A Rum Revival In Waikiki

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - January 30, 2008
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Francesco Lafranconi mixing it up at RumFire
Francesco Lafranconi mixing it up at RumFire

There are a handful of truly great bars in the world. A few of my favorites include Harry’s Bar in Venice, The Bar at Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland and The Hemingway Bar at The Ritz in Paris. They are places that pay homage to culture and tradition through excellent service, inimitable style and classic cocktails that have been around since the turn of the last century. They are places where you sit down, take a deep breath, a long sip of something wonderful and close your eyes to better see the ghosts of famous writers, actors, artisans, politicians and peacemakers who’ve sat in those same seats sipping those same cocktails.

At this point, I don’t expect you to immediately get the connection between these spirit-filled rooms in Europe and Waikiki Beach. Especially when the bar I’m talking about is at the Sheraton Waikiki. Personally, I don’t have anything against the Sheraton - perfectly nice hotel, nice staff, nice rooms, exceptionally efficient valet service and lots of banquets.

But a world-class bar? Well, possibly.

The reason I hold high hopes for RumFire, the Sheraton’s beautiful new beachfront venue, is the quality of the alcohol and a commitment by management to bring in the best rums on the planet. There are more than 100 rums being served right now, but forget the three or four that spring to mind when you think of a rum and Coke, and imagine instead elegant, sophisticated, single-barrel rums, sweet, intoxicating sugarcane rums and single-vintage rums that rival the finest cognacs in the world.

Francesco Lafranconi came to town last week to check on the bar and on some of the original cocktails he created. Lafranconi is the director of Southern Wines and Spirits Nevada Academy of Spirits and Fine Service, and he’s a passionate and spirited professional.

“RumFire is so beautiful,” he says in his soft Italian accent. “You sip something like one of these rare rums and then look outside to the palm trees and the white beach, and it’s incredibly romantic and memorable.”

According to Lafranconi, rum is about to be rediscovered as the spirit of 2008 and beyond. “Thanks to the return of the mojito and the daiquiri, rum is becoming much more popular,” he says.

But don’t go to RumFire and expect to order something with a hint of coconut and a pineapple wedged on the side of your glass.

“When you go to RumFire,” says Lafranconi, “you should first make the distinction between industrial rums - those made from molasses - and agricultural rums, the ones made from sug-arcane.”

The agricultural rums are made more in the nature of a fine single-malt Scotch and should be sipped like whiskey or cognac.

And if you’re thus far intrigued, but not sure what to try, do what I did and ask for the drinks Lafranconi created. Try the Hemingway Daiquiri. It’s made with sugarcane rum, fresh grapefruit, a hint of Italian cherry liqueur, fresh lime and a hint of agave nectar. The combination of ingredients is from the 1900s. Or try an original Mai Tai - the way it was served in 1944 before, as Lafranconi puts it, “bartenders made it into minestrone soup.”

Food is tapas style and comes courtesy of executive sous chef Colin Hazama, who has worked under Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi, among others.

Apparently I’m not the only person who has high hopes for this unique bar.

“It’s just the beginning,” says Lafranconi. “This is going to become a rum Mecca.”

It should make going to those endless banquets at the hotel a whole lot easier, too.

Happy eating!


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