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Tiki Central Forums » » Tiki Drinks and Food » » Harry K. Yee: King of Tropical Cocktails
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Harry K. Yee: King of Tropical Cocktails
tikilongbeach
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 05, 2011
Posts: 1356
From: Long Beach, CA via Dallas, TX
Posted: 2014-02-04 11:16 am   Permalink

That is very cool that you got to talk to him.
Honolulu Magazine had an article about Harry Yee. It says that the Tropics Bar and Grill menu at the Hilton Hawaiian Village now has a section honoring Mr. Yee.

http://www.honolulumagazine.com/Honolulu-Magazine/Biting-Commentary/November-2013/Bar-report-Tropics-Bar-and-Grill-at-Hilton-Hawaiian-Village/

Tropics Bar and Grill In Hilton Hawaiian Village

How could you pass up the opportunity to drink classic tropical cocktails in the place they were invented?

Legendary bartender Harry Yee, who began mixing drinks at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in the 1950s, created the Blue Hawaii, Tropical Itch and other now-iconic drinks during his 30-year reign. Recently, Tropics introduced a new cocktail menu that pays homage to the famous barman, making Tropics my favorite bar to bring visitors hankering for a tropical drink and Waikiki sunset.

The History
For midcentury fanatics (isn't that everybody these days?) Hilton Hawaiian Village has a magnetic, inimitable attraction. Not only was the Hawaiian Village the birthplace for exotica music (ala Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, and Alfred Apaka), but thanks to barman Harry Yee, the hotel made a remarkable impact on tropical drinks. It's even been said that Yee was the first to garnish drinks with fresh orchids, backscratchers and tiny parasols.

The Vibe and Menu
Old-timers who recall the Tropics Showroom may be shocked at first by the restaurant's openness, but the atmosphere is definitely for the better. Live, nightly music, attentive service, and the space—open to natural light and tradewinds—help further the sense of place.

It's refreshing to see a modern bar taking its historical connections seriously. The "Tribute to Harry Yee" section, which rolled out this past June, includes nine of Yee's drinks. "So much of Hawaii's cocktail culture is attributed to Harry, and there is so much history at Hilton Hawaiian Village," says Christina Maffei, Director of Restaurants and Bars at the Hilton. "This is my way of paying respect to him."

The rest of Tropics' drink list is a compendium of tropicals, including specialty drinks honoring Hawaii Five-0, and nods to Trader Vic, who famously crafted the Mai Tai.

Tropics also has a full food menu with practically something for everyone. Some of my favorites: the Portuguese bean soup ($8), chicken wings ($12), and the mahimahi fish tacos ($18).

The Drinks
Of the dozen or more visits I made since the new cocktail menu rollout, I found the Harry Yee drinks the best. Sometimes, you can't beat the classics.

Yee allegedly invented the Banana Daiquiri. If he didn't, he at least found a way to make drinking a banana palatable. The secret? A touch of maraschino cherry syrup to add a touch of je ne sais quoi—or as we say in Hawaii, da kine. Locally-produced Old Lahaina Gold Rum and fresh lime juice perfectly complement the banana puree. While I don't usually enjoy bananas outside of pies or breads, the Tropics Banana Daiquiri ($11.50) is certainly an exception.

The Tropical Itch ($14), which comes with its own bamboo back scratcher, sure scratched an itch I didn't know I had—a tiki drink that marries sugarcane rum and whiskey! Tropics' updated version uses a blend of overproof Wray and Nephew, locally-made Old Lahaina dark rum, and Jim Beam bourbon. These three spirits are matched by Angostura bitters and a sweetened passion fruit puree. The bitters and lilikoi make for a natural pair, bringing forward some delicate spices from the dark rum and bourbon. (I've come here so often, that my car is filled with abandoned back scratchers.)

One thing I've always enjoyed about Harry Yee drinks is his use of non-sugarcane spirits. Yee's Diamond Head ($11), made with London dry gin, apricot brandy, fresh lemon and fresh pineapple juices (and served on the rocks) is a less-stuffy version of the 1920s-era Paradise #2—itself a concoction of another Harry bartender of a famous hotel. (Harry Craddock, the American Bar of the Savoy Hotel in London). If rum tropicals aren't for you, look no further than the Diamond Head.

On the Horizon
Look for new cocktail menus soon at Hilton Hawaiian Village's newly-renovated Paradise Lounge, as well as the Rainbow Tower's Bali Steak & Seafood Restaurant that will re-open in December. (The resort is a bit of a construction mess at the moment.) I'm looking forward to seeing how Hilton continues to embrace its midcentury legacy while embarking on new territory and modern concepts.




_________________
-Lori


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ickytiki
Tiki Centralite

Joined: Feb 07, 2010
Posts: 41
From: Orangevale, CA
Posted: 2014-02-04 7:53 pm   Permalink

Ahoy!

Yep… I totally believe that the Hilton Hawaiian Village is ground zero for Yee’s recipes if they can not be obtained from him directly.

I mailed a letter to the address that matched Harry’s phone number on Monday, February 3rd, 2014. Since, he was hard of hearing and a bit confused, I thought that a letter might be more helpful. I included all my contact information and kept the letter pretty simple. I even used a large font size in case his vision was poor too.

I haven’t heard back from Harry since our phone conversation last week. So, hopefully this new letter gets a response. If he does write or call back, I will definitely keep everybody posted!

Also, if any member is from the Honolulu area and would like to go to the Hilton Hawaiin Village and talk with the head barman (Whoever that might be…) and attempt to get Yee's original recipes, I think we could start preserving them so that they don‘t get lost forever:

Hawaiian Eye
Blue Hawaii
Banana Daiquiri
Tropical Itch
Hawaiian Cooler
Guava Lada
Hot Buttered Okolehao
Scratch Me Lani
Hukilau
Catamaran
Diamond Head
Naughty Hula
Wahine’s Delight
Hawaiian Village Sunset (This might be two separate drinks???)

Cheers!

~icky

[ This Message was edited by: ickytiki 2014-02-04 19:57 ]


 
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ickytiki
Tiki Centralite

Joined: Feb 07, 2010
Posts: 41
From: Orangevale, CA
Posted: 2014-02-05 07:55 am   Permalink

Ahoy!

I found this recipe searching on-line this morning... Sounds pretty authentic because of the "Okolehao" and a "Back Scratcher" as elements of the drink. Plus, it's "Passion Fruit Juice" and not syrup. It also seems like Hurricane Glasses might be one of Yee's trademarks as well.

SCRATCH ME LANI

2 ounces Okolehao or dark rum
2 dashes Bitters
2 ounces Orange Juice
3 ounces Passion Fruit Juice (Not syrup)
3/4 ounce Grande Marnier

Garnish:
Sprig of fresh mint
Chinese back scratcher

Mix and serve in an ice filled hurricane glass. Decorate with a sprig of fresh mint and a Chinese back scratcher.

[ This Message was edited by: ickytiki 2014-02-05 07:59 ]


 
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Kill Devil
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Feb 16, 2011
Posts: 262
From: Chicago
Posted: 2014-02-05 08:29 am   Permalink

Thanks for the recipe. My fave drink at (Chicago-area) Hala Kahiki is the Scratch Me Lani; had no idea it's attributed to Harry.

 
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Sunny&Rummy
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jun 13, 2013
Posts: 514
From: Melbourne, FL
Posted: 2014-02-05 08:57 am   Permalink

Great work tracking Mr. Yee down Ickytiki!

 
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thePorpoise
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jan 23, 2011
Posts: 1249
From: Tampa Bay
Posted: 2014-02-07 10:17 pm   Permalink

what brand of bitters is the Hilton using in those videos?

doesn't look like Angostura. looks almost like (but not the same as) a bottle of Peychaud's.


 
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ickytiki
Tiki Centralite

Joined: Feb 07, 2010
Posts: 41
From: Orangevale, CA
Posted: 2014-03-03 3:00 pm   Permalink

Ahoy!

So, I was home watching a recorded episode of the Walking Dead with my wife on Friday night when I got a phone call from Harry Yee... It's so strange to get a call from a legend!!!

I had written him a letter a couple of weeks earlier that included a list of his drink creations. In the letter, I had asked if he remembered any of their recipes. This was the list:

Hawaiian Eye
Blue Hawaii
Banana 2/4/14aiquiri
Tropical Itch
Hawaiian Cooler
Guava Lada
Hot Buttered Okolehao
Scratch Me Lani
Hukilau
Catamaran
Diamond Head
Naughty Hula
Wahine’s Delight
Hawaiian Village Sunset

During the conversation, Harry said that he didn't have any thing written down and that he apologized for not remembering how to make his drinks. He said, however, that the "Scratch Me Lani" was not his invention. I told him not to apologize and that I appreciated any help in an attempt to document his Hawaiian drinks.

Since he has no records of his creation's ingredients, I asked if the bartender college where he taught might have saved any of his work. He told me that the school has been closed for a long time and that he had lost track of the man that ran the school.

I also asked him about the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Yee thought that this would be the best place to try and research his original recipes. Harry Yee was very polite and helpful. I thanked him for his phone call and we wrapped up our short conversation.

Once again, any Tiki Central member that might be in the Honolulu area and would like to talk with the head barman would be a great help in preserving Harry's recipes. Here is the Hilton's address and phone number:

Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort
2005 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 949-4321

We have Harry's permission to archive his life's work and I would love to see his Tropical Cocktails preserved for the future... Please help!

Cheers,

icky







 
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