The Amateur Drinker: A piña colada epiphany

After a lifetime of abstinence, Paul Burke is hitting the bottle. This week, he gives retro cocktails a go

I was wearing my ‘school concert” shirt. Shocking pink – and I mean truly shocking – made even worse by a lurid floral pattern guaranteed to induce epilepsy in anyone who looks at it for too long. With a pair of shades, a small cigar and a little hair oil, I could easily pass for a Colombian coke baron, yet this is the shirt I always wore to my children’s school concerts. I remember playing Joseph, the world’s most gullible carpenter, in the school nativity play and scanning the hall from under my tea towel to make sure my parents were there. In a sea of sensibly dressed people, it was almost impossible to pick them out. My children had no such difficulty. The pink of my shirt may have brought a matching shade of shame to their cheeks but at least they knew I’d turned up.

I no longer wear the school concert shirt but, if I was going to try a piña colada, it seemed the perfect garment. As I put it on, my mind turned to those lists you sometimes see: The 100 the most Influential songwriters of all time’They always feature Messrs Lennon, McCartney, Simon and Zimmerman but what about Rupert Holmes? He who wrote Escape, one of the most culturally influential songs ever recorded: ‘If you like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain……’

When it came out in 1980, no one knew what a piña colada was but through this song, they found out. Rupert Holmes changed a nation’s drinking habits forever because his dreadful composition led to cocktail bars springing up all over the country. In the aspirational 80s, British people were tired of drab, dreary pubs and decided it was the height of cool to sit in a glitzy, mirrored bar, sipping a glass of phlegm with a tree in it.

The bar in Trailer Happiness

However, the piña colada was never the coolest of cocktails. It’s now imbibed only in retro-irony but according to my friend Phil, who knows more than he should about guilty pleasures, the best example is mixed by a man named Eric in a tiki bar called Trailer Happiness in Portobello Road.

This place is kitsch heaven. In fact, Eric’s Hawaiian shirt made my pink number look a model of restraint. He handed me the expertly shaken concoction and one long sip was enough. Not because it was horrible but because it was glorious. I felt the potent threat of white rum lurking just behind the pineapple and coconut, and knew immediately that this would not end well. A second sip and I’d be hula-hooping. A third would have meant Steve McGarrett bursting in and saying, ‘Book him, Danno’. So I reluctantly stepped away from what would have become my delicious nemesis.

My only regret is that I didn’t discover this drink years ago. Turning up with a piña colada would have made those school concerts almost bearable.

Trailer Happiness, 177 Portobello Road, London W11 2DY


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