Ah, Valentine’s Day.
Synonymous with candy hearts, chocolate, flowers and red wine, Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to get creative behind the bar.
Jason Alexander, owner of Tacoma Cabana, and Chris Keil, previous owner of Hilltop Kitchen and co-owner of Marrow, opened their doors early for us to offer some imbibe inspiration and a chance to jump inside the minds of Tacoma’s finest mixologists.
Read below to learn about the cocktails that Alexander and Keil created for our Valentine’s Day feature, then go ahead and try them out for yourself at Tacoma Cabana this weekend. Or, let their creativity inspire you to take a fresh approach on your own cupid-themed cocktails!
The Start: Alexander began his love affair with rum after visiting the now-closed Okolmaluna Tiki Lounge in Kailua Kona, HI. “Blown away” by the Mai Tai’s perfect balance of flavors and the lounge’s non-touristy feel, he was instantly hooked.
In 2012, Alexander opened his own tiki lounge, Tacoma Cabana, to bring island-life to downtown Tacoma.
The Inspiration: Alexander is largely influenced by the original Mai Tai masters; Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber.
He finds inspiration through literature and is drawn towards stories that involve mystery, doom, monsters and the fear of the unknown. Two authors he finds most inspiring for his cocktails are horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft and detective novelist Will Viharo (who is also one of Alexander's friends).
Alexander also prefers to keep his cocktail recipes a mystery, adding to the allure of his intoxicating creations.
The Cocktail: Every Woman I Love is Undead
The Story: Alexander created “Every Woman I Love is Undead” as a tribute to Will Viharo, and Viharo’s main character, bleeding heart romantic and detective, Vic Valentine. The cocktail also plays homage to Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge in Alameda, CA.
Slightly smoking and full of flavor, “Every Woman I Love is Undead” is romantic, dark and mysterious - much like Viharo’s new novel Hard-Boiled Heart, set in Seattle, WA.
Alexander said it took him 12 tries to get the perfect balance for his Cupid-themed cocktail.
The Ingredients: Lemon, cherry, spices, Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Black Rum, Deep Ones Gold Blend, and as you would expect, a touch of mystery.
The Advice: Largely self-taught, Alexander advises to “always keep a notebook with you. Leave notes and a running log. Always note what you need to fix.”
He also says that “taking care of your guests,” is the most important thing. “They want to know that they’ve come to the right place.”
The Start: Keil has been in the bar industry for years and got his start creating craft cocktails in a tiki bar. After taking a break from tiki drinks, he eventually opened Hilltop Kitchen, the speakeasy, Latin-inspired, neighborhood bar in Tacoma that served a wide variety of Mezcals.
Since Hilltop Kitchen’s closure in December, Keil now runs the top bar of Tacoma Cabana to continue serving his signature, hand-crafted drinks.
The Inspiration: Keil finds inspiration from food, focusing on what flavors pair well together. He brings a farm to glass approach to his craft and tries to use fresh ingredients whenever possible.
He also found inspiration from Mezcal expert and Del Maguey founder Ron Cooper, during a cocktail conference in New Orleans.
The Cocktail: Mi Querida (Spanish for “My Darling”)
The Ingredients: Vodka, lemon, coconut and creme de mure.
The Taste: With hints of berry and lemon, and light coconut undertones, "Mi Querida" is smooth, creamy and perfect for Valentine's Day.
The Advice: Keil’s most important advice to bartenders is to always, “be humble, be nice, work hard, and make people happy.”
Tacoma Cabana is located in downtown Tacoma at 728 Pacific Ave, Tacoma, WA 98402.