Increasingly, rum is getting its proper due in bars and cocktail joints, not least because rambunctious sugar-cane enthusiasts have kept the torch burning all these years. At Philadelphia's Rum Bar, Adam Kanter is working to build a rum scene next to none:
Mix: Bars focusing on rum have gotten more common and popular lately. What's the great appeal of rum for you and your customers?
Adam Kanter: In Philadelphia, we still haven't seen a surge of bars with wide rum selections, but what has come in to play are bars that know how to mix rum. You are finding more and more bars with rum cocktails on their menus done right. What sets Rum Bar apart is that we have a few years experience perfecting our cocktail list. In the beginning, our drinks were common, bland, not well thought out, but over time we've been able to determine what works and what doesn't. Aside from the cocktails, having one of the largest rum selections in the country and a staff that knows the rums is definitely a draw.
Mix: Has the Tiki resurgence made it more competitive for you to keep ahead?
Kanter: We've never considered ourselves a Tiki bar, not at all, even though we have Tiki cocktails using ingredients and methods commonplace to Tiki bars. Even with our new “Tiki Cocktail” menu, Mojitos and Daiquiris still reign supreme. Anyway, Tiki hasn't really hit Philadelphia yet. It’s exploded in New York and will hit Philly probably in the next two years.
Mix: Your new menu includes a mix of Tiki, tropical and new ideas. What are the highlights?
Kanter: The Colonel Taylor's Revenge is a pretty neat concoction. It combines spiced rum with creme de banane, creme de cacao, and other juices and flavors served in a giant monkey head cookie jar. This serves 10. Parties must have at least four people to purchase this. The Hot Damn! is a damn tasty drink incorporating cinnamon and Barenjager in a delicious (but sweet) offering.
Mix: New rums and those new to the U.S. market keep arriving. How do you decide what to carry and what to include in your cocktails?
Kanter: I will carry just about every rum I can get. I'm a bit of a collector. I stay away from bottom-shelf rums, but everything else, we bring in. I am always trying to set up suppliers with local distributors in Pennsylvania. As far as what goes in the cocktails, at this point it's a feeling I get. When I'm looking for a particular flavor combination, I know exactly which rums to try first. Sometimes I'm wrong, but that's the fun part — more freebies to give to my focus group [bar regulars].
Mix: Philadelphia, because it is in a control state, has long been known as more of a beer town than a cocktail market; is that changing?
Kanter: Philly will always be a beer town. Us boozehounds will continue to nip and claw and gain focus with cocktail- and spirit-driven events, but unless all the hops and barley dry up, beer is king. How can you compete when you’ve got so many breweries within 50 miles of Philadelphia!
Mix: How do you see Rum Bar evolving over the next few years?
Kanter: We're gonna keep on plugging along with what we've been doing right. Constant evolution in our cocktail program, never-ending growth with our rum selection, clever marketing ideas. We're a bit locked into our location. Unless an investor wants to come in to expand the bar, I'm happy with our niche bar.
Mix: What's your favorite drink right now?
Kanter: I just went to Painkiller in Manhattan. Their Pearl Diver Punch was outstanding! As far as a drink I can make myself at the bar, I'd say our Rose's Thorn, a combination of Banks white rum, cherry rum, Parfait d'Amour, red-rose extract, lemon juice and orgeat styrup.