Summer is here, and as the world sags and crumbles around us, as the news pelts us with a steady diet of heartbreak and pain, as the sky turns to wildfire, I find reprieve in the spirited reinvigoration of hard booze. When I want my mind to set adrift on memory bliss, I’m going tropical. I’m going face-first into the beachy poetics of weird rum and far-off fruit. It’s time to summon your new favorite drink of summer, The Painkiller.
The Painkiller is a tangy and slightly creamy liquid escape room. Some say it was invented in the 1970s at The Soggy Dollar Bar in the British Virgin Islands. Think of it as the suaver, better dressed, smarter stepson of the Pina Colada.
The Pina Colada got a bad rap for being a drink that reminded people of an all-inclusive Sandals resort, with the rum getting buried beneath frozen Capri Suns, flip-flops, and blender blades. If the blended Pina Colada is the Carnival Cruise Line of tiki drinks, then consider the Painkiller the perfect breeze-blown catamaran.
At the legendary Bamboo Club in Long Beach, California, I asked LA writer and comedian Christina Catherine Martinez her thoughts as she sipped on her Painkiller.
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“For me, it has the perfect blend of creamy and citrusy because of the coconut and the other ingredients,” she said. “It feels like an alcoholic Orange Julius. There’s something nostalgic about it. I am halfway through this one, and I’m ready to make some bad decisions.”
You can make this cream dream at home (recipe below), though it’s well worth it to down the Painkiller at an authentic tiki bar if you can.
The Polynesian tiki bar owes its fame to native Texan Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, or “Donn Beach,” a bootlegger who moved to Hollywood and made booze during Prohibition. He traveled the South Pacific, fell in love with the culture, and launched his small version of paradise off Yucca and McCadden in Hollywood.
In 1933, when Prohibition was lifted, Don the Beachcomber bar was born. When it moved to Sunset Beach, I visited it (though it closed in 2018). This is where, by way of several Painkillers, I momentarily cured my first heartache. I also tried Don’s other location, in Kona, Hawaii, in 2022. However, the locale in Kona feels like an outdoor hotel bar, too bustling, and the drinks taste too premade to linger.
If you want to sip on tiki drinks somewhere memorable, here are my favorite spots:
Alternatively, whip up a Painkiller at home. This refreshing tropical cocktail only takes about three or four minutes to prepare and doesn’t require too many ingredients to get there. So let’s make this sucker.
In a cocktail shaker filled with regular large ice cubes (so they don’t melt down), mix the pineapple juice, orange juice, coconut cream, and rum. Shake for about 10 seconds.
Prepare a hurricane glass (such as this affordable one) or snifter with crushed ice or pebble ice. Strain the drink from the shaker into the glass. Garnish with some grated nutmeg, pineapple leaf, and pineapple wedge.
Add a straw. The straw matters. I like these.