Fiji: where cocktails go to die

I have just returned from Fiji. And as ungrateful a wretch as I am aware this makes me, coming home felt like being paroled.

Thinking about Fiji evokes strains of Wham’s 1983 classic Club Tropicana (and watching the clip I am again struck by how much information I must have deliberately disregarded to maintain my persistent fantasy of marrying George Michael.

Case in point: The clip starts with young women in bikinis and high heels but stick with it and not only will you get the mustachioed bartender, you’ll get George and Andrew blowing enormous horns together, joyfully wham-club-tropicana-1340295432-view-0riding around on asses and living an unconvincing costume hire shop airline pilot fantasy – it’s a very CLEAR MESSAGE to the young girls of 1983 and I can’t believe I missed it. In my defence, I was distracted by the handsomest man alive and his white teeth and Speedos).mqdefault

While I did not wear high heels with my bikini, Fiji is like Club Tropicana – it’s very pretty in a blue water and coconut tree way and the people are welcoming and friendly. The water is warm and the drinks are cold and that’s pretty much everything that is ever communicated about Fiji.

But as a conscientious-objector to the sun, every trip out of my room – which I am obliged to refer to as a “bure” in a manner I find pretentious – is a dangerous exercise.

The Cancer Council would be delighted with my adherence to their best-practice sun safe guidelines, but it becomes hot, even in the shade.

The shadeless pool offers as much refreshment as lowering yourself into a vat of fresh urine.

Which you probably are.  Pool
Then there is the self-loathing that comes with the use of so many plastic water bottles in your vain attempt to stay hydrated, and the environmental guilt associated with the use of the air-conditioner at night, none of which is really compensated for by the hotel’s generous offer to only launder your towels every second day – unless of course you are such a bourgeois colonialist that you plan to throw them on the floor and insist they be replaced. More guilt and damp towels.

Nightfall brings mosquitoes the size of small birds lying in wait outside. Inside the room – sorry, bure – these are apparently dealt with by my resident gecko. This disrupts my sleep since I know from living for three long, frizzy-haired years in the tropics that geckos defecate regularly and generously from above, potentially into the open mouth of the bure’s resident guest.

And sadly, the bar offers little compensation.

Shady Lady.jpgWhen the Cocktail of the Day does not change for a week, costs AUD$15, lists the wrong ingredients for a fairly well-known cocktail (see the real Shady Lady recipe at and features ice-cream, I approach the bar with modest expectations.

Fiji has, quite sensibly, built on its climate and its sugar cane industry to complement its beer offering and come up with some quite creditable rum in recent decades.

The warm wind and palm trees evoking Ernest Hemingway in Cuba, I decided to try it.

Diabetic Hemingway would not have touched a cocktail with ice-cream, but favoured rum cocktails – both the daiquiri and then the El Papa Doble – the Hemingway Special Daiquiri.

Both use white rum – Bacardi – but even dark rums are categorised along with vodka, gin, tequila as “White Spirits” and compete together for awards in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (which gave Best Rum in the World to a Fijian rum in 2014).

So what I wanted to order was this:

El Papa Doblehemingway252b2cc252bdaiquiri

2.5 jiggers white rum

Juice of 2 limes and half a grapefruit

6 drops of maraschino liqueur

Shake with crushed ice

Fiji does have a white rum (Bounty). But not on offer this day (sigh). So not an option if I wanted to try the local offering.

Hemingway’s literary greatness is often ascribed to the simplicity of his prose. Not a single superfluous word survived his editing.

In that spirit, I turned to more simple dark rum recipes. And without any reliable internet coverage (another joy of island life), mined my memory of bad movies to help.

cocktail_1988In 1988, while I worked at Hoyts Queen Street Mall in Brisbane, Cocktail was released. You may remember Tom Cruise as Brian Flanagan – the publicity for the film referred to his performance as “electrifying” – which possibly has a different meaning in the USA.

It is notable that I worked at the cinema during Cocktail’s release because kids, back in the day, the usher stayed in the cinema for the ENTIRE MOVIE, ready to brandish our torches and provide comfort and guidance to our patrons (a bit like the Pointer Sisters doin’ the Neutron Dance but FAR more professional). So I have seen this movie perhaps 60 times.

In case you have not been so fortunate, young Flanagan leaves the Army, joins business school and is mocked for his plan of opening a chain of Irish bars. He meets Doug Coughlin (Bryan Brown who actually is something close to electrifying) who teaches him his trade and they work for tips, entertainscreen-shot-2012-08-19-at-4-38-45-pming the customers with “flair bartending“, another trend from the 1980s that, along with the fashions of 1988’s superior offering Heathers, I am happy to report, has largely disappeared.

Just get me my damned drink already.

Long before we get to our show-pony flair-tenders’ Hippy, Hippy, Shake scene in Cocktail, poor Brian (Flanagan, not Brown nor Brian, Chotchkies’ finest in great 1999 movie Office Space who totally rocked the flair with an astonishing 37 pieces) is drowning in drink orders, including one I’d never heard of back then, the Cuba Libre.

This is where is saddens me to report that Tom Cruise was WRONG.

Surprising, I know. But the Cuba Libre (translation: Free Cuba) isn’t a rum and coke. It’s a common mistake, even made by everyone’s favourite pedant Dr Sheldon Cooper in THIS link from The Big Bang Theory.

No, according to the International Bartenders Association (IBA), it’s a Contemporary Classic (along with cocktails we’ve already covered – the Bloody Mary and Tequila Sunrise) and contains rum and coke AND lime juice – not just a lime garnish, but lime juice.

It was allegedly invented in Cuba around 1900 when American troops first introduced Coke to Cuba following the Spanish-American War which followed the USA’s support of Cuba in the Cuban War of Independence.cubalibre-002-de12

Papa Hemingway would have approved of the simplicity, if not the sweetness.

I ordered an Cuba Libre, I got a rum and coke with a wedge of lime, but it was cold, the Fijian rum was good and there was no ice-cream to be seen.

That’ll do.

So here’s to cold drinks on hot days and beauty in simplicity.

Next time – raw egg with your drink?


PS In case you have been swept up in a fit of nostalgia and think watching Cocktail might be a good idea, cure yourself by watching this Jamaican bar scene where noted feminist Cruise says “Wouldn’t be any fun if they fell over with their legs in the air now, would it?”. Oh shut up and go ride an ass round the island Brian.



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