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Tiki To-Go: Interview with Tyler DiMarco, Beverage Director

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One of my favorite ways to pass time during quarantine is by aimlessly scrolling through Instagram and Twitter. Through these apps I’m able to pretend that I am a person who is able to still move throughout the world in an unrestricted manner. Recently I’ve spent time searching for luxe Airbnbs in Saint Barts that I’ll likely never be able to afford to stay in, following restaurants on IG that supposedly serve the best hot chocolate in Paris, and, more constructively, browsing the social media accounts of my favorite galleries and museums around the world. 

A few weeks ago, on Instagram I saw an image of an elaborate beautiful blue cocktail with an obscene amount of garnish linked to one of the restaurants that Tyler DiMarco serves as beverage director. I was enamored by the QuaranTiki kits that he designed—the kits are different each week but always come with a quart of pre-chilled cocktails, a lot of beautiful garnish including mint, edible flowers, drink parasols, and Campari-soaked fruits, as well as a QR code for two custom Tiki-bar-inspired playlists.

I love the attention to detail DiMarco used in designing these kits, which ensures a unique experience for the purchaser along with a delicious drink. The possibility of escapism through a curated QuaranTiki kit is something that we all could use these days. Even when we are so distant, we can, on a small scale, tap into the feelings of congregating in bars by buying things like cocktails to go, which also help us support the Baltimore bars we love so much until we can safely hang out in them.

DiMarco is the Beverage Director for Noona’s, Fat Tiger, Old Boy, and El Tigre Tiki Bar. His creativity was part of what inspired me to research the various restaurants and bars in Baltimore offering carry-out beverage services during quarantine. And now that restaurants in Baltimore are allowed to offer outdoor seating, a few of the establishments he works for are making the shift to outdoor seating for patrons. 

Tyler DiMarco

Teri Henderson: You have taken a very creative approach to creating drinks for people to buy during this time of the stay-at-home order. How did the idea for the weekly QuaranTiki cocktail happen? 

Tyler DiMarco: When the restaurant shutdown went into effect I was only about a week away from starting to work on reopening El Tigre Tiki Bar for its second season, so that was a big disappointment. I’m a lover of all things Tiki, so this bar concept has been a passion project of mine for the last year or so. I was missing the tropical cocktails, the warm weather, the Exotica and Latin music; I loved being able to create that unique environment for guests. As we were discussing the Noona’s carryout menu, we knew we wanted to offer pre-made cocktails. Many bars across town were selling them, so we needed a way to set ours apart. I decided to stick to what I know best, and offer classic Tiki cocktails which I knew you couldn’t find anywhere else.

Can you describe what each kit contains? 

This was the tough part! I had seen other bars offering batched cocktail ingredients that said, “shake with ice until well chilled” or “stir with ice for 30 seconds.” Relying on guests to properly dilute and chill their cocktails was too big of a variable to me; I have a hard enough time training bartenders to do it properly. In order to take out all of the guesswork and ensure that each cocktail we sell tastes exactly the same, each one has been pre-diluted and chilled. No shaking or stirring required. All guests have to do is set them in the freezer for 30 minutes and blend them without ice for a few seconds to mimic the temperature and texture of a freshly shaken cocktail.

Each kit contains:

– 1 quart of pre-diluted, pre-chilled Tiki cocktail (serves 6 drinks)

– As much garnish as possible! Tiki’s all about excess, especially when it comes to garnish. Past garnish has included 1/4lb. of mint, assorted edible flowers, Campari-soaked pineapple slices, drink parasols, an entire pineapple crown, brandied cherries, and fresh limes for slicing.

– Instructions for preparing and serving

– QR codes to two custom Spotify playlists to help create a complete Tiki experience at home. A Tiki cocktail without the exotic sights and sounds is just a cocktail, after all. I think we’re unique in offering a full cocktail experience versus just the drink itself.

What restaurants are you responsible for designing drinks for? 

I manage and design menus for Noona’s in Bolton Hill as well as Fat Tiger, Old Boy, and El Tigre Tiki Bar at Broadway Market in Fells Point.

If we can do a good enough job of supporting these small, local options, then Baltimore might have a shot at preserving the beautiful food and bar scene that it’s cultivated over the years.
Tyler DiMarco

How has COVID-19 specifically impacted the places you work? And has carryout helped with sales substantially?

Our bars and restaurants at Broadway Market are closed right now. We had to lay off all of our employees. Noona’s is open only on Friday for pre-order pickups. We had to lay off almost everyone except for myself and our chef. (All tips we receive on carryout orders are pooled and sent directly to our out-of-work servers and bartenders, so thank you for tipping! You can also find our employees’ Venmo and PayPal information on our Instagram Story Highlights: @noonaspizza, @fattigerbmore, @oldboybmore.) Carryout has kept us afloat, but just barely. It’s really the only option for the restaurant right now. 

Where is the first place you’ll eat and what is the first drink you will have post-lockdown restrictions?

La Barrita for a steak, El Tigre for a round of daiquiris with the team!

Do you have regular carry-out customers as you would have bar regulars?

We do! A lot of our regulars have been supporting us every single week, which I can’t thank them enough for. We’ve also been offering CSA boxes from Karma Farm as a way for people to receive fresh produce without braving the supermarket, so I think we’ve built a wonderful symbiotic relationship with the neighborhood.

How did you end up in your position as beverage director? 

A friend of mine recruited me to help him run the new bars at Broadway Market. He and I are both big fans of Tiki cocktails and culture, and one of the new bars was going to be a Latin-inspired Tiki bar, so it just felt like the right fit. Unfortunately he ended up joining another company, so I was left to run the whole kit and caboodle. It was a pretty big challenge to design menus, interview, hire, and train for all three bars at once. Not to mention, we also acquired the WTMD First Thursday contract, so I was designing cocktails and hiring for that too. Fortunately, I ended up with a wonderful and talented team of bartenders and together we got it done. If you ran into me any time between March and November of 2019, I was probably looking pretty stressed out.

One year from now what do you think the restaurant and bar scene in Baltimore will look like?

I think it’s going to take quite a while to recover from the current situation that we’re in, and things may never be back to “normal.” I urge everyone to support your favorite local restaurants, and seek out ways to support Maryland farms as well—several restaurants and bars in the city are offering fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish from local producers. If we can do a good enough job of supporting these small, local options, then Baltimore might have a shot at preserving the beautiful food and bar scene that it’s cultivated over the years.

Steeplechase: WhistlePig PiggyBack 6-year rye, fermented lemongrass honey, acidulated grapefruit, lemon oil, taleggio foam, black pepper
The Irish Channel, a New Orleans inspired coffee cocktail with Irish Whiskey, Cathead Distillery Hoodoo Chicory Liqueur, PX sherry, Passenger Coffee, and a soft whipped cinnamon cream

What is your favorite type of spirit?

I’m a huge fan of sugar cane spirits because the category is so diverse. There are dozens of countries that produce cane spirits, each with their own distinct characteristics. Just like the agave spirit craze that’s been occurring for the last five years or so where more and more consumers have become introduced to mezcal, sotol, and raicilla, I think the next spirit craze will be the exploration of rum, rhum, clairin, cachaça, and aguardiente.

Where is the first place you will travel/vacation to when it is safe to do so? 

My first vacation once it’s safe to travel will hopefully be to Italy. My sister was supposed to get married in my dad’s hometown near Naples, but that’s been put on hold. I’m looking forward to seeing our relatives—it’s been a while.

What is the best drink you’ve ever had in your entire life? Can you describe it? Where did you purchase it? 

That’s such a tough question! I’ve had many drinks that make me stop and say “wow!” but I feel like the ones that I really remember are from Tiki bars. For me, the combination of otherworldly bar aesthetic, over-the-top garnish and presentation, and the fact that the ingredients are often kept secret come together to create a really lasting memory. The Rum Barrel and the Pontchartrain Pearl Diver from Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans are top contenders.

Where are your roots? Where are you from? 

I’m originally from Norwalk, Connecticut. I went to Temple University and lived in Philly for a few years after I graduated. I taught General and Instrumental Music K-8 in West and North Philly, and instructed several high school drumline programs in the Philly suburbs for a while. I moved to the Baltimore area to be with my then fiancée (now wife, so it worked out!!). We just bought our first house in Remington, so we’re here to stay. I’ve really grown to love Baltimore a lot.

QuaranTiki Kit

What neighborhood do you live in Baltimore?

I live in Remington with my wife Gabriela and our Boston Terrier Phoebe.

How have you been keeping yourself sane/healthy during quarantine?

I’ve been baking bread, working on some home improvement projects, grilling a lot, and trying not to leave the house unless I have to.

How have online sales from the QuaranTiki kits or other beverages to go sales been? 

Sales have been good! We’re definitely seeing a lot of repeat customers. The QuaranTiki kits are definitely our best sellers. 

Larry Hogan announced we are moving through Phase One and restaurants are now allowing outdoor seating. Do any of the establishments you work for have plans for online seating? 

Yes, Broadway Market has a beautiful patio that is perfect for outdoor drinking and dining. We haven’t gotten the green light to open just yet, so be on the lookout for updates from our social media accounts. I’m also hoping we can open El Tigre, the outdoor Tiki bar, in the next few weeks. I think we all want to hop into summer activities again, but it’s important that we take our time and do it as safely as possible. There are a lot of precautions that we need to take, both as proprietors and as guests.

Images courtesy of Tyler DiMarco

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