The color of a garnet, with an underlying rum-funkiness, a moment of pineapple and the bracing overtones of Campari—a Jungle Bird isn’t a drink for the faint-of-heart.
It’s boozy. It’s muscular. It’s one of those drinks you either love or hate.
I love them! It’s a cocktail that suits a hot, hot summer, but is also equally at home on a cold winter night. In August, it’s a refresher. In December, a moment of travel to the tropics.
The Jungle Bird was created in 1978 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, by a bartender named John J. Poister, at the Aviary Bar inside The Hilton hotel.
Poister’s recipe was generic dark rum, but today, Jamaican or blackstrap is the standard. To that, you add Campari, pineapple juice, lime and simple syrup.
In these ingredients, we see a drink that is clearly Tiki, yet also oddly Italian. It has the whimsy of a pirate ship…and the iconic bitter of an aperitif.
The Jungle Bird’s modern love story is also divine. The drink was rescued from obscurity by New Orleans’ Tiki drink legend, author and rum expert Jeff Berry. He owns Latitude 29 in town (one of the best spots to sip a Jungle Bird) and is responsible for its revival and the call for Jamaican rum in the recipe.
“I discovered it in an out-of-print, 1980s bar guide,” says Berry, who then printed the recipe in his 2002 book, Beachbum Berry’s Intoxica!
“From Intoxica, the Jungle Bird spread virally,” he says, “finding its way onto the menus of New York City’s craft cocktail bars and eventually across the U.S. and Europe.”
I’ve had three this week (in the name of research, obviously, Mom) and whenever I order one, people at the table ask, “What’s that?”
My uninitiated friends are always given a note of advice.
“It’s not for everyone,” I say, smugly sipping and admiring how the weird vegetal notes of blackstrap really come through. It’s medicinal…and old…conjuring images of rustic port taverns; of grog and pirates.
The Campari is altogether more adult. In the middle of each sip, the pineapple, sugar and lime arrive, like a slice of sunlight through a dusty window.
New Orleans in summer is, quite possibly, the finest town to sip a Jungle Bird in all the world. It’s a moment of travel during a pandemic. And lately, I cannot get enough.
Where to sip Jungle Birds in Nola:
“We make it with a split base of rum and bourbon, for a richer, more layered spirit element,” says Berry, “and instead of just Campari, we have a Bird Mix—Campari, Averna and red vermouth. I named our version the Paul Of The Jungle, after the legendary New Orleans bartender Paul Gustings.”
321 North Peters
There are some brightsides to the shutdowns. You can easily get a front table in the window of darling Justine. You can even park right out front (which feels like a damn miracle), and Kim Patton-Bragg’s bar menu is a revelation. The Jungle Bird isn’t on the official list, but they do the drink right, shaken hard and poured with a wonderful froth on the top, garnished with a lime and a brandied cherry.
225 Chartres Street
Dimly lit, with some of the strongest air conditioning in the city, this upstairs bar has all the trappings of a true Tiki haven. The thatched hut, horseshoe-shaped bar is lit by rattan lantern, strung across the ceiling. A Jungle Bird here is made sweeter by the setting.
301 North Peters (above Felipe’s)
Want a moment of New Orleans old-world with your Tiki experience? Head to Cavan. The restored, Uptown home boasts grand dining rooms, with trappings you’d expect in a pre-war mansion, like chandeliers, gleaming hardwoods and antique furnishings.
3607 Magazine Street
This North Rampart hangout is what we love about drinking in the French Quarter in modern times. You can have the best of a historic tavern setting, with mottled walls and rickety chairs, alongside proper cocktails. They serve a mean Aviation, and the Jungle Bird is a fine idea here, as well.
820 North Rampart
"In the middle of each sip, the pineapple, sugar and lime arrive, like a slice of sunlight through a dusty window."