Tales 2012 – Tiki Host to the Stars Stephen Crane

When i went to this seminar i didn´t know that very much about Stephen Crane but Martin Cate did enlighten us and he did it very well including serving a Tiki Bowl with long straws garnished with fresh colorful pansies.

Much has been written about the two founding fathers of the tiki drink craze Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic, but little discussed is the third man in the great historic tiki trifecta: Joseph Stephen Crane- Steve to his friends, and “High Talking Chief Stefooma” to the thousands of customers who walked through the door of his legendary Beverly Hills nightspot, The Luau.

Crane came from humble beginnings to climb his way up the social ladder in pre-war Hollywood through a mixture of good looks, street smarts, and undeniable charm.

So…..who was Stephen Crane?

Well, he is a man who went to Hollywood in 1940 to reinvent himself…

His original name was Joe Crane but he changed the name to Stephen Crane INCLUDING getting a plastic surgery – which was no small thing at the time and his surgery was actually payed for by a woman…

He went out with actresses and lived the good life and his favorite hangout was a place called Mocombo. At that club he asked a girl for a dance and that girl happened to be none other than Lana Turner and only a week later they were married. She was only 22 and this was her second marriage…yeah it happened fast in Hollywood…

But to make the story more complicated – in 1942 he admitted to her that he already had another wife… and from that the marriage started to go downhill…hm…no wonder – but to avoid scandal they still stayed formally married for a while and on top of that she was also pregnant…Well, that must have been a juicy story at the time! and well….they finally divorced in 1943.

Then Stephen left Hollywood for Paris in 1948 and as Lana Turner´s ex husband he had a famous name and hanged out in Paris with the rich and famous but he returned to Hollywood in 1950 and started to hang out at “The Tropics” until he – in 1953 he opened his own place and called it “The Luau” and this place was to become very famous…

He was a good friend with Don the Beachcomber but not so much with Trader Vic. The Luau had a very beautiful decor, both interior and exterior and was a quintessential Tiki place.

Luau Grog

He expanded and joined forces with the Sheraton helping them to compete against Hilton and Trader Vic’s Outrigger chain, and he opened restaurants in Montreal, Chicago, and Portland. He invented a bunch of famous Tiki drinks – the Coffee Grog, Lei, Luau Grog, Stephen Crane´s Scorpion Bowl which was a take on Trader Vic`s…to name a few.

During this seminar we were served the Luau Grog and then the Tiki Bowl…yeah no seminar is without cocktails!

Here is his version of the Scorpion Bowl:

Scorpion from Steve Crane™s Luau, 1958  (recipe courtesy Rick Stutz and Jeff Berry)

  • 1oz Lime juice
  • 2oz Orange juice
  • 2oz Gold Puerto Rican rum
  • 2oz Gin
  • 1oz Brandy
  • 3/4oz Simple syrup
  • 1oz Orgeat
  • 8oz Crushed ice

Donate everything to a blender and spin up for 3 seconds. Pour, unstrained, into a wisely sized bowl. Drink by yourself or with friends.

The secret to success at the Luau was romantic and evocative drinks and beautiful women and decor. His philosophy was – to get the girls in because if you get the girls in the guys will follow…

As a Tiki Bar should be – the place was dark and mysterious – with cool decor – like for example “man eating clam shells”……….

He became even bigger and more successful and opened the Exotic South Seas Dining chain called Kon Tiki. He lived until he was 69 years old and is one of the unsung Tiki heroes…

Apparently he wasn`t the best husband…but a damned good drink-maker, entertainer and business man.

Mahalo and hats off to Martin Cate for a very interesting seminar! make sure to go to Tales of the Cocktail next year folks..

Photography Ken Stock

10 Replies to “Tales 2012 – Tiki Host to the Stars Stephen Crane”

  1. Hi all, is anyone able to share the “jet pilot” – recipe from Stephen Crane?
    Many thnaks in advance

  2. Robert, yes it was!! i enjoyed it very much and i agree 100% on what you said about Martin!

    Funny Gil..i missed the fern talk last year…but i heard it was very good!

    Jordan, the more the merrier…:-)

    S&R – it´s time to get to planning now…don´t miss it again!

    Jack – it´s always fun at Tales..

    S&R – i kinda want a tiki punch bowl now…-)

  3. Whoa! I just shook up a Steve Crane Scorpion to the recipe specs, and it is tasty by really quite gin-heavy. I steered away from any juniper-intense gins and used Bombay Sapphire, but maybe Plymouth would have played a little better here. I think the next time around I’ll dial back the gin and double up the brandy.

    The rum, brandy, orgeat and orange juice combo seems to have been a common base for the classic communal bowl drinks of the Tiki heyday, and all those elements certainly work well here.

  4. Good grief I wanted to go this year! But for me, #11 is just as spectacular as #10 – hopefully. Dynamite post. Looks like so much fun.

  5. I thought the Jet Pilot was Mariano Licudine’s riff off of the Test Pilot and not Stephen Cane’s. At any rate, the Jet Pilot now being served up at Mai-Kai since Lemon Hart 151 has made its return is one of the best drinks I ever had.

    And once again I have managed to miss Tales. One of these years I’ll get there.

  6. As far as I can tell, he was one of the few imitators of Don and Vic who actually managed to improve some of their drinks. His Scorpion is definitely better than Vic’s (I think the lime juice is key) and the Jet Pilot is a significant improvement over Don’s Test Pilot. No mean feat against those two heavyweights.

  7. The Martin Cate booze seminar, matched only by it’s close cousin, the Jeff Berry. Wish I could have been there, maybe next year…Hopefully Dr. Cate will recreate the seminar in SF, He did the fern bar talk here last year, it was groovy.

  8. This was a great presentation by Martin Cate about a very interesting man, his daughter, and all his interesting accomplishments in Hollywood and abroad. I truly enjoyed Martin’s whit, his presentation skills, his research and his cocktails. Tiare, it was fun to share that bowl of punch with you.

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