Hurricane Club's Richard Leach Talks Tiki, Turning Pastries Into Cocktails, and the New Nightclub Planned Next Door

Tiki is the tipple of the moment, and the newly opened Hurricane Club is hoping to capitalize on that with its faux-Polynesian experience. Beverage director Richard Leach came up with the tropical cocktail menu, a list of numbered rather than named drinks. He says that, while they're not traditional tiki, they go great with the pu-pu-inspired grub, now available for lunch.

Tell us about the Hurricane Club cocktail list.

Right now it's at 35 cocktails and has quite a range. Nothing traditional tiki. We say we're a tiki-Polynesian-style restaurant and bar, and that's pretty much what we are. I used a lot of traditional Polynesian or tropical ingredients to come up with a cocktail, so it's nothing based on anything traditional.

So, it's not in the same league as the other tiki bars cropping up in the city? I think of a lot of the others base their stuff on classic tiki cocktails. We try to steer away from that. The closest thing we have is something similar to a mai tai. It's not really a mai tai. We call it that as a joke. Things are tropical, we have a few things out of a spicy line. We have some stronger drinks with some tequila and some bourbon. And unusual things like [serving a drink in] a red pepper, or a coconut, or a melon. We try to use different fruits and some vegetables, jicama and things like that, some spices.

What made you guys want to do tiki or use that as the inspiration?

The main idea was a place that would be fun, where people could go and have a release from the day, have a fun time instead of worrying about things for a huge meal. It's a place where you can relax and have a good time.

What do you think will be the next big trend in cocktails?

That's hard to say. I think things are just a big wheel of style and things come around. They come and they go and they come back again. People look for something new, but there's always a piece of something old in there.

Was this venture started knowing that tiki would become such a big trend or was that just lucky?

I don't think they saw it as a trend, but I think they just looked at it as something that would stimulate fun. Almost like a vacation, a vacation away from your average day. Once you see the place you'll see that it's not really like tiki too much, more like a high-end Polynesian club, I'd say. More of a supper-club feel than a tiki lounge.

And how did you get into cocktails?

I was a pasty chef. I'm still a pastry chef for the last 20 years in New York. I still run the pastries at Park Avenue Autumn. I do pastries down here also and I do the cocktails. This is my first cocktail adventure.   What drew you to work with drinks?

I think the ingredients and stuff involve a lot of fruit. It takes some spice and aromatics and I'm familiar with it. I use it a lot in my desserts, so I went back and looked at my old flavor combinations, gave them more of a twist, and reproduced this in some of the drinks.

What are some of your favorite bars in the city?

Apotheke is one of my favorites. It's a lot of fun.

Are there any bar or cocktail trends you wish would disappear?

Yeah, I'm not a big fan of Chartreuse or absinthe. I hate that stuff. I think it has a horrible flavor. Looking around and researching a lot of drinks and going to a lot of places, it's just ruined a lot of cocktails for me. A lot of people put it in and I think they're just putting it in to be a part of a trend or something. Just flavor-wise, it doesn't really work.

Do you have a favorite TV or movie bartender?

I guess I'd have to go back to watching Cheers when I was a kid. About the only bartender I can think of is Sam. I've never seen the movie Cocktail, if that's what you're wondering.

What are some of your earlier drinking memories?

I've always enjoyed a cocktail or two. To tell you the truth, if you're pastry, you deal with a lot of fruit. You taste it and think, "This would make a pretty good cocktail." It was easy to mesh a lot of things with vodka. I was never one to drink big fruity cocktails. I was more in the drier lines of cocktails, or the spicy ones. I do enjoy that kind of stuff.

When you were testing these drink recipes, did you have any horrible misses?

Yeah, some horrible things. Let's see. I tried to make a frozen coconut kind of thing that did not turn out very nice. Some things like that, but some really horrible things. I tried using some South American fruits that I found that were bitter and didn't work out very well. I kind of tossed them aside.

You mentioned coconut, and it seems like coconuts have had a big year. Are you doing anything special with it?

I use coconut water in quite a few drinks. It has a really nice mellow flavor and it really smooths things out, I find. It adds a little flavor, kind of a roundness to it. When you're dealing with acidic fruits, it adds a nice balance to it.

Are people using the rum fountain downstairs?

The rum fountain is part of the shoeshine we have downstairs. And if you feel like getting your shoes shined, you can indulge in a little bottle of rum while you're shining. It's been doing pretty good. People enjoy it. It's a lot of fun. It's kind of goofy, but it's a lot of fun. There's a neon sign that points down to it from the upstairs hallway. It's pretty cool.

Anything new coming up at Hurricane Club?

In December, we're looking to open up a nightclub directly connected to the restaurant, with separate entrances. That's coming up. That's the biggest venture coming out right now.

Have a restaurant tip or other food-related news? Send it to fork@villagevoice.com.


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