Interview with Otto von Stroheim – Tiki Oasis

Photo credit John O’Hare


TIKI17t _006_OHARA.cr2Conga Lounge, 5422 College Ave. Oakland,CAOtto von Stroheim, local TIki expert. in a tiki bar like bars of the 40's and 50' O'Hara

Otto von Stroheim 

The man behind the world renown “Tiki Oasis” 

1) Bucket List items for this year.

My Bucket list for this year is short: Hawaii tour including La Mariana, Waikiki as well as visiting Maui and the Big Island (Unbelievably I’ve only been to Hawaii four times)


Other items on my Bucket list are:

  1. European tour of Tiki bars especially Madrid and Barcelona, Spain. I’ve been to the Barcelona bars once but they are so fantastic and there were four when I visited (I think there are only three left) so it takes a few days to cover them all!
  2. seeing some still-performing classic entertainers such as comedian Mort Sahl (Mill Valley, CA) and Lounge singer/pianist Buddy Greco (Palm Springs, CA)
  3. Caribbean tour visiting all the major rum islands and distilleries. This would take at least a week!!

2) Biggest achievement you personally feel you have accomplished for the rum industry. 

Although I’ve championed the Tiki revival, which of course includes drinking rum drinks, for over 25 years, my biggest accomplishment related to rum would have to be encouraging Beachbum Berry to self publish his Grog Log. We worked on the graphics together and I laid it out and we had a first run printed and we self-distributed it around L.A. This led to Jeff getting a deal with my pals at Slave Labor Graphics which led to greater distribution and more books with SLG. The publicity from the SLG books led to larger book deals for The Bum. He now has his own Tiki bar in New Orleans called Latitude 29!

3) Favorite Drink + Recipe

My favorite rum drink recipe is the Daiquiri but it wasn’t always.

I started off liking complex Tiki drinks like the Zombie, Fogcutter, and Navy Grog. The first recipe I memorized was the Trader Vic’s Mai Tai from an old bartenders guide I found at a thrift shop. Then I met Jeff Beachbum Berry and he turned me on to all kinds of obscure ingredients like Galliano and Pimento Dram and falernum  (these were obscure in 1994!)


I had a version of the Grog Log at least a year before it was self-published and I started building my home bar inventory and making the drinks.


I liked the “Castaway” because it only had three ingredients: Pineapple Juice, Kahlua, gold rum. But the proportions and combination of them creates an unexpected flavor.

Now I like Daiquiris because it is the simplest, perfect rum drink. I can taste the rum through the drink, yet it is still a tropical cocktail. Most tropical cocktails mask the flavor of the rums or at best, contain a blend of rums which results in a pleasant rum flavor but does not inform any single rum. The Daiquiri allows the audience to have both a nice tropical and a distinct rum flavor.

4) Where do you see the rum industry today and in the future?

I am happy to see many Rum bars opening up over the past 5-10 years. Whether Tiki bars or Cuban/Caribbean bars I have seen a increase of bars with large rum selections and regular bars have increased their rum offerings slightly to keep pace.


Unfortunately rum did not take off the way Tequila did 10+ years ago. That’s OK, I think there is a learning curve and growing pains to move rum away from the cheap “party” and flavored varieties that dominated sales and into the flavor profile related, more sophisticated varieties that are now becoming more widely available. Also there are more local distilleries doing rum like St. George, Lost Spirits, and Papa’s Pilar to name a few in Northern California.


I think the fact that many craft bars around the country feature a “Tiki drink” night is testament to the fact that rum is on its way to becoming a more appreciated spirit.


This year we are premiering the “San Diego Tiki Bartenders Challenge” where local bartenders will compete for the best new rum based Tiki drink at Tiki Oasis.


5) Few last words… 

I am lucky to have been into the Tiki scene long ago in Los Angeles and to have met Beachbum Berry who already had attained a high knowledge of rum via Tropical cocktails. He invited me to his house and we mad edrinks from his Grog Log before it was published.


He then introduced me to Tony Ramos at Madame Wu’s who had worked at Don the Beachcomber’s for decades. Tony was making DtB drinks at this Chinese restaurant and we all hung out there as much as we could until it closed in 1998.


Living in Los Angeles also allowed me access to another Tiki drink great – Ray Buhen of the Tiki Ti. The Tiki Ti drinks were quite different than Trader Vic’s or other surviving Tiki bars around Los Angeles like Kelbo’s. Tiki Ti proved that rum cocktails could be very tastey!


Luckily after I moved to the Bay Area the Tiki resurgence continued with Martin Cate and others opening Tiki bars. I now DJ at Forbidden Island where I can sample new and classic Tiki drinks!


My wife Baby Doe and I have run an annual event titled Tiki Oasis for 15 years. Starting in 2004 we featured Tiki bartenders and we have had seminars with the likes of Beachbum Berry, Martin Cate, Richard Boccato, Jacques Bezuidenhout, and Ram Udwin. These people are the future of rum as they are teaching the masses and creating forward-thinking cocktails with rum.

Info at:

Tiki Oasis TV

Author: Fede

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