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

Tales of the Cocktail 2012 – Tiki Host to the Stars Stephen Crane

Steve Crane´s Luau Scorpion – Photo courtesy Matt Marchese aka mr Bali Hai 

It´s soon time for the 10 year anniversary of the Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans and here´s the first peek at some of the boozy seminars…

The two great fathers of the Tiki craze – we know who they were – Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic. But how many knows anything about the third man – Stephen Crane?

Joseph Stephen Crane – Steve to his friends, and “High Talking Chief Stefooma” to all his customers at The Luau in Beverly Hills.

Crane opened his first restaurant in the late 1940s, and he also married Hollywood star actress Lana Turner – but he cemented his place in history with the 1953 opening of The Luau on Rodeo Drive and at which he created new innovative cocktails and took the food, drinks and decor to another level never seen before – the faux tiki/polynesian concept at it´s best.

The Luau became the destination for Hollywood celebrities and was the start of a chain of successful restaurants nationwide.

Join Smuggler’s Cove owner Martin Cate for a rare look back into the amazing world of Steven Crane.

Discover his talent for hospitality, mixology, and business through rarely seen images and artifacts and new interviews with his (and Lana Turner’s) only child, Cheryl Crane.

Enjoy tastes of The Luau’s famous exotic cocktails while discovering a story so amazing, it could only have happened in Hollywood.”

Only at the Tales of the cocktail! –  if you can – come join us! The seminar is hosted by Martin Cate and sponsored by Appleton Rum.

Location – Fleur de Lis Room, Royal Sonesta – New Orleans – 1:00pm — 2:30pm – wednesday july 25th.

See you there!