaks in a Daily Digest before, but it seems necessary today. So, compliments of Independent cocktail scribe Kevin Carlow, here’s the lowdown on the history of the mai tai—with delicious recipes included.

Gilead has set the prices for remdesivir—the one drug sorta proven to help really sick COVID-19 patients—and it’s definitely not cheap.

• Maybe good news: According to The Conversation, SARS-Co-V-2 attacks cells kind of like some types of cancers do—but that means some cancer drugs may help battle the virus, too.

• We’ve often warned in this space that stories on scientific studies need to be taken with massive figurative grains of salt. CNN’s Sanjay Gupta isn’t wild about what he calls science by press release.

As a result of a screwed-up prison transfer, more than 1,000 inmates at San Quentin State Prison—that’s a third of the prison population there—have COVID-19.

• “Screwed up” can also describe the state inspectors’ response to COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes, which have killed thousands of people in California alone. Key quote from this Los Angeles Times piece: “Time and again, inspectors sent to assess nursing homes’ ability to contain the new virus found no deficiencies at facilities that were in the midst of deadly outbreaks or about to endure one.

• Finally, after all of that crappy-ass news, take 3 1/2 minutes, and let Randy Rainbow offer you a laugh or two—because he’s back with a new, mask-related ditty.

I think you’ll agree that this is more than enough news for the day. Please, everyone, wash your hands. Wear a mask. Social distance. Be kind. If you have the ability, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, so we can keep paying Kevin Carlow to write about mai tais. (And so we can do other quality local journalism, too.) The digest will be back on Wednesday, barring something humongous happening tomorrow. 

Published in Daily Digest

Anyone else feel like an escape right now?

I have written about Tiki here and there in this column. Cocktails from Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs have been featured occasionally, and my colleague Patrick did a profile on The Reef—all well-deserved, but Tiki hasn’t come up substantially in two years now. So, I have been remiss in my responsibilities—this is a Tiki town, and I have left the subject woefully under-represented!

Partly, that is out of respect. Tiki is its own subculture that goes beyond cocktails—it has its own clothing, music and lifestyle. Exotica, floral-print shirts, shorts, goatees and classic cars are things I am not into personally, but Tiki people also spend their free time looking into lost and ancient cocktails, and I can certainly get into that!

Now that I’ve made it clear that I am not a Tiki authority, I feel like there is one Tiki drink that every bartender should know how to make—the timeless mai tai.

First of all, let’s get the controversy and some misunderstandings out of the way: A mai tai does not have pineapple juice in it. It can have grapefruit juice in it, but then you’re drinking the Don the Beachcomber recipe, and not the Trader Vic’s recipe. (More on that in a bit.) It should never have a color that isn’t light brown to dark yellow; it should never have a cherry, or, heaven forbid, freaking “cherry juice”!

I confess that when I first started making mai tais, what I was really making was some sort of poor-man’s scorpion. Who knows what manner of dusty, spiral-bound, written “circa the year I was born'' cocktail book I got that recipe from, but it was probably from my dad’s old bar—and drinking mai tais at the many, mostly gone and sorely missed “Polynesian” lounges around the Boston area was no help whatsoever. I’m pretty sure they had the same book I had. Much like the daiquiri, the mai tai has taken a beating in the course of the drink “Dark Ages.”

Truth be told, the mai tai is a sort of gussied-up daiquiri. Trader Vic—so the much-told story goes—around 1944 wanted to create a drink that would become a new classic. He had some 17-year-old Jamaican rum (the storied and now-$50,000-a-bottle Wray and Nephew 17) lying around and wanted to use it. He added fresh lime to some shaved ice, along with the rum, a little double-simple syrup, some curaćao and finally orgeat; he then gave it a shake. The resulting cocktail was so amazing it reportedly had a Tahitian house guest exclaim, “Mai tai-roa aé!” (“The best, out of this world!”). A legend was born. Funnily, I heard (and repeated) this story long before I ever knew how to make a Trader Vic’s mai tai.

Here's where it gets juicy: A fellow with the pseudonym “Don Beach” had a place in Hollywood called Don the Beachcomber, and he accused Trader Vic (also a pseudonym, by the way) of taking “inspiration” from a rum punch he had on the menu. It was well-established that Vic had borrowed heavily from Beach’s business model and aesthetic; the two chains were busy becoming the basis for what we now call “Tiki.” According to Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (what is it with these guys and the nicknames?), Don had a cocktail on his menu called the “Mai Tai Swizzle” between 1933 and 1937, so there is that. It is also totally possible that Vic made up his drink on his own; who really knows?

Either way, Beach threw his hat in the ring and marketed his own mai tai recipe, and premixed versions of “the Original Mai Tai” to compete with Vic in the marketplace, prompting a lawsuit. Vic won the suit, and most bartenders (including this one) concede that whatever happened, Vic’s recipe is the better one.

Here it is, from the man himself, by way of Difford’s Guide:

  • One lime
  • 1/2 ounce of orange curaćao
  • 1/4 ounce of rock candy syrup
  • 1/4 ounce of orgeat
  • 2 ounces of Trader Vic Mai Tai rum; or 1 ounce of dark Jamaica rum and 1 ounce of Martinique rum

Cut lime in half; squeeze over shaved ice in a mai tai (double old-fashioned) glass; save one spent shell. Add remaining ingredients and enough shaved ice to fill glass. Hand shake; decorate with spent lime half, fresh mint and a fruit stick.

I would go with 3/4 of an ounce of lime, as size and juiciness vary. Rock candy syrup is an old-timey way of saying a syrup with two parts sugar to one part water. Good luck finding the Trader Vic Mai Tai rum, but the dark Jamaica and Martinique work great. Mix as above, using the best orgeat you can buy (or make); there are really good craft versions available now, for the first time in modern history.

Oh, and the Don Beach version? It’s good, too, but if the Trader Vic version is a tricked-out daiquiri, this one is more of a Hemingway daiquiri. From Don the Beachcomber, 1933, via Post Prohibition:

  • 1 ounce of gold rum
  • 1 1/2 ounces of Meyer’s Plantation rum
  • 3/4 ounce of lime juice
  • 1 ounce of grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 ounce of Cointreau
  • 1/4 ounce of falernum
  • 6 drops of Pernod or Herbsaint
  • 1 dash of Angostura bitters

Shake well with crushed ice; pour unstrained into a double old-fashioned glass; garnish with four mint sprigs.

Avoid the clear falernum on the market for this recipe; you’re gonna want something craft-made and spice-forward. Never mind that, though; unless you’re a serious cocktail geek, the Trader Vic recipe is all you really need.

However, if you find yourself at Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs (once it reopens), once the site of an actual Don the Beachcomber location, it’s totally acceptable to push Vic aside for a day. Escape from life the way your grandparents did; either version is pretty “mai tai-roa aé”!

Kevin Carlow can be reached 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