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Interview | For The Love of Rum & TIKI With Austin Hartman

Updated: Jun 26, 2019

After the dawning of Ridgewood Queens' Caribbean-inspired rum bar, Paradise Lounge...comes the tale of 4 best friends who become TIKI Masters at NY's Official TIKI Cocktail competition.  With rum on the rise and time to defend their title approaching on Aug 18, 2019, we sat down with Austin Hartman of Paradise Lounge for our first ever NYCE online interview. So how did you get into TIKI?

Rum was my first love before TIKI was. It was the Caribbean and rum that I fell in love with first and then I was like, cool this is part of the category. Then I fell down that rabbit hole. It’s like rum as a category, the history and education is the classroom and TIKI is like recess and the lunch break. TIKI has always been the fun part of it. “How did you come about the TIKI Throw Down & how did you come aboard?

Shannon Mustipher (author of TIKI Modern Tropical Cocktails) - she was like, “There’s a TIKI Throw Down and you gotta jump in.”   She and I have worked together for a long time, have traveled to various Caribbean islands and just got on the same page.  We had just opened (Paradise Lounge) a month prior to the competition.  Brittany from Plantation Rum reached out and asked, “Hey, do you wanna pair up…because it’s a bar and brand.”  What one rum can do, three can do better and Plantation has at least 8 or 9 expressions at their disposal. So one of the reasons you enjoyed Plantation Rum is because they had variety in their selection to give you some versatility?

Yeah, from their lineup alone you have an overproof, you have a pineapple, you have island specific expressions, you had the yet to be released but now released XAYMACA. Our cocktail had the rum that was not even out yet. So…that was cool. Did you guys have full creative control over your cocktail submission or was it a collab…

💥Pinball machine sounds begin clanking in the background as a repair man is fixing the loud video game machine during the interview.

Haha, this is like Conan O’Brien….I just hope he doesn’t beat my high score that’s the problem. That’s what I’m getting nervous about, haha.

There’s actually a pinball wizard who comes in here twice a week to make sure he keeps his high score. Man that’s retro, I’m getting nostalgic…

Haha, but yeah…Brittany and the brand, Plantation was like “Go nuts…do whatever you want to do.”  It was a team effort, essentially the 4 of us from the staff (Austin Hartman, Ian Kearney, Andrew Porteus, Jonathan Kobritz) that got into it and were excited about the competition and worked together in a really well way. What was your approach to the competition?

We went into it, not expecting to win. So it was like, ok…we’re gonna do a thing but we’re going to have the most fun doing it! It was a good energy from you guys. That’s so important in hospitality. I mean the vibe goes into the drink. Especially for TIKI right? There is so much of that vibe, energy and flair and what it’s all about.

Absolutely and especially with TIKI in particular. Did you know some of the other bars that were going to be competing?

Oh yeah, I knew a bunch of the bars. I mean, that second floor (at New York Cocktail Expo) with all the rums, was just a lot of fun - getting to bounce around to the different booths and taste their drinks. I think at one point, when Chelsea Barrett who was with Mother of Pearl / Rum Fire that day, I went and worked their booth while she was on stage, haha. It’s like a community, you know, it’s not a competition…we’re all here for the same thing.

Yeah, that Rum Room was super fun, the energy and community feel. You’re right everything was so connected. There was an unmistakable energy that was happening with the TIKI Throw Down and New York Cocktail Expo.

Yeah, the camaraderie of it, was so great. How did you come up with the cocktail?

We joked a lot in the whole process just because we are four dummies who are best friends. The first one was like, “We’re not a TIKI Bar”…so let’s win this TIKI Competition. We kind of took a base of our “Paradise Punch,” which is our only TIKI drink on the menu…and then elevated it to the extreme. So we had the base, now we just had to turn it up to 11. So how did you take your “Paradise Punch” to 11?

Our Paradise Punch is like a Planter’s Punch with a Guava riff. So we just took that and found the elements we could tweak, to small things like salines and doing 3 drops of Absinthe and using oils of grapefruit zest. Things that during service here, would not be doable.  It’s high volume and we are just cranking out Paradise Punches all the time. So those 6 / 7 extra steps that we added to the drink would be less approachable at Paradise Lounge. The thought really was…if we were to take this Punch and put it on a pedestal… what would it taste like and what would it look like?  We kept tweaking it and tweaking it until we thought it was perfect. And perfect meaning what?...the perfect TIKI drink or the perfect drink for the Throw Down?

It’s just a good drink on its own. I think it crushes. So how did you come up with the presentation, the vessel and the design?

The 2nd approach was that we knew we had ice, the treasure chest, the garnish. An afternoon of ironing out the drink, five versions later tasting through that, we were a little loose. Then it was like, “Ok, well how are we going to do this? And how crazy can we get?”…then we were like, “Oh, that treasure chest box would be sick up there…and definitely need to have dry ice and let’s get crazy with skewers!”  We tapped into the resources we had here at the bar and at our homes. Four of us sitting here 5 cocktails later saying, “That’s a great idea, that’s a stupid idea and that’s a really expensive idea!”  Haha, ya know… we can’t get a giant globe, cut it in half and wheel it on stage. (Laughter ensues)…That’s a cool idea but…not in the budget, haha. Yeah, that treasure chest was one heck of a cocktail presentation. You could see how the Judges were so pleased.

Thank you. We have a motto here, “T-M-A” - “Tropical Mental Attitude.”

2018 Judges Panel L-R - Valentin Gonzalez, Brian Miller, Marlo Gamora

Well, that says it all right there.

We showed up and were like, “T-M-A,”  “T-M-A.”  I mean, it’s on the mirror, I have it tattooed on my leg.

Paradise Lounge presents their Treasure Chest to the Judges

Sideview of the Treasure Chest presentation on stage

What did it mean to you guys to win the TIKI Throw Down and the title of TIKI Master of 2018?

That night of, felt beyond ecstatic, because we did not expect it. We knew we were competing amongst peers who are super talented. Then we won and we were like, “Oh, F%$k.”  That’s so sick, it was amazing, especially for a bar that had only been open for a month.  We didn’t register as a bar on anyone’s radar. Our buds knew about the bar but guests at the event were like, “Paradise Lounge, where is that?”….so that was cool to have like 2k people immediately read about the bar. Wow, would you say that the TIKI Throw Down put Paradise Lounge on the map?

Absolutely. I mean, months afterwards people would come by and say, “We saw you at the New York Cocktail Expo.”  They made an effort to come here which was really cool.

Paradise Lounge VS Osamil on stage at TIKI Throw Down 2018

Which were some of the other bars that you thought would be fierce competition?

Leyenda was one, Leanne just destroys all competition she is in. Her win rate is almost 1000%, haha. Well on that note, now you are going into 2019 to defend your title?

Oh, we are going to defend. We are going in with the same mindset, and then just take whatever ideas we have and turn it up a bit. Yeah like this time around all the bars are really upping presentation. There’s all this buzz about what the vessels are going to be like and the flair and it’s going to be intense.

Well we’ll figure the drink out closer to the event. But we got to start planning presentation. It’s like everyone is going to have dry ice this year and crazy contraptions.  It’s going to be bigger and crazier I guess, haha. I mean that Throw Down is real in the TIKI Throw Down!

Haha, yeah definitely. I think the drink is the most important part, then fun with the vessel later. Are there any hints that you could tell us that you have up your sleeve that you could get us excited about?

Nope, haha. Well, we’ll be using Plantation Rum and some fun new expressions that they have been releasing.  Some older ones, to make it more like a baseline spirit drink. Is there a certain selection that you are focusing on from Plantation Rum?

You have single island expressions, you have blends, you have different finishes. Now you are having vintages come out that we really want to use. You have an accessible line of the three star and five star. You literally have something for everything in their portfolio. So if you are saying make a TIKI drink using Plantation…you’re saying make a TIKI drink using any of these ten to twelve rums. The pineapple is also a delicious bartender’s band aid, haha. We’re talking about TIKI but with that kind of versatility so many types of genre of cocktails can be made with Plantation Rum.

Yeah and we are going in with an arsenal of rum! What do you think of what is happening with TIKI in New York and where do you think it is headed?

It’s cool that it is gaining popularity on a mass scale, because it is a good gateway to rum. Does TIKI represent rum as a whole category? not so much… but it is a great way for people to get into rum. I think the popularity of TIKI is going to keep going and get more creative and more wild with more bars popping up. I hope to see more focus on sustainability and eco-friendly practices. Less waste. Often times there is a lot of waste that goes into producing vessels and garnishes. So more transparency from bigger TIKI bars saying, “Here’s how we save this, or reuse this”…so that would be a cool thing to see. Everyone kind of thinking about it. Right…for those of us who love rum and are into it, we can forget that other people may not be as much and we are kind of lost in it. However, TIKI is accessible, it’s welcoming, it’s not intimidating and it’s fun. It makes people say, “Oh, Rum!”

Yeah, rum is fun, this is exciting, I want to know more about rum! Then you can start the actual  conversation as a spirit category on it’s own. Which is why this is a rum bar and not a TIKI bar which is our focus. They are island classic drinks that we focus on that showcase the rums more than the flair of TIKI. Is there a red flag area in being called a TIKI Bar?  There are some bars that make sure to say, “Hey, we’re not a TIKI bar.” And that has become synonymous with Quotes.

If you’re a customer you can call us whatever you want, haha. People come in and say, this is a rum bar. Just seeing the aesthetics or seeing the back bar. We really are showing you can do more with rum then just TIKI. I actually can’t drink TIKI drinks everyday but I can drink rum drinks everyday.   Does TIKI have a responsibility to keep up with trends like Low abv? And speaking of sustainability… keeping the nutrients in the ingredients we are using, like not cooking off bee pollen in raw honey and certain techniques we are using to keep the integrity of the source material. Isn’t that sustainability as well?

I think it is definitely a big part of sustainability and we will see that happen too. Low abv TIKI is definitely a thing. I think on every TIKI menu there is like two to three on there. I mean like menus from Lost Lake and Three Dots & a Dash. They all have them on there. Not everyone can do an overproof agricole, a 151 and a Guyanese rum blend, have a couple of them and feel ok. How important is it to keep TIKI fun?

100%, has to be. It’s when TIKI is not fun is when it sucks, haha. If you’re not having fun doing it, then you shouldn’t be doing it. It’s the most fun spirit category and the most diverse spirit category. TIKI is infinitely endless. It all goes back to that Tropical Mental Attitude, haha. That sums up my idea on service for TIKI. What was your experience like at New York Cocktail Expo?

The New York Cocktail Expo is a great event. It was well attended and everyone was excited to be there. The TIKI Floor had a great sense of community. The vibe really helped and the support. It is a great line up of brands. The most fun and intriguing part is seeing the creative ways in which the brands were expressed. I get to taste the spirit, oh and here is a good application of said brand in a cocktail. I was really blown away by the creativity at some of the tables. It was a great sense of community and Industry.

Get Tickets to see Paradise Lounge defend their title at TIKI Throw Down 2019!

Pandora's Paradise Punch (Photo Credit: Paradise Lounge)

Pandora's Paradise Punch


2 oz Plantation Rum Blend (Plantation Xaymaca special dry, stiggins fancy pineapple, OFTD overproof)

1/2 oz broadbent maderia 5yr

1.5 oz guava nectar

3/4 oz fresh lime juice

3/4 oz cinnamon vanilla syrup

1/4 oz pipette Devil's Larder ginger bitters

4 drops absinthe

Pinch salt

2 grapefruit twists


Dry shake, then whip shake with ice. 

Roll into tiki mug.

To experience cocktails like this and more, get Tickets to the New York Cocktail Expo on August 18th!

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